With just a year in business, Mara Made Designs has managed to root itself within the Jamaican minds with creative furniture and pieces made entirely from wood. Conceptualizer of the unique furnishings and accessories Tamara Harding, is not your average woman in the woodwork industry. In fact, she may just be the only belle in an industry she describes as male-centric. This self-taught wielder of chainsaws with manicured nails initially ran an ad agency with her husband and never even dreamed of venturing outside of that until almost exactly one year ago. “I’ve always loved designing, creating and conceptualizing,”Harding says. “I just did not know what I wanted to create.” She describes her sudden decision to enter into the wood industry as an epiphanic one as though she would dabble with wood before, it never occurred to her that she could be interested in this kind of work. “After I shut down the agency, I decided to get the ball rolling on my idea to create,” Harding said. She recalls asking herself two questions which were both intertwined and existential ‘Is this going to bring me joy?’ and ‘am I going to feel fulfilled?’ She decided to kick things off by taking part in a Christmas fair and ended up not doing so well with what she had done. Despite this, Harding still went in search of something as she figured she might as well put to use all the craft items she had bought for the fair and had left over. “Even then, it still had not occurred to me that this (woodwork) was what I wanted to do.”When she finally had her ‘aha!’ moment, she did not even know where to start. She recalls being asked to oversee a tiling job for her aunt and saw a tool that she was interested in. “When I went home I just started doing my research,” Harding said. “That’s how the carving began.” Despite being an untrained carpenter, Harding states that this has not hindered her in any way. In fact, she ‘finds ways around it.’
She welcomes the process of learning through trial and error and of learning how to use the various tools at her disposal. “I have three guys working with me and I was actually the one to teach them what they know,” she said. With Mara Made almost a year old, Harding states how humbled and encouraged she has been by the response of clients and the admirers of her work. “People have told me how inspired they were by my venturing into the unknown.” she said. Tamara’ s work is 80% commissioned with a yearly checkup of the pieces she’ s done to ensure that they are well-oiled and in good condition. She describes the artistic process as one that is very focused on ensuring the pieces are unique and also bearing in mind that the pieces are designed around the wood and not the other way around. “When a client comes to me, they give me the power to create something just for them,” she says. Adding that to the fact that she is not formally trained in carpentry, Harding finds it hard to just replicate a piece found online. “I think it adds a sort of charm to things when the piece is unique.” Harding’s mind is constantly buzzing with ideas about her craft and has recently ventured into jewelry-making with wood. She is also passionate about the creativity of Jamaicans and wants to be instrumental in educating more people about forestry.
“I went to Kenya a few years ago and you should see the amazing pieces artists over there create with Calabash, something we have right here in Jamaica,” she said. Harding added that there are so many talented and skillful carpenters in Jamaica who just need an avenue through which they can expand on their skills.
“We see a lot of hand carved pieces but they’re only elephants or some other sort of animal,” she says. She theorized that they were trained by someone who never quite gave them the leeway to let their own creativity incite them to producing varied pieces. Harding is passionate about not just her art, but about the country and its wealth of untapped potential. She describes herself as wildly patriotic and is constantly looking into various ways in which she can give back.