Mary Merkel-Hess grew up in the farmlands of Iowa, where she still lives and works. Her interests varied in school and she completed several degrees over twelve years. Studying both fine arts, like metalsmithing and fiber, and social sciences for her undergraduate degrees, Merkel-Hess's studies culminated with an MFA in metalsmithing from the University of Iowa. She worked for some time in both metal and fiber, maintaining separate studios for each, and slowly shifted her attention to creating what she calls "landscape reports" in fiber. Working with reeds, paper cords, and a mixture similar to papier-mâché, Merkel-Hess creates sculptural basket-like forms inspired by the natural surroundings in Iowa.