With commissions from Google, Cadillac, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and more under her belt—plus accolades from major media outlets—artist Maya Freelon’s star has been on the rise for the past decade, and she only seems to be gaining momentum. Recognized for her unique and vibrant tissue paper art, Freelon explores themes such as preservation and the nature of fragility in her works, and is constantly experimenting with new and innovative techniques to create her monumental tissue quilts and sculptures. 

Raised in a creative family—her father, Phil Freelon, was an architect who designed a number of museums and cultural institutions, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; her mother, Nnenna Freelon, is an internationally known jazz singer, composer, producer, and arranger—Freelon has always known she was an artist. In 2005, she discovered her preferred medium during her MFA program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, while living with her grandmother. Freelon found a stack of watermarked tissue paper in the basement, and immediately became interested in the transformation of color and the material’s delicate yet resilient nature. 

Recently, we asked the visual artist and mother to let us follow along on a typical weekday in Durham, North Carolina, where she spends the majority of her time. (Freelon is also an artist-in-residence at Queenspace, and heads to her studio in New York City several weekends a month). Here, she takes us through 24 hours in her busy life, from school drop-offs to studio time to self-care rituals.       

7:15 a.m.: It’s time for a wakeup call from one of the three little ones in the house, ages three, four, and eight. My partner, Jess, and I never know which one it will be, but it’s always around the same time! I usually get up first, shower, and make breakfast for the kids. I make a to-go oatmeal for myself before I head out to school drop-off and then to my office/studio in Durham. 

8:30 a.m.: I pile the kids into the car and drive from our country home in Hillsborough to Durham (about 40 minutes away), dropping kids off at school along the way. We have a bangin’ Spotify playlist that gets us down the road with minimal requests to skip songs, since everyone has to agree on adding or removing a song. I eat my oatmeal at the stoplights, while my three-year-old tries to guilt trip me into giving her a bite. 

10:30 a.m.: Once I get to Durham, I grab a hot chocolate from Mad Hatter’s Cafe (my other go-to is Coco Cinnamon) and head to my studio. Magic, my studio cat, usually greets me with a hungry meow. I love to light incense and a candle to get the mood right. I typically have three or four major art projects I’m working on at a time. Right now I have two corporate projects, and I’m also preparing for Prizm Art Fair for Art Basel week in Miami, and a commissioned spiraled sculpture for a cancer treatment center in Boston. Around this time Jess usually meets me at the studio, where she also has an office for her nanny agency, Jess’ Way. She spends the day helping folks find the right childcare for their families. We tend to work great together, and help each other get our tasks done side-by-side, with minimal annoyance. Having two fierce leaders in one space does create fireworks, which can sometimes be a hazard, but it is usually a beautiful spectacle to behold!

12:30 p.m.: I love to grab lunch at Parker & Otis with my mom, Nnenna Freelon, and catch up on our collaborative projects. Today I’m sharing the October/November issue of Garden & Gun Magazine, which features my artwork as well as new book, Southern Women

1:30 p.m.: I am a big advocate of self-care. On my “Wellness Wednesdays” I try to practice at least one act of mind-body wellness—Somatic Psychotherapy, Yin Yoga at Threehouse Studios, a pedicure at my favorite spot, Bliss, or massage. Today I’m going to take a swim at Hollow Rock, which has a year-round lap pool!

3:00 p.m.: I begin wrapping up all work and wellness and head to do kid pickups and extracurricular activities. 

6:00 p.m.: Once we get home it’s time for homework, dinner with the kids, and tonight the babysitter comes. My partner Jess and I leave the kids and head out for a meeting at CAM Raleigh about my upcoming solo exhibition in July 2020. Afterwards we grab drinks at Yard House in North Hills

9:00 p.m.: When we get back home the kids are tucked in bed, but they always hear us and request an additional tuck in, hug, kiss, story, and prayer. A perfect evening for me ends with a cannabis face mask, relaxing lavender bath, whipped shea butter rub down, lighting my altar, and sending good vibes to my family and friends. 

10:00 p.m.: This is the magic hour for Jess and me. We usually debrief about the day, unwind with some herbal infusions, and come up with great ideas for the next day. If there are clean clothes in the hamper, it’s my duty to fold (I’m not allowed to wash clothes…says Jess). Once that task is complete, we settle in under the covers for some cuddling and catch up on Power

12:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.: Beauty rest and bathroom visits for the two littles who are potty training. 

Photography by Lissa Gotwals. Maya Freelon is featured in The Scout Guide Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill.