Nothin fancy, Nothin fake / Nothin wasted and no deal to make / What you need is what you want to take / And what you take, you use. Though Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Tift Merritt was probably not writing about collecting art in her song Sweet Spot, those lyrics do seem oddly applicable in describing her approach and acquisitions — vintage ribbon, handwriting fragments, 1960s sewing material, anything vintage French, military patches. “The layered, the intimate, the carrier of a story, I collect lyrical presences,” explains Tift. “My found objects keep my hands on beauty and use.” The only hard and fast rule? It has to fit in her suitcase.
Having spent the better part of two decades touring the world and recording music — a critically acclaimed body of work including seven full length albums of original material and three live records — the North Carolina native has the kind of creative spirit that cannot be confined. Her way of living with art goes beyond collecting, and veers toward collaboration and conversation. The vintage ribbon collection she’d begun crafting into straps for her instruments led to a project partnering with Bernhardt Design to produce a line of striped textiles. A conversation with one of her favorite artists, Anna Schuleit Haber — on Tift's long-running Marfa, Texas Public radio show The Spark — inspired a collaborative performance in Tribeca featuring Tift on guitar and vocals and Anna drawing on a tablet computer projected live behind Tift as she sang. This fall Tift is relaunching The Spark with Carolina Performing Arts at UNC and is thrilled to continue interviewing artists and musicians about the human side of what they do. “People who make unique work make unique lives,” she says. “And what happens in that real work is a conversation I want to have again and again.”
“I love practical beauty, like leather that gets better with use and age, the opulence of the overgrown, the travelogue which was touring [and playing music]. The real world is rich.”
As an artist yourself, how would you describe your work?
“I’m a musician, writer and North Carolina native. My work makes small worlds in sharp detail with the plainspoken, overlooked and inconvenient in the everyday.”
What’s your favorite thing to collect?
“I started collecting artist interviews for Marfa, Texas Public radio many years ago to have conversations about process and integrity across genres, and I'm relaunching that series this fall with Carolina Performing Arts at UNC. People who make unique work make unique lives, and what happens in that real work is a conversation I want to have again and again.”
Is there something you consider to be art that maybe technically isn’t?
“I collect birds’ nests. Every one is so delicate, so loving, so extraordinary and made of whatever is on hand.”
What’s on your art wish list or your greatest hits list?
“I would love to have a well-haunted baby grand piano. But right now, I spend a lot of time with my old instruments and amps, mostly 1960s Gibson guitars. I write most on my 1964 Hummingbird and a student model 3/4 B-25.”