Creative Genius: Maria Alexandra Vettese + Stephanie Congdon Barnes

These best friends and bloggers share stories of living a creative life in their new book.

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Maria Alexandra Vettese (MAV) and Stephanie Congdon Barnes (SCB) are dear friends living in Portland—Portland, Ore., and Portland, Maine, that is. The two are more than 3,000 miles apart, but for the past 10 years have shared their daily adventures in making, parenting, and life by way of their blog, 3191 Miles Apart. This past year they released their first book, A Year Between Friends: 3191 Miles Apart, a collection of favorite DIY projects, recipes and stories.

Image by Stephanie Congdon Barnes.

Image by Stephanie Congdon Barnes.

The collection of handwritten letters and gorgeous diptychs featured in A Year Between Friends offers readers a look into the lives of these two resourceful women. Known as SCB and MAV to their readers, learn more about these two Creative Geniuses.

Tell us a little bit about the two of you.
SCB: I am a photographer and artist living in Portland, Oregon with my husband and two teenage children.

MAV: I am an art director and photographer living in Portland, Maine. I own a shop there called More & Co. I live in a very old house with my two cats, my sweetheart and my baby girl. I prefer writing letters to emailing or texting and home-cooked meals to take-out. If forced to choose I would take cake over pie.

Why did you two first start your blog?
SCB: Ten years ago, MAV and I discovered each other online at the photo sharing site Flickr. After seeing a photo I took of my breakfast table, she paired it in a diptych with one of her own—the idea for our first project, A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart, was born. We chose the name 3191 Miles Apart because it was the distance between our homes in Oregon and Maine. We have been creating collaboratively ever since through photography, storytelling, crafting and cooking.

Image courtesy of Abrams.

Photo by: elephant


Image courtesy of Abrams.

What have been some of your favorite projects or stories shared between each other on the blog and in the book?
SCB: My favorite part of our collaboration has always been the simplicity of our diptych photographs. My own everyday moments that I capture with my camera take on new meaning and purpose when placed next to MAV’s point of view. I am currently loving MAV’s natural dye projects that she shares in A Year Between Friends. It is exciting to see everyday items from my spice drawer or pantry transform fabric.

MAV: I always love it when we can be in the same place, so when Stephanie came to Maine in 2015 to meet my new baby that was a highlight for me. I love the black bean dye from the book and Stephanie's handsewn pine cone. I have been gifted a few of her pine cones over the years and treasure them.

Image by Maria Alexandra Vettese.

Image by Maria Alexandra Vettese.

When you look for your simple moments to share with your readers, where do you begin?
SCB: I begin with a pause. Noticing requires slowing down. Taking photos of my everyday life helps me to see beauty in stressful or messy moments. With a pause, I can observe how the light falls or how objects or colors relate to each other in my surroundings, things that might ordinarily go unnoticed.

MAV: Where it begins for me is in real life. I am very visual, so I just go through my day and when I see something soulful or magical, I usually photograph it. I like everyday things - things that others might not notice. I like light and color and bits and pieces of the people and the things that I love. I take and share a lot of moments from my kitchen because I am there quite a bit!

The new book is very personal and offers a wonderful look into your friendship. Where there any surprises that arose putting the book together?
SCB: MAV surprised me with her incredible resilience. We could not possibly know when we started to chronicle our year what was in store. MAV continued to share with me and the readers through some extreme highs and lows of her experience that year. I remain touched by her openness and strength.

MAV: Our editor suggested writing letters to each other to start out each monthly chapter. I was not sure how I would feel about that even while starting to do it. But now I see how lovely it is as a part of the whole year and I crave the opportunity to write more! I loved watching Stephanie's kids grow into young adults while I just started out with my baby girl. It has been amazing to have Steph's strong mothering instinct to fall back upon while I was learning what it meant to be a mom myself.

There are a variety of crafting techniques shared in the book. Do either of you have a favorite medium?
SCB: I am someone who is willing to try any craft, but I especially love projects that are useful. When I can make something that has utility in my everyday life, I am especially pleased. That said, my favorite medium is a needle and thread. I love hand stitching and mending.

MAV: I am at my best in the kitchen; I love to cook and bake. Simple projects that have to do with fabric always tickle my fancy as well.

What's next for the blog and the two of you?
SCB: We post new moments that we captured with film photography as diptychs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on our blog. On Fridays we also post words—stories, recipes, crafts, recommendations, and advice. We are currently focused on our blog and sharing A Year Between Friends with the world, but we might have a few new tricks up our sleeve...

Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
MAV: I would love our readers to know that aside from our book projects, Stephanie and I have never been paid for the "work" that we do at 3191 Miles Apart. It has been a 10-year labor of love for sure! I say this as a point to make because I often think people think we are being paid, by sponsors or in other ways, but we are not and so the sharing really comes from our heart. It comes from a place of honesty and trust. It comes from our centers which is our love of family, home and friends. We trust that the people who buy our book and come to our website want to be there and appreciate our perspective and we trust in the goodness that is created in that space.

We are thankful for what we have created out of love and we are thankful for the community that joins us there.

Image by Stephanie Congdon Barnes.

Image by Stephanie Congdon Barnes.

Try your hand at one of Stephanie's favorite DIY projects by making your own hand-knotted bottle carrier.

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