Muriel Stockdale is a British-born visual artist and theatrical designer who moved to America in 1967 and currently lives and works in New York City. One of Muriel’s recent projects, entitled “E Pluribus,” is a series of flags exploring the concept of “patriotism” in the United States. The flags are handcrafted in mosaic tapestries to represent how a diverse nation like America can co-exist in peace and harmony. Muriel has been working on her series of American flags since 2003 and is always expanding the project to include others.

Muriel was an instructor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts as part of the Graduate Design Department.

Aside from visual art, she has worked as a set and costume designer in the theater since the 1970s. As she became more comfortable in theater, she began directing and writing. In fact, she has even written and produced a short film titled “New York City Spirit.” Over the course of thirty years, Muriel has lent her talents to film and television; providing costumes for “One Life to Live,” Law and Order” and other hit shows from top-rate companies. Perhaps most impressively, she has spent more than twenty years working with Jim Henson Productions--the company behind “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show ‘”--building and designing costumes for puppets and people. She has also penned articles for magazines such as “RaveSQ” and “The Independent.”

Aside from her “E Pluribus” flags, Muriel recently completed a novel titled “Gabriel Born” and was invited to create a large diversity flag for a temporary installation at 3 World Trade Center.

Muriel recently discussed her projects in an exclusive Interview.

Artistic inspirations and theater

Meagan Meehan (MM): What prompted you to embrace a career in the arts and what came first, an interest in theater or a fascination with the visual arts?

Muriel Stockdale (MS): I’ve always been an Artist. As a child, I drew, copying photos and masterworks.

At age ten, I entered a competition for kids to draw their family breakfast. They rejected my entry saying no child can draw perspective so an adult must have done it. When I came to the USA at age thirteen, my parents joined a Community Theatre. My whole family loved it, and I found my passion. I majored in art and nutrition in college but spent all my time in the theater graduating Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa for a double major at the University of Vermont.

MM: You’re working on an art project now involving flags of the United States, can you tell us a bit more about this project and why you find it exciting and timely?

MS: My flags celebrate diversity in America and were inspired by the 2003 Iraq war. Recently naturalized, I’d studied the constitution, and the war felt wrong. I feel a connection to the prophetic motto of the USA: E Pluribus, Unum, meaning – Out of Many, One. The motto referred to people from six European countries and thirteen American colonies that created the United States of America. Today that motto refers to Americans from everywhere. When we declare war on anyone, we declare war on ourselves. My flags are most relevant in times like these when powerful influences foment hatred.

This disturbs me so I do what I can to show we do live in harmony and our lives are better for diversity; where would we be without Jazz or Chinese food?

MM: What, exactly, does “patriotism” mean to you personally?

MS: The word “Patriotism” feels separating and power mongering to me. Could we be aware of something like “matriotism” and think of the country as a nourishing place without competition and dominance? If we focus national effort on fertile ideas, production, and support for each other, I’m sure life would improve. My art flags suggest this; most of the flags are made in women’s craft styles.

MM: You also recently got commissioned to make art for a World Trade Center Building, how did that amazing opportunity come about and what kind of art are you creating for space?

MS: This will be a huge multicultural flag for 3 World Trade Center hung from the ceiling. My friend Doug Smith of World Trade Gallery invited me. It was for building four but because I need people to donate fabric I was unable to finish it in time. It will join a show in 2018, and I am accepting fabrics from people who want to share their culture in it. My friend, Jim Hunter, is sculpting mobile stars for it.

MM: How did you immerse yourself in New York’s theater world and why did you gravitate towards set design and costume design?

MS: After graduating in 1982 I dived into the theater and worked in dance, opera, film, advertising, and television and taught drawing at NYU Tisch graduate design.

It was all about personal contacts, references, and working for or with the same people repeatedly. Costumes and scenery were a relevant way to ply my art. Bringing life to the words of a playwright, fleshing out character and assisting the audience to feel the fullness of an actor’s contribution was deeply satisfying. Also, I love to work in a team, and I miss that since writing and making art alone can be lonely. However, I do not miss the frenzy of the deadline!

