Andrea Misja: Charming Creations

Spring is here and that means flowers and herbs and all sorts of lovely things sprouting. But where to put them and what to put them in? This week’s Portrait has the answer. Andrea Misja is the owner/artist behind Maker Missya, a small business specializing in unique handcrafted cement planters and home goods. We spoke to Misja about life, love and anatomical hearts. 

Where were you created?

I am originally from Ohio. We moved around a lot, but mostly from the Akron/Canton area, about 45 minutes south of Cleveland. 

Tell me about the family? You moved around a lot, were you from a military family?

No, just parents who were always looking for that next home, the one that was going to be our forever home. We ended up in a really small town called Medina when I was in fifth grade and that’s where I graduated from. So the majority of my childhood was there. 

Do you have siblings?

I have one older sister, one younger sister, and then one younger brother. And we’re thick as thieves. Throughout the years because we moved around so much, we would constantly be in the backseat together. And this is before cell phones or anything, so we were very close. We were always playing games in the back, and we really loved movies. So we would be reciting movie quotes to one another and just cackling in the back. Those are some of my favorite, favorite memories.

I would imagine if you were moving around a lot, it was hard to develop friendships. So I guess your siblings were your friends.

They were my best friends. 100% all the time.

I had two brothers, so we weren’t quite as close. 

My older sister is two years older, and I think I always emulated what she liked to do because, you know, she was the cool older sister. Our younger sister was really different from us growing up. She loved dancing and cheerleading, everything we didn’t like! My older sister really enjoyed soccer, and softball, so I enjoyed soccer, softball and everything she did. We were the sporty ones and she was the girly girl of the family.

And your brother?

Oh my gosh, he was the baby. We always took care of him. We always sheltered him from everything. He’s wonderful.

What was a favorite sport or sports moment

Oh, so many. My favorite sport was probably soccer. And I was really good at it for a long time. I played forward so I would constantly be running. I was a really good runner. I think that was the top sport for me. But then eventually I started playing softball.

It’s required if you’re a lesbian, right?

Yeah. And then if you play both sports, it’s practically a guarantee. It’s like a, what is it, a punch card?

Yup! What did the parents do?

Well, my father jumped around from job to job. He was always chasing some kind of a dream. From what I remember, I know he drove trucks and did other odd jobs, but the one he finally landed on was a job at the post office, which was his dream. Now I think he’s a landscaper. We don’t really talk anymore. My mom did something under stock traders with like, Merrill Lynch, and Prudential. She really wanted to be one of them, but back then it was definitely more of a boys club. She always took care of us and made sure that we had everything that we needed. And then unfortunately, she had a back injury and had to stop working. But she went back to college two years ago and just graduated with her bachelor degree!

That’s amazing. Your mom’s a go-getter!

She’s such a go-getter. It’s funny, my mom was just a couple credits shy of getting her Bachelor’s when she got pregnant with my sister. She gave up her college education to take care of her child. Fast forward and my older sister was getting her master’s in social work at the same school that my mother went back to finish her courses, so they graduated in the same class! I can’t even tell you the feeling of seeing her be able to complete that dream. And then my sister getting her master’s in social work and both graduating together. I was like, you can’t make this stuff up. It was the most incredible experience. 

Wow. What’s the origin of your last name? 

It’s Slovenian. It was a constant joke growing up, that no one could pronounce it correctly. They’d say, Misha, or Mi-ha, and I’d have to say, no, it’s Miss-ya, like I’m gonna miss ya.

Slovenian, so you could be related to Melania, right?

Yeah, that’s a no comment. 

Where do you think you got your creative genes from?

Oh, man, I would say I probably got my creative genes from my dad and his side of the family. My uncle was an artist, and my dad was the dreamer of the family when everybody else were all doctors, physicians, psychiatrists. So I think I got my creative streak from them. I always loved art and music and anything that was not a book. I’m not very good with reading and learning that way. I prefer to interact with people. 

I understand that Maker Missya started during the pandemic. What were you doing before that?

I went to college for web and graphic design. I put myself through college, so by my senior year, I was working at a restaurant for about 40 hours a week. I was doing my internship for 25 hours a week. On top of that, I was doing my actual schoolwork, which for web design is all on the computer and very in depth, creating apps and everything else. So by the time I graduated, I hit a brick wall. I was like, I just need a minute. 

So I took a big step back from my career and thought: I’m just gonna focus on the restaurant side, no big deal. I did some freelance jobs and everything, but I really started to fall out of love with what I went to school for. It just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. So I focused on the restaurant industry for about five years. And then the pandemic hit. And it was the stopping point I’d been looking for. I was right at that point where I knew I needed to change. It was time to get back to doing something that I really loved.

Tell me how you got started with the business.

We have this big, beautiful backyard and we love to garden. It was during the pandemic, so there was no material and you couldn’t go to the store to shop for what you wanted to shop for. But there was all this construction going on and broken wood and everything laying around the neighborhood; construction companies would just drop it on the sidewalk. So I would build things with the wood that I found around the neighborhood. Once we made the yard beautiful, I was like, okay, what else do I have? I found a bag of cement in my basement and I started to make some things for inside. 

There’s really not a lot of information out there about using cement as a medium in terms of art. So I just started playing around with it. I got a bunch of different types of cement to figure out which one gave me the consistency that I wanted. I had to figure out how to use the pigments to get the colors I wanted within the cement. My pieces aren’t painted; all of the colors that you see are created within the cement. It took a long time and a lot of playing around. A couple friends saw my planters and things and asked me to make pieces for them. Eventually, it turned into the business that I have now. 

I did my first market in 2020 and I was super nervous about it. I like skulls and weird stuff and I didn’t know how they were going to go over. But people bought them and I was like, okay, this might be something. The next year, I had the opportunity to go back to the restaurant industry, and I decided, you know what, I’m a really hard worker. When I dedicate myself to something, I go for it. I’ve always worked so hard for everyone else. Let’s bet on me this one time and see what happens, and you know, it’s been amazing. 

I’m so happy for you. Give a little description of what your work looks like. 

I have a lot of skulls, I like to do a lot of Greek mythology pieces, or the human anatomy, because I find it fascinating. Usually each of the vessels has between one and four colors and you’ll see some gold foil pieces around each of them. I like it to be very fluid, almost like marbling. I always like to do themes. Sometimes I’ll do a beachy theme with a tealy blue and a peachy color so that it all kind of mixes together. And that’s what it means to me. But to someone else that might look like something completely different. I want you to have your own interpretation of what the colors mean for you.

I was looking at the heart pieces which are anatomical as opposed to a typical Hallmark heart, do you sell a lot of those at Valentine’s Day?

I do absolutely! In fact I actually have them for sale at the Mütter Museum. I love the anatomical heart, it’s so intricate and just so beautiful. Actually a funny story, someone that I met at one of my markets came up to me and said, “I’m a nurse and I had open heart surgery. I would love to buy one of your planters and put it with my heart.” I thought, I’m not quite understanding, but cool. Two months later, I saw her again and she said, “Your heart looks amazing with my heart.” I said, “You’re gonna have to send me a picture of what you’re talking about.” So she sent me a photo of it. Apparently as a nurse she was able to keep her old heart after a transplant and preserved it. So she had it split open on her desk, with my heart vase in the middle of it. It was absolutely wild to see a real heart, together with my heart. 

Speaking of hearts, what’s your coming out story?

I realized that I was in the “family” in my senior year in high school and in Ohio you just didn’t do that. My older sister is also in the family and she came out her junior year. I was a freshman and seeing the torture that she went through… it was a mess. It was as bad as you might imagine it would be like for someone coming out in the late 90’s in a small town. So when I realized who I was, it was scary. We were just starting to use computers, so I told some online friends. And then I started talking to a girl from Philly. Eventually, I told my sister too, I just didn’t want to tell her until I was sure. She was like, “That’s awesome. But are you sure you want to go down this road?” I let her know that my plan was to get out of Ohio asap, so I moved  to Philly, for the girl. 

Once I got here, I was at the Art Institute  and the way that I came out to my friends from home was I put it on my MySpace profile. I lost some friendships, kept some others, but all of my new friends here, when I made my announcement, were like, “Okay, that’s fine.” It was awesome. And now I’m just like, “Yeah, I’m a big old lesbian. I’m here, I’m queer.” It’s amazing how much has changed from then to now. It’s just so different now to have so much representation and to feel welcome. 

