Interview | Taylor Johnston
The morning had an ease to her. Much like the woman I was about to meet, the new scenery was welcoming and enthralling. I walked up to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and down the drenched street to the side entrance. I was led through a hallway that paralleled the greenhouse filled with greens and blooms and cacti. Taylor met me and told me there was one thing to do before we could begin and I happily agreed and watched her run down the hall. She came back with several others all carrying long, viny, orange blooms-that I later found to be the remnants of the annual installation of Nasturtium from the day prior.
She came back into the lobby, smiled, and said, “okay let’s go!”
I hadn’t prepared for what came next. All that I had heard of the museum before I arrived was that it was beautiful and of the ever-famous heist where, in 1990, thirteen pieces were stolen and have yet to be located. But the moment we stepped into the courtyard I was in another world. It was as if the museum’s namesake, Isabella Stewart Gardner, had leapt from a written history to a living spirit roaming the halls. As Taylor and I walked the courtyard filled with tropical plants and unusual blooms she told me of Isabella and her hand in the design and curation of the entire museum that, while she was alive, doubled as her home. She spoke with such respect and awe and I couldn’t help but imagine Isabella’s spirit floating around Taylor and through her words.
“Part of being a good gardener is understanding place really well,” she said as she stopped to look at tiling on the floor she mentioned she had never noticed before, “and I feel like the place that I work is so unbelievably complicated and beautiful that it will take me a lifetime to fully develop and understand it.” We walked from room to room and in each she would pause and utter little facts about things I would have most certainly missed had I been alone, like the most valuable painting in the Northeast hanging almost hidden in the corner. “In this field I feel like you always are oddly trying to be a better person. Better sense of humor, more patience, asking better questions, and learning to listen and observe first. So the thing that drives me daily, the fuel behind it, is the part of my personality that wants to understand the things around me and the curiosity I have about that.”
Taylor doubles as the manager of the gardens and greenhouses at the museum and designer of workwear for women for the brand she started in early 2014, Gamine Workwear. She also studied philosophy and as we spoke she effortlessly intertwined the areas of her life she has spent time and hard work pursuing. We moved from the rooms of the museum to the greenhouse where she showed me giant lemons and rare orchids. We sat and with the fresh smells of the living things growing around us, we pressed into the idea of femininity and creativity. “It’s something I work out everyday. It’s not like I have a firm, platonic ideal that I then express. It’s more like I try to uncover it. What’s happening right now is really cool, how you see women taking charge of how we’re portrayed through work or even the media. People are talking about women farmers and growers, women who are doing jobs that are traditionally perceived as more masculine and layering in the beauty. Like why can’t you wear a dress and be a farmer, what’s wrong with that?”
Her co-workers were bustling in and out, carrying a wide array of plants that had been delivered that morning. She stopped occasionally to give directions and jumped right back into our conversation. “One of the biggest gifts has been working here and getting to work with my mentors and Bill Cunningham and knowing that I’m not alone in this idea of my work as my identity and seeing the payoff of that mentality. You allow your work to become who you are-not necessarily that it will take you away from the important things like family-but that you let it empower you and make you a better person. It enables you to think more clearly and it expands your vision in how you think of the metaphysics of the world. I look at someone like Bill, he still works and he gets so excited to do it and it’s not a drag. In some ways it’s a really simple idea, but simple things are hard to understand. I just look at it like what you put in is what you get out and there are no short cuts. You just have to put in the very long hours and you’ll get there. But don’t cheat yourself. Don’t try and make things go away that are uncomfortable or hard and trying, just work through it cause you turn into such a magical human being.
Taylor hopped up to help a co-worker with the door and I let my mind wander to the awe-inspiring surroundings. The home of a woman who used her impeccable style to grasp her freedom not only as a woman, but as a taste-maker, art collector, and entrepreneur, was the only scenery that could house the energy of Taylor's words. When she sat back down she let out a long breath and we pressed into what inspiration means in her day to day in the walls of such a beautiful place. “Its funny, I like the Chuck Close perspective on this that “inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.” That is how I view most days when I get up. I try not to look at too much stuff and noise. It’s confusing because you definitely want to connect to people and the work they’re doing but it’s hard to find balance between being overly influenced and finding inspiration. At the same time I know full well there’s always this weird subconscious thing happening among groups of people, where we’re all kind of exploring things at once. Partly why I love working with older people, much older people, is that they’re at the point in their life where there’s no ego, usually,” she added and laughed, “and they really open up a space to throw you in the deep end and give you the opportunity to express yourself in your own way. Also, I really like to laugh. I find a lot of inspiration from people who are funny. Good humor, It says so much without saying a lot, I also work in an art museum so it's kind of cheap for me to say I don't find inspiration when I show up to work” she said as she laughed and pointed out a flowering cacti.
“Everyone always looks at work or creative pursuits as a journey and that journey’s behavior as a straight line but that’s totally not what it looks like." She drew circles and zig zags in the air with her hands. We talked on her past and her travels around the world that came with anxiety and happiness and trials. But those experiences have given her visible, useful drive. She spoke with ease and with a constant smile. “You never know where you are on that spectrum. And yeah, I think a lot about having a sense of humor and how that plays into day to day realizations. You never really feel like you’re going to get there and when you get there it’s not what you thought it would be. There’s definitely this weird concept of overnight success. Everyone always talks about getting to a point where they’ve achieved something or are in a notable position. I can’t even tell you, I worked for 10 years before I came here, you know, and I have so much work to do. I don’t know anything. I am a newborn baby crawling around, learning how to take my first step. It’s funny because it’s easier now more than ever to make yourself look like an expert and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gained working here is that it’s dangerous to think of yourself as an expert in anything. I know I’m never really going to get to that point so everyday, the work is the real pleasure and excitement. And that is a really hard thing to wrap your head around when there’s so much uncertainty but it’s so important to just try and then laugh and give yourself something to look back on.”
Taylor hopped off the stool when we were finished and continued pointing out different species of flowering beauties as we walked toward the door. We hugged and after we said our goodbyes I could feel that same spirit floating-strong femininity and pure drive-that I had felt walking through the halls of Isabella’s home and permeating our conversation. Two women that I couldn’t help but let my mind connect and think of as changers of the perceived idea of women in the workplace and in turn, creativity and the beautiful interconnectedness of it all.
Thank you Taylor, for your time and attention and for being one hell of a woman, worker, and overall human being. Cheers!