Media and plans

MM: What sorts of costumes and sets have you worked on and had any proven to be especially fun or memorable?

MS: I loved doing scenery and costumes together. My favorite was for director John Sheehan at the Opera Ensemble of New York when I designed ‘Orfeo ed Eurydice.' For years I worked at the Vineyard Theater creating costumes for many original productions including Edward Albee’s, “Three Tall Women” and Lanie Robertson’s, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.”

MM: When did you delve into the world of television and movies and how did you land gigs on so many well-known productions?

MS: Right out of NYU I started assisting; my first job was a referral. I came to the Jim Henson Company because of my friend and award-winning designer, Polly Smith, worked for them. After that, I returned to the Muppets annually for over twenty years. I worked on construction for the movies and many television shows. I was honored to design two original Jim Henson Production shows – “CityKids” and “Aliens in the Family.” That led me to more kid’s TV which I love; everyone is working in the industry was conscious and caring with an acute awareness of the power of the media.

MM: Do you have any cool “behind the scenes” stories that you would like to share?

MS: When we made, “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” I delivered Miss Piggy to Central Park.

I was in the back of the cab with her tucked in a large bag. In chatting with the cabby, I finally said, “You have a star in the back of your cab?” He said, “Oh, who are you?” peering at me in his mirror, so I showed him Miss Piggy! Of course, he was delighted and wished his children were there too!

MM: You are also a writer and you have created both a short film and a feature-length film, so can you tell us a little bit about your movies, their inspirations, the plot, and characters?

MS: I quit design because I was unhappy about the projects I interviewed for. The films dealt with drugs, prostitution, police procedures, murders, and everything seemed to be about guns. They were not the entertainment I want to watch or work on.

So, I decided to write. I took some classes. I wrote pitches about diversity for documentary TV. When I pitched, back then no one understood what I was talking about. It was a different time before 9/11. After that, I pitched a show called, “American Mosaic” and it was almost produced.

In 2000, in a script writing class, I wrote, “Gabriel’s Flight.” The script won some awards but was never produced so I turned it into a book and last December published my first novel now called, “Gabriel Born.”

In 2003, I made a short film, “New York City Spirit.” It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Thanks to Casey Meade of Projectile Arts we did it. Six minutes of the film involved hundreds of people.

A producer, Sam Adelman, came on board and the short enjoyed a year of film festivals winning some awards.

From 2003 to 2005 I organized a group for entertainment artists. “The Institute for Spiritual Entertainment – NY” met for talks, conferences, and gatherings. It was inspiring. We dreamed of shifting the industry to be more uplifting. In 2005, I went away to design costumes for Stephen Simon’s film “Conversations with God” about Neale Donald Walsch. When I returned, I decided to focus on my own work so without my constant input that group folded. Members continue with their dreams creating, books, films and not for profits working in various areas of entertainment.

MM: You write for several magazines and outlets, so how did you secure these publishing spots and what topics do you favor?

MS: I have not written articles for a while. The first was for the film, “Short Cut to Nirvana: Khumb Mela” by Nick Day and Maurizzio Benazzo. I pitched the idea to RAVE SQ because I’d met the editor; my personal interest is the spiritual meaning and impact of a subject.

MM: What are your future aspirations for your overall artistic career?

MS: I am planning a new E Pluribus series. I plan to paint portraits in the patterns and colors of the subject’s culture in a Klimptian style. First, I must finish the flags. At this point I want to finish what I’ve started; I have a few books. One about the flags, another is a spiritual commentary, another is about sacred clothing, and there is a sequel to “Gabriel Born” brewing.

I am completing an opera based on the Vedic text, “The Ramayana.” Historical epics always focus on the hero, in mine, we focus on the women of the story. I’ve been working on a proposal for a historical fiction TV show as well. It’s about two empresses who rise to power in the 19th Century one of them we know the other’s life is a mystery. This again is a story about the power of women in our history with a healthy dose of cultural and spiritual influence.