Monika Martinez: Life’s Work is a Sustainable Journey
As Lomita’s assistant city clerk, Monika Martinez (Class of ’00, B.A., public administration) is proud to be part of a local government that has always operated lean enough to ensure that getting through the state’s economic crisis would not be as dire as the circumstances other communities are facing. As a fiber artist whose knitted and felted creations will be featured in the prestigious Contemporary Crafts Market in November, her personal philosophies of green living and sustainable practices are interwoven through both her personal and professional life.
“I’m very much into the green lifestyle,” she says. “When I wash my dishes, I’ll use the [leftover] water to water my garden. For the week, I have two little bags of [actual] waste. It makes me feel good when I know I don’t leave much impact on the environment.”
In her administrative role with the City of Lomita, Martinez also helps the South Bay community economize and use its resources wisely.
“In a small city, there’s so much [to do], you don’t just do one thing,” she says.
Along with her basic duties of taking minutes at city council meetings, moving actions through, getting resolutions signed and filing documents, Martinez also serves as secretary for several commissions and boards, and recently supported fundraising efforts for an expansion of the Lomita Railroad Museum by writing a grant proposal to the California Cultural and Historical Endowment.
Martinez says that Lomita’s nickname, “The Friendly City” is appropriate, even at city hall. She says that the council members always operate “with Lomita in their hearts,” and that throughout her 20 years as a city employee, she has not observed any of the local officials using their positions for personal gain or inappropriate political maneuvering.
“They just want to do good things for Lomita,” she says. “They are involved in other civic organizations so they broaden that feeling of community. They’re just happy to serve the city and to do the right thing for the residents. And they’ve always been very fiscally prudent.
“Our council has been very conservative with their money, so we’re really in good shape. We have no deficit. This year, we were able to pay back some of the money that we had borrowed from the reserve funds. We could go for six months the way we are, if we had no other money coming in from anywhere. If you can put money in the bank in this economy, that’s huge.”
Martinez also carries her “waste not, want not” philosophy into her arts and crafts. Born and raised near Heidelberg, Germany, Monika inherited some of her inclinations to rescue and bring used items back to life from her family who were refugees during World War II. She recalls life around her parents' house, where potato peels were used to fatten up rabbits for food.
“I remember walking with my grandpa and this here?” she says, bending to pick something up from the ground. “Oh my… a paper clip. He would say, ‘Look, all we have to do is polish it a little bit and bend it – maybe we could make you a hairclip.’ He had a whole drawer full of his treasures that he found on the street. Now I find things."
Martinez’s fiber and textile arts are created by rescuing and recycling items such as vintage sweaters and reconstructing them into handbags, bowls, and other wearable art and home décor items. Her work consists of knitting, unraveling wool yarn from discarded items, yarn and textile dying, and felting, a process which involves shrinking the fibers of knitted items through washing and “sculpting” them into new creations. Martinez, who “upcycles” old garments, says that working on projects such as making a beautiful or unique purse out of a friend’s grandmother’s sweater makes her feel “connected to the universe, a go-between [for] the object and its meaning for the person who receives it. I want to get the soul of the object out of it and transform it into something that is more.”
“My friend just loved the purse,” says Martinez. “She said, ‘I feel like [my grandmother is] with me when I have this purse.’”
Martinez says that her return to college to complete her bachelor’s degree at California State University, Dominguez Hills was motivated by “more than the degree – it was the challenge of learning and growing.” She says that she enjoyed being in classes alongside older adult students who had similar life and professional experiences but who were committed to further transformation.
“I enjoyed the evening classes because [there were] people who were in my shoes, who were working, who had families, who just wanted to get ahead and not stagnate,” she says.
Martinez, who also writes and produces the Lomita city government’s newsletter, Lomita Newsline, credits a course in business writing at CSU Dominguez Hills for her sparse writing and editing standards.
“The stuff is just etched in my brain – to be concise, to be brief and say what you need to say and not go on and on, to say the most important things first,” she says. That’s really helped me a lot. I want Lomita citizens to be informed on what’s going on without boring them with too much detail, just to let them know that we work for them and with them.”
As Martinez prepares to showcase her creative talents at the Contemporary Crafts Market, she hopes that her audience not only enjoys viewing, wearing, or using her handcrafted items, but she hopes to motivate others to take another look at objects that may only seem to have outlived their usefulness.
“I hope to inspire people to think outside the box,” she says. “Just because a sweater has some holes or stains, don’t give up on it, look what you can make with it. My medium is fiber but maybe they can do it with metal or computer parts. I hope that people become more aware of their consumption of goods, become a little more conservative in their purchasing of things, and increase their repurposing. I just want to keep the cycle going.”
- Joanie Harmon