Nix + Gerber creates small things with big meaning

Together, Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber are slowly recreating New York City as a dystopia — on a miniature scale.

Thus far, they’ve created an overgrown New York Botanical Garden; a musty subway car, collecting dust in a desert setting; and a library, which is slowly being taken over — or taken back — by Mother Nature. Not to mention, an aquarium, museum, classroom, casino, hair salon, barroom, Laundromat and shoe shop.

And that’s just their personal work.

They’re the owners of Nix + Gerber, a Brooklyn-based design studio specializing in miniatures and dioramas for personal and commercial projects, namely product placement and advertising campaigns. Thus far, their projects have ranged from  book covers for authors Dave Eggers and Marge Piercy and album covers for The Dig and Fountains of Wayne to illustrated stories for O, The Oprah Magazine and New York magazine and the cover photograph for the July 7/July 14, 2014, issue of Time magazine. They’ve done jobs for Tic Tac, Ben & Jerry’s, Oreo and Greenpeace and created sets for the stop-motion animation “The Sea is Blue.”

A New York subway that’s seen busier days. Photograph courtesy Nix + Gerber.

It’s a career that requires a ton of time, more patience — and infinite plexiglass. 

“On the good days, you just kind of get lost in it,” says Gerber, describing her creative process. “You lose track of time.”

Nix heads the architectural side of the business, whether it’s crafting mini cityscapes, buildings or forests, and Gerber handles design details, sculpting everything from rust collecting on a weathered food cart to the grooves in a tree trunk. (When WAG arrived in their studio, Gerber had just finished creating a tiny lawnmower that took four days to perfect.)

“Most of the fine art ideas are coming out of my head and then I try to entice Kathleen into being as interested in them as I am,” Nix says. “I think she’s a better artist than I am,” she adds with a smile.

Depending on the project, Nix and Gerber may spend anywhere from two weeks on commercial jobs — which are generally more urgent — to up to seven months on personal projects. 

“We actually like doing commercial work as much as we like doing our own artwork, because we use two different parts of our brains and they’re always feeding off of each other,” Nix says.

But the projects aren’t the only things feeding off of each other. The ladies’ back-and-forth banter is so in sync that when Nix starts a sentence, Gerber will finish it, or when Gerber is unsure of something, Nix will provide the answer. After some 20 years of creating art together, it’s no wonder they know each other so well.

The ladies founded Nix + Gerber in 2014, with experience creating different media. Nix, originally from Kansas, studied photography and ceramics in college. When she attended graduate school at Ohio University, she began crafting life-size installations for photography projects. But post-graduation, she had to make do with what she had available — a kitchen table inside her attic apartment — which ultimately led her to miniatures. 

“I just bought a book at the local bookstore on how to make a realistic railroad scene,” Nix says, “and I’ve been self-taught ever since.”

An art classroom. Photograph courtesy Nix + Gerber.

Gerber joined forces with Nix in 1999. Having studied glassblowing and sculpture, she worked at an art production company in Columbus, where she was responsible for creating textures, like distressed and metallic finishes and gilding. 

In search of a change — in career and in pace — the duo eventually moved from Columbus to Brooklyn. And they’re still here creating, some 18 years later. 

Though when asked about how Nix + Gerber got its official start, Gerber immediately looks to Nix and says, “Well, it’s Lori’s fault,” which is followed by laughter — and the incessant beeping of Friday evening traffic in Brooklyn, which prompts more laughter.

Taking over their studio is a scene depicting a desolate landscape of overgrown brush, a forgotten cotton candy machine — and, yes, Gerber’s miniature lawnmower. It’s part of their ongoing city series but with a post-apocalyptic twist?

“I think we also just love those movies from the ’70s when mankind is in peril,” Gerber says.

For a company that pays so much attention to detail, we couldn’t help but ask about its logo, which is composed of a squirrel and a beaver. 

“I’m a squirrel,” Nix says.

“And I’m the beaver,” adds Gerber, referring to their spirit animals.

Nix follows with, “Do you have a spirit animal that describes your personality and who you are?”

We had to think about that one…

For more, visit nixgerberstudio.com or call 718-941-8318.

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