MARION McKEE | West Marin
Marion McKee is laying out driftwood to dry on a long table in her backyard, arranging them by size from largest to smallest, creating a taxonomy of beach artifacts. Nearby, deer antlers, smooth stones, and sea urchin shells also abound. They are mementos of a surrounding wilderness—found, harvested, and then integrated into Marion’s home.
Marion, who is a jewelry maker and a Bay Area native, says she has always been a collector, but began harvesting driftwood after she moved to Mill Valley from San Francisco and was surfing regularly again. Marion started to incorporate these found objects into her art and jewelry, experimenting with mixing driftwood and gold plating, stringing stones onto leather string, and creating delicate mobiles with dangling marine debris. “I started to make more one-of-a-kind pieces when I moved to Marin,” she says. “These are the pieces I prefer to wear.”
“Marion started to incorporate these found objects into her art and jewelry, experimenting with mixing driftwood and gold plating, stringing stones onto leather string, and creating delicate mobiles with dangling marine debris.”
But the shift in sensibilities was not a rejection of her previous work, a successful line of jewelry called Marion McKee Designs, which is sold in Bay Area boutiques, as well as in gift shops throughout Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. She is still very much devoted to the business, in fact. Marion McKee Designs launched in 1995 after Marion spent several years working for a costume jewelry designer; its aesthetic, which Marion says incorporates more sparkly crystals, pearls, charms, and baubles, has a much broader appeal than her personal work, which is earthy and experimental. The range of Marion’s commercial work is wide: she might be working on stringing necklaces with ceramic beads and tassels one day, and making brightly colored, South Africa-inspired earrings or California state pendants the next. Sometimes she makes whatever she feels like making; other times, she creates based on trend analysis or client requests. But the steady success of her commercial line—which she works on for least three hours every weekday—has given her the freedom to live a full, active, and social life as a mother of two, a surfer, and an all-around athlete. “It’s just enough,” she says. “I don’t want to be a factory.”
At home, Marion is surrounded by art that she’s collected over the years. Huge canvases with bright, graphic prints adorn her dining room—she’s obsessed with rainbows and 70s-era patterns—, as well as relics from the past, like her grandmother’s needlepoint embroidery and faded photos from the early 90s in San Francisco, when she ran a famed skate and snowboard shop in the Lower Haight called Gone Boarding. There are traces of Marion’s life and loves—both past and present—everywhere in this house, in the objects, in the artifacts, in the old photographs. “There’s no limit to what I collect,” she says.