Mareko Maumasi’s Finer Points
Born in Palo Alto to an American mother and Samoan father who met through the Mormon church; Mareko lived in California briefly before moving to Samoa. His mother was eighteen when she married his father, just freshly back from missionary travels. For approximately one year, Mareko and his parents lived in Samoa, until divorce had Mareko and his mother returning to the states.
The oldest of three, Mareko has a younger brother named Liu – an Airborne Ranger in the U.S. Army currently stationed in Afghanistan; and an even younger sister Tiare – a jewelry designer living in New Orleans. Raised primarily in Washington State’s South Puget Sound area, Mareko’s family settled in Olympia when he was in the third grade. His mother, a single stay-at-home mom remarried when he was five. She worked part-time jobs at grocery stores, for childcare services, and once the children were old enough to watch after themselves, she took a full-time accounting job with the state of Washington. A second divorce transpired the summer before Mareko’s sophomore year of high school. As things fell apart, Mareko, mother and siblings, responded in a defined act of solidarity. Their dynamic was impenetrable, and in the end it was a lack of closeness which wove them so tightly together.In middle school Mareko was bullied, which happened often at church. He hated being there, and in time his family stopped going to mass all together. Dissatisfied by the teachings of the Mormon church, Mareko looked into other forms of spiritual practice. He studied less dogmatic ideas of why we are here. He looked into Taoism, Buddhism, and Gnosticism, all incited interest. ”It really comes down to, you know, just be good to people, be good to each other and you’re fine. I think the problem with most religion is that people wear it like it’s a Gucci bag, instead of having their merit speak for themselves. I look into who a person is and how a person acts, I don’t care what they believe. I mean, their beliefs are interesting, and it brings good conversation, but people can preach and say whatever they want, it really comes down to how they behave”
After high school, Mareko worked in restaurants as a cook, and also took up Salsa dancing. He first started out by going to classes with his mother, he did this for a couple of years, and along the way realized that he was actually quite good at it. Mareko became his teacher’s dance partner, they worked together privately, she taught him everything she knew. Mareko assisted her in classes and private lessons, and the duo performed locally.
After high school, Mareko worked in restaurants as a cook, and also took up Salsa dancing. He first started out by going to classes with his mother, he did this for a couple of years, and along the way realized that he was actually quite good at it. Mareko became his teacher’s dance partner, they worked to
At the age of twenty-three, Mareko joined AmeriCorps, where during his ten month contract, he worked with Habitat for Humanity in Texas on Hurricane Katrina recovery work. Following projects brought Mareko to West Virginia and New Orleans, and a few other places which he can’t quite remember. Mareko then returned to Olympia, still with no direction and no idea of future steps. He took a job cooking at the Fish Tale Brew Pub, and hooked back up with his Salsa partner. He began sailing, and often traveled north to Bellingham, where friends were studying at Western Washington University. He loved going up there, and at one time thought seriously about relocating. Enter the moment which Mareko believes to be one of his most serendipitous, when confluence occurred, landing him precisely in the perfect place at an ideal time.
Mareko’s Salsa partner had just started working for Bob Kramer, an Olympia based Master Bladesmith, who’s notoriety has proven instrumental in bringing Damascus knives into modern fashion. A meeting was arranged, which unbeknownst to Mareko was actually an hour-long interview. About half way through, Bob and his wife offered Mareko a job in their shop, and with nothing to lose he accepted. Mareko and Bob got along well, he loved the work, and quickly realized that he was actually very good at something very special. Bob became Mareko’s mentor, teaching him more or less everything – not only in regards to craft. Bob also taught Mareko the value of a solid work ethic, self-sufficiency, motivation and drive.
Desperately in need of a change, Mareko moved to Denver in February 2012. He felt as if he no longer had a purpose in Olympia, and thought to find it elsewhere. Mareko wanted to step outside of his Olympia bubble, testing both himself and his capabilities: What could he do in a place where he knew no one? Could he survive? Would he figure it out? Would he be able to find a job and not be homeless? This was a real shift for Mareko, who has always enjoyed familiarity amongst family and friends. There was also another motivating factor at play, a woman in Denver who offered a kind of flirtatious hope, although nothing guaranteed. That was enough. Mareko traded the great green of the Northwest for a new start in the Mile High City. He stayed in Denver for only four short months before realizing that his glimmer of a romance was not destined to spark. He thought to continue on, diving head first into Denver’s vibrant gastronomic scene, though ultimately Mareko’s instincts prompted him to return home in pursuit of something greater.
