Marsia Holzer, who is British, came to the United States in the 1960s because she found England confining and static and wanted to be in a place where ‘if you have the energy to do something, you’re doing it a week later.’ She brought with her trunks of vintage clothes and eventually began designing rock chic for the likes of Carly Simon (who was matron of honor at her wedding), Mick Jagger (Jerry Hall, his then wife, is still one of her good friends) and Elvis Presley (who was initially too shy to be measured by her for one of his Vegas outfits).
She went in a different direction when she decided to enroll herself on a welding course. Since then she has been creating exquisite pieces, furniture and sculpture, largely out of metal and spectacular pieces of timber that come from salvaged trees that have not been commercially logged, often from rainforest regions like Costa Rica. She’s a ‘doer’ with lots of style, high and low — one of those people who can zoom straight in on the gems in a thrift store, but she’s also quite posh — she was wearing a Hermès scarf the day we met her and she is a skilled horsewoman who rides on the Florida show circuit. But then again, when recounting the day she was attacked by killer wasps in Costa Rica, she galloped away from them on a muddy little beach pony (‘I like all horses and ponies’).
I’ve been reading about you and I really like this quote where you say: “Don’t think too much. Keep your mind quiet and if something pops into your mind just do it.”
Yes, when you try too much, you know: “I’ve got to make this, I’m going to make a sculpture like this and this…” It’s just better if get an idea and you do it. Don’t question. When you start questioning things, the impetus is lost … if you don’t trust yourself.
Well, it’s my theory that artists do trust their first response something as opposed to waiting for an interface. Without that trust you can’t make art.
I don’t think you make great art. If you think about it too much and you worry about this and that, somehow the initial drive is lost. And you have to be willing not to worry about the result. You know it it’s a failure, it’s a failure. Just jump in and do it. When I went to Costa Rica, when I found this tree that had fallen over in the rainforest, I thought, oh, I’ve got to have it. With great difficulty I managed to buy the entire tree … I had no idea what I was going to do with it.
How do you know when you look at a whole tree if it’s going to be worth something to you?
When I go to Costa Rica I go with a couple of Costa Rican guys with machetes and they cut pieces. But you don’t know until you get in the wood yard and cut it. The exciting thing is the wood inside, the grain. Nature is the creator – we’re just putting it up on a pedestal and saying, ‘Look at this!’
Does it make you believe in intelligent design or God?
I definitely believe in, you know, a higher energy, definitely. But I think what’s so interesting about Nature is that you see the same pattern repeated all the time in different things.
Yes, it’s almost mathematical. Like seashells, they seem to be made with mathematical precision.
Yes, shells. It’s just amazing!
You ride on the Florida show circuit — how long have you been riding horses?
I started riding when I was four. We moved from Surrey to Hertfordshire, to a farm, and for my fifth birthday I guess it was, I got a pony, a Welsh Mountain pony, untrained as far as I can tell. In those days my parents said, ‘Here’s a pony and a bridle and a halter – (we had no saddles) – have fun!’ There was no such thing as lessons. I fell off about 25 times a day.
Do you think it shaped you, that way of growing up?
Definitely. It made me very un-fearful of life and it made me just do what I wanted to do.
Because you started off as a stylist, is that right?
I came to America. I got my green card. I got a small inheritance from my family, which I completely blew, so I arrived here with about $100. I ran out of money in, like, four days, so I started going to gallery openings and I met [the photographer] Bert Stern, and he said: ‘What are you doing in America?’ and I said: ‘I’ve come to work for you.’ When I got there, he didn’t really have anything for me to do, so I made a whole cross-reference library of all his negatives and photographs … I had come with steamer trunks with all my clothes from England, from the Chelsea Antique Market and he kept using them in shots and things, and he said: ‘Why don’t you just become a stylist?’
Why did you come to America?
Oh, I always wanted to come to America. England was just too small. And then I heard Route 66 by the Rolling Stones, and I said: ‘This sounds great, I’m going.’
And you ended up designing costumes for them…
Yeah. I came in ’65 and in ’68 I left New York went to California and I started making clothes for myself, leather jackets and skirts … then everybody wanted these. And I was selling these jackets for what I thought was a fortune, $600! I was staying with this guy, Sid, who was friend of the Rolling Stones and he borrowed this jacket I had made and went off to a party. I ended up with all these orders.
And you designed costumes for Elvis Presley. Did you ever meet him?
Oh yes. He was very shy. I think because he didn’t want me to measure him because he was in one of his fat phases. I went to his house because he wanted some outfit for Vegas and – the house was horrible, red and black like some bar in Vegas – so I’m sitting with his body guard and I said: ‘I have to leave.’ Because I had Raquel Welch coming to my studio to get an outfit for the Academy Awards. And he said: ‘Well he’s in the next room. He’s been there the whole time, he’s just nervous.’ I had been waiting two hours!
So I did that rock and roll thing for about 18 years. Then I took a welding course.
Was that just a whim?
Yes. I took a course for a month, realized that I knew nothing. So I took another (this was at the Sculpture Center) … I just kind of stopped making clothes because I really liked the welding, I was really good at it, and I had millions of ideas. I ended up having a show and I sold a ton of stuff and I got some orders, so I just kept at it.
There’s something almost magical about welding.
Yes, it’s like alchemy or something.
You’re frighteningly competent at everything. What do you put it down to?
I think I’m a stickler for detail. I’m Capricorn with a Virgo moon, but I am Saggitarius rising, which gives me the fire and the energy.
Were you always assured, even when you were younger?
I think I was very angry when I was younger because, apart from like riding all over the countryside and all that, I was sent to boarding school when I was seven. I was lonely.
Is that why you wanted to come here?
It always seemed to me that people were always complaining about the price of things in England. People were always accepting ‘well, we can’t do this, we can’t do that.’ I really got annoyed with that. I wanted to go somewhere where there were big open spaces and you could do whatever you wanted. If you come here and you have the energy to do something, you’re doing it a week later.