At Pride, it was beautiful to see so many different people and different age groups. That was the best Pride ever. Just the differences in how we are embraced here versus how awful it was where I grew up. And now, the town where my sister was ostracized just had a pride parade. It blows my mind when I think about it.

What was the most blatant thing that your sister went through?

Well, I come from a very religious family. The year she came out she brought her “friend” to our family reunion that summer. It quickly went around that she wasn’t just a friend. And it got really, really ugly by the end of the reunion, to the point where people didn’t want her around their kids. It  was unbelievably extremely harmful to see that. I remember a couple of my cousins coming to me and saying “Well, you don’t you don’t want her like that, right?” My sister had tried to commit suicide the summer before, so I was like, “I don’t care what my sister does, as long as she’s alive. I will support her in whatever makes her happy.” But to see how they reacted and not long after to start realizing, “Oh, my God, I think I’m gay, too.” It was terrifying. 

I didn’t come out to my full family for a while and when I did, my mom had, like, a nervous breakdown. She would call me late at night, bawling her eyes out. And my dad would be on the phone, “Look what you’re doing to your mother!” and put on a total guilt trip, while I tried to say, “I’m sorry that this is hurting you but this is who I am. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not putting it in your face, I’m not doing anything.”  So there was a lot of working through that trauma to understand that it was okay to be gay.

I can imagine. Is it okay to write about your sister?

Oh yes, she’s very open about it. She’s a social worker who specializes in working with kids and she’s amazing. At the time, no one knew that she was heartbroken over breaking up with her first girlfriend. Because of the suicide attempt she ended up in a mental hospital. The way we would communicate was through letters. In one of the letters she said, “I need you to get my diary from my room and hide it. If you read it, you’ll understand everything, but I don’t want our parents to see it.” Reading it made us 10 times closer than ever before. It became us against the world. [Laughing] And then later, my little sister, the girly one, told me that she was pansexual. And I was like, “Listen, you can’t do this to mom! She’s just going to die. You get back in that closet and you stay there! Mom won’t survive if we’re ALL gay!” 

That’s hysterical. Have things gotten better since then?

Oh yes, my mom is very, very accepting now. She’s no longer with my dad and she’s come a long way.

Let’s do a couple of random questions. What’s your conversation piece in your house? 

Nothing. Because we moved so much, I got very good at letting things go. I am a very good letter gower. 

A song you’re embarrassed to admit that you like?

I’m totally not embarrassed about any of my musical decisions. I love the Spice Girls. I’m still to this day, in love with the Spice Girls. Four years ago they were going on tour and one of my best friends messaged me, and said, “Dude, the Spice Girls are going on tour in London. We have talked about this since we’ve been in college. Do you want to go?” And I was like, “Are you serious?” I’m five years sober now but that was my one year anniversary sober. So I thought, “You deserve this. You’ve done excellent all year, why not treat yourself”. So I took myself on a two week vacation.

We spent six days going through London and the UK and then went to see the Spice Girls perform in Wales. It was the most magical thing that has ever happened to me. I was in the front row with baby spice pigtails, and I flashed back to being 10 years old in the basement with my sisters, watching the Spice Girls at Wembley Stadium on a VHS tape. To see the Spice Girls live was like, fuck, this was awesome and I deserved this. So some people may get embarrassed by that, but I’m loud and proud that I’m Spice Girls for life.

That’s fantastic. I didn’t ask, how did you meet your wife?

We met at Woody’s, which never happens. I saw her across the bar and called the bartender over to send her a drink, something I’ve NEVER done. But first I asked him, “Do you think she’s gay?” because at Woody’s you never know! At Sister’s I might have gambled, but there I thought I’d ask first. He said yes, got her order and said, “She said for you to come over and talk to her, and I was like, “No, no, there’s protocol here, the person getting the drink is supposed to come over…” after a little back and forth she came over and we started talking. I asked her what she ordered and she told me Miller Lite. And I was like, “How dare you! With all the craft beers at Woody’s, that’s what you order! Okay, you’re definitely a lesbian.” We ended up talking and dancing that whole night and now we’re married! Life is good.