For some, self-care consists of luxurious bubble baths and at-home face masks. For Maida Branch, it involves cutting firewood, throwing bales of hay, and peeling green chiles. "These are things [traditionally] based on survival but also the growing season, and they've become huge practices of feeling sane and connected with the land and connected with my ancestors," she says to TZR. Also connecting the New Mexico native and resident to her roots is her namesake homeware site MAIDA. In fact, the homepage of the online site — which features home goods, jewelry, and apparel from Indigenous artisans — sums up Branch's mission in seven concise words: "a love story, a coming home story."
And it is. After leaving New Mexico to pursue acting in New York and Los Angeles, Branch found herself back home with an itch to pour her energy into a different type of creative outlet, one that would allow her to explore her home state's history and her own cultural background, which she says stems from a "long line of Native American and European ancestry, based on the colonization of New Mexico and the migration patterns of humans who came through here and the women they married and had babies with." (Branch explains she is of Zuni and Ute descent on her father's side, "along with my Spanish and Western European blood, I am the descendant of slaves and slave holders")
Growing up, New Mexican culture and history surrounded Branch. "That was just something that was always there, in the food my grandmother made, the Spanglish she spoke, the accent that she has," explains Branch, who adds that her paternal grandmother and grandfather are from the same small New Mexican town, Dilia. "She would tell me how she grew up with dirt floors, and a one-room house with seven siblings. So there was just the knowledge that my family was from here and had been here forever, and that was rich in a way."
Six months before her permanent return home in 2018, this festering interest in her roots coincided with her love for design and interiors, and MAIDA was born. "It felt like a way to tell the story of where I was from and learn more about where I was from, and also share the history through artifacts I could find," says Branch.
Sourced from various Indigenous artists based in New Mexico, each item on the MAIDA site is meticulously crafted or procured with thought, care, and respect, often adopting a primitive creative process passed down for generations. There's the micaceous clay bowls harvested locally near Taos, New Mexico by Johnny Ortiz, that are individually pit-fired, stone polished, and cured with elk marrow and bees wax. And the Salinas candlesticks created by Camilla Trujillo, which are based on 400-year-old pottery found on archeological digs in Eastern, New Mexico. The magic of MAIDA is that every product looks "like it's from the beginning of time, or someone dug it up somehow, but it also has a modern quality that makes it feel timeless," says Branch.
To respect the artisans' processes and work, most items (particularly the ceramics) are made-to-order and take about two to six weeks to be crafted and shipped. To help buyers understand the slower turnaround time that challenges the typical "produce, produce, produce, consume, consume, consume," retail standard, Branch includes the intricate manufacturing details that go into each item on the MAIDA site. "Each piece is unique," she says. "Each one is made by hand and specific to the person who ordered it. In that way, it maintains its authenticity."
As it happens, over the course of MAIDA's two years in business, the founder has had to "question her own motivations," in regards to "timeframes about things." Branch explains, occasionally, she's had to "slow down because the artists I'm working with require that. So, it's been a teacher in that way of me being able to redefine what production and work ethic are when dealing with a slower model."
And despite the instant gratification consumers may have grown accustomed to over the years, Branch explains MAIDA's model and mission have been surprisingly met with support and understanding, particularly this year. "Through COVID, actually, sales have been super steady, and that's been based on people's need and want to support small businesses and wanting to support efforts, movements, and organizations that they believe in."
In fact, MAIDA's growth has inspired Branch to evolve beyond its initial retail model. "I made a short 10-minute film of Johnny Ortiz's clay process, and it documents it start to finish," explains Branch. "I would love to do that with every artist I work with and be able to have a beautiful video portrait of each of them." And while MAIDA will always have the shop element to it, the founder explains the business is beginning to "look like it could be more of a media company or production company. Something in which I can release more film and footage of life where I live and portraits of people who live here."
At some point, that may mean turning her Super 8 camera on herself. At the time of this interview, Branch has just moved into a three-bedroom adobe home, which is about 200 years old. "I don't have any heat sources except wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, and the well is the main water source," she says. "I felt when I moved in that I'm really living like my ancestors. [...] There's this funny return-to-home that I'm always trying to attain." And, from the looks of things, she's pretty darn close.
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