“Working with my hands and creating was always such a huge thing. Doing the knife thing before moving to Denver, I was really good at it. I was more than good at it. I had magically found the thing that I’m great at but wasn’t doing any more, and I had to get back.”
Mareko contacted Dave Lisch, who has a shop in Seattle’s SODO district, the spot where Mareko currently works from. “I met Dave through Bob, at what knife-makers call a hammer-in. There were about 20 guys there, and Dave was one of them. He’s a wild man. He’s a really nice guy, he’s all over the place, he is so enthusiastic, and he has so much energy. He’s fifty-four years old, and he’s just crusin’, it’s awesome. He’s super creative, he’s so incredibly talented. I don’t know if he’s certified as a Master Blacksmith, but I would definitely say that he is a Master Blacksmith. I would not stammer at the opportunity to say that about him. He’s been working in steel and metal manufacturing pretty much all his life. He’s a blacksmith by trade, he just started working with knives, I think, in the last five years I believe. Actually, pretty much the same time I was starting. He’s always working on something interesting.”
Dave keeps a second shop in Seattle, a studio where he teaches weekend workshops and classes. When Mareko moved back from Denver, it was in part, specifically to work with Dave. Mareko saw great opportunity in learning from Dave, and he was genuinely shocked when it was Dave who jumped at the idea working with him. Blown away by this sentiment, Mareko began to fully comprehend the potential of his abilities.
On a trip to Omaha, Mareko discovered a cooperative ceramics studio, where a core group of members offer access to the public for a modest fee. Mareko had never seen anything like this before, and imagined a similar operation for metal and fire arts. Maumasi Fire Arts is Mareko’s dream for a combination cooperative knife making studio meets industrial art school. He envisions a place where guidance and structure would be provided to those interested in the craft.
“People can come and learn, based on their knowledge and experience. They can have access to studio time, without actually having to own all of the equipment. In Denver, I spent a lot of time looking around, trying to find some sort of metal studio, or metal fabrication studio. There’s the Santa Fe Street area, I figured there was something, and I also looked into private, custom knife makers, or discreet individuals. I couldn’t find anything, and it blew my mind. I was like, this is dumb, this doesn’t make sense, there needs to be a place. I feel like something should be available, I don’t understand why there isn’t. The goal really is for me to create that kind of space and freedom for people, but also to give them the opportunity to find something in themselves that maybe they didn’t know existed, like I found in knife making.”
Continuing, “I didn’t know that existed until the opportunity was offered to me, and all of a sudden something changed that has become an incessant passion. It’s an opportunity to open people up to these hobbies, these extensions, this part of themselves that they don’t know exists. It’s a striving for perfectionism where perfection is impossible, but you’re still working for it because there is purification of self through practice. I really love the work, it’s not just a means to an end to make some money. This is something that if I could afford to do it for free, I would still do. That focused energy, and that care, and that attention to detail, and that attentiveness, and that awareness that goes into that work, to constantly be striving and to learn, to better yourself in what you’re doing – I strongly believe, passes on into whatever’s being created, and when I’m making these things I feel like people appreciate that. There’s a reverence for it. I think is incredibly powerful, continuing and passing on that spirit of care that started with the maker. The value is intrinsic. I think that’s what really motivates me, and drives me to do this work.” Mareko’s knives are receiving excellent response, a buyer recently sold several for $1500 each.
At the time of our interview, Mareko was in Seattle working at Dave’s studio and staying with friends. He was planning to drive back down to Olympia later in the day, so that he could make his next bowling league obligation. Clearly, this twenty-nine year old is firmly settled back into the green of his Pacific-Northwest, his daily template thoughtfully framed by Ranier and the Olympic Mountains. Mareko knows his surroundings like the back of his hand, and loves finding opportunity to show this off. What I get from Mareko most, is a sense that having a good time is an extremely important thing to do. Looking though photos, I witness him and his in scenes of jovial abandon, not looking too far back or too far forward, with no worries, no stress. Mareko is the first to admit that listening to Marvin Gaye can lead to fits of uncontrollable wiggling, and when stuck in traffic he often calls his mom to as he so delicately puts it, “bull shit”. When I think of my new friend Mareko I smile with simplicity. His optimism is infectious, his integrity inspiring, and his work clearly speaking for itself. Welcome to the family Mareko, so very glad you’re here