Summer in San Francisco can often be cold, windy, foggy and frustrating. It’s often the best time to get out and explore other cities to get a taste of summertime. My good friends Terry and Ray Paetzold hosted a summer garden party for me, to introduce 12 Small Things to friends at their beautiful home in Lafayette. Terry’s parents and my father were best friends in their later years living in southern California. As our children have grown and our parent’s have passed away, Terry and I have grown closer with each milestone. Terry is a terrific chef, having cooked and catered with some of the best in the Bay Area, and has started a cooking school called In Terry’s Kitchen. Terry served a variety of appetizers to complement my artisan products from around the world, including India, Africa and Mexico. The weather was hot, the guests were lovely and everyone seemed to be having a good time enjoying Terry’s delicious food and wine while shopping generously in support of artisans in need.
I’m pleased to introduce two new products to my 12 Small Things collection for summer. The delightful floral note cards on my homepage are handmade by women in El Salvador, imported by the fair trade company Hope for Women. In 2001, massive mud slides and a devastating earthquake left many families in the highlands of El Salvador homeless and jobless. With their fields destroyed, many people began traveling to low-paying factory jobs in the capital. As an alternative, a group of enterprising women formed Arte Comasagua, an artisans’ organization that handcrafts stylish designs from native flowers and plants. These women now work locally, caring for their families and saving for their future. Hope For Women, run by Evan Goldstein and his dad from their office in Connecticut, is a socially responsible organization committed to providing sustainable employment for economically disadvantaged women worldwide. I met Evan when we were both attending the artisan gift show in Lima Peru in 2008, and have been following the great work he does for women artisans in India and South America.
The other new product I am pleased to feature, is hand-painted bamboo balancing dragonflies from Vietnam, imported by Far East Handicrafts in Vermont. I met one of the partners, Kirk Richmond, at the New York gift fair last summer and among all their interesting products from artisans in Nepal and Tibet, were a few brightly painted dragonflies that Kirk balanced for me on his fingertips. The dragonflies are made by Reaching Out Handicrafts, located in Hoi An, near Da Nang on the Coast of Vietnam. This self-organized crafts group provides employment and an extended family for many people who were affected by the defoliant Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam war, that caused innumerable birth defects among the population. Reaching Out Handicrafts is a great example of people working together, helping each other through very difficult life experiences. Far East Handicrafts Importers were founded on Fair Trade principles in 1988, and work directly with crafts people to ensure fair wages and good working conditions.
My latest summer adventure took me to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the annual Folk Art Festival. Never having been before, I wasn’t sure what to expect except for warm weather, which there certainly was in abundance. The other thing in abundance was people! Bus loads of people, anxious to shop from all the different collections brought by the artists themselves from all over the world. I tried to work my way in and out of all the tented booths featuring the products for sale, but often had to pass by for all the crowds in front of me. While perhaps a bit uncomfortable for my shopping pleasure, the crowds were a great advantage for all the artisans who can support their family and fellow workers for a whole year from the proceeds they earn at the festival. I met my merchant advisor and good friend Karen Gibbs and her partner, Colvin English from By Hand Consulting. They were volunteering at the artisan booth “A Million Hearts for Haiti“, helping to raise money for Haitian artists, along with their friend Keith Recker, the editor of HAND/EYE magazine. Keith had also worked the opening party the night before where he sold rum drinks to help benefit HAND/EYE Fund’s Artisan Grant program. Between the party and two days of selling stone, metal and fabric hearts for Haiti, Keith and friends were able to raise significant funds for artisans in the devastated country.
Fortunately for me and others in need of a break from the crowds and heat, Santa Fe has two amazing folk art and history museums right there in the fairgrounds at Museum Hill. At the International Folk Art Museum I was able to catch the a bit of a presentation given by one of the women from the Gahaya Links Cooperative in Rwanda. Gahaya Links was one of the ten women artisan cooperatives featured by the museum in their special exhibit, “Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives That Transform Communities”. I toured the museum’s creatively displayed collections featuring miniature sculptures of entire towns and village scenes from New Mexico’s history plus small puppet theaters, dolls, ceremonial objects and clothing all presented imaginatively for the public’s pleasure and education.
Fortified by air conditioning and a meditative break, I rejoined the crowds to finish my tour of the booths and listen to live music first from Cuba and then an African group sporting none other than bagpipes. On one of my last stops I finally met Anna O’Leary, my contact for Echery Pottery and Barro Sin Plomo, the organization working with ceramicists in Mexico to help transition them to lead-free glazes for their pottery. I was first introduced to this beautiful collection of Mexican pottery through Aid to Artisans, who launched the project with the help of scientists, doctors and designers including Mimi Robinson from San Francisco. Anna invited me to a benefit that evening for Barro Sin Plomo hosted by Chris and Patti Webster at their amazing Santa Fe home. After guest introduced themselves to one another while listening to live music, we were given a demonstration by one of the ceramists from Mexico who showed us how she sculpted intricate candelabra. Her family is currently being sponsored by Barro Sin Plomo to switch over from their hot, lead glaze kiln, to a new lower temperature kiln that works with lead-free glazes. Not only is this new system safer for the artists involved, it is also safer for the family living around the glazes and kiln and cooler for the household.
Anna and her father, Eric O’Leary, a well-renown sculptor himself, spoke to the guests about the years of dedicated work by all involved with Barro Sin Plomo and the success stories resulting from their efforts. As I stood listening to the speeches, watching the candle votives flicker in the darkness, while faint sounds of thunder rolled in from the desert, I felt so lucky to be associated with people doing such great work for others. As I returned to the Folk Art Fair Sunday, the crowds were much thinner and I had a great chance to meet with potential partners for my business who are all about helping artisans around the world. But that’s a whole other story, yet to be told this summer.