Moh-buhl. Moh-beel. However you say it, the effect is the same. Mobiles add a dash of kinetic intrigue to any space they grace. And these days, those spaces aren’t limited to above the baby’s crib. Taking a cue from the form’s creator, Alexander Calder, three Portland artists are enlivening homes, offices, hospitals, schools, nurseries—even faraway palaces—with their creations.

Your home or garden could be another perfect spot. Just sayin.


Heather Frazier, Frazier & Wing

In a past life, Heather Frazier owned a women’s apparel store in San Francisco. She often decorated the windows with mobiles she’d fashion from magazine cutouts, found objects, felt, vintage pieces, beads and pearls. Little did she know her mobile handiwork would weave its way into a full-time business. Today, she strings her contemporary mobiles and garlands together in her Irvington studio.

Her die-cut, card-stock shapes—circles, hexagons, flowers, etc.—dangle and billow with just the right balance of color and proportion. Sometimes, she incorporates a branch, a pom-pom or two, or other doo-dad that strikes her fancy. Her artistic aesthetic has caught the eye of national publications like Real Simple, Architectural Digest and Dwell.

Heather’s customers come from all corners of the world: Australia, Italy, all over. “Every day I’m surprised to see where my orders are coming from,” she says. “To be honest, the bloggers have been the ones who really launched my business. Once they started writing about me, things really took off.”

Find Heather’s paper mobiles at Alder & Co. in Downtown.


Leah Pelligrini, Leah’s Mobiles

Leah’s little glass mobiles left an impression on me when I was withering in a corporate cube farm. A co-worker had one of her Mobi mini mobiles hanging off the side of her computer monitor—a whimsical diversion during our day. Turns out that was just one of her unique designs.

Leah’s ascent to mobile stardom came naturally. “My mother’s an artist and my father’s an engineer,” she explains. “I think my brain just likes mobiles. They are little engineering feats and they fill space nicely. I find myself very amused by them.”

While studying psychology in college, she used glasswork and mobile making as an outlet. She recounts the hours she spent creating mobiles out of random materials—including glass-blown floats filled with eclectic materials—and hanging them from her ceiling with pushpins. Following her passion for glass, she found herself in Portland after graduation—striking out on her own as a full-time, glass artist. That was ten years ago.

In her Kenton studio, Leah crafts colorful fused glass shapes and suspendeds them from wire frames with the perfect cadence to catch and reflect light. They range in size from 5 x 4 inches to 4.5 x 5 feet.

“For me, mobiles have always been my passion,” she says. “I love them and I like decorating people’s spaces with happy, little things.”

Find Leah’s mobiles in her booth at Portland Saturday Market in Old Town-Chinatown.


Matt Richards, Ekko Mobiles

Matt Richards makes big mobiles—30-foot custom works of art that hang in hospital atriums, universities, private residences and even in a private palace in Saudi Arabia. His Northwest District warehouse is where he and Ben Cogdill, an industrial designer, experiment, design, weld, assemble and tweak their mobiles, which twist and turn from scaffolding in their modest space.

Engineering mobiles of this stature can be a challenge: determining what materials will work best in a given space, how they’ll fasten to the metal frames, how they’ll move, where the balance points should be and, ultimately, how to ship the piece. Often that also means accompanying the piece to its destination and assembling it. Other times, it requires putting together detailed instruction manuals for customers. It’s all in a day’s work—a far cry from his days working as a mechanical design engineer for a pipeline company.

“I use more of the things I learned in engineering school doing this than I ever did as a pipeline engineer,” Matt laughs. “Having an understanding of material properties really helps to understand how we can work with them—plastics, paper, metal, textiles, etc.”

Matt started making mobiles in college, tinkering with friends. After graduation, his hobby became an outlet from his day job. He started selling his small mobiles on eBay, people bought them, requests for larger pieces came in and his business was born. He and his wife moved to Portland three years ago and business has been steady ever since then.

Much of Matt’s work comes from interior designers who seek him out for large-scale projects. They share pictures of the space and usually have specific design requirements: dimensions, colors and constraints. Matt and Ben will come back with design and material options.

“I got lucky that all this has worked out,” says Matt. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I enjoy it. It’s my hobby and my income. I can’t imagine having a real job.”

Photos © 2010 Neighborhood Notes, some photos supplied by the artists.