Kashmir comes to Vegas
This summer I was asked by Aid to Artisans to help with their Las Vegas Market booth display for their Art-X project showcasing the work of four different artisans groups in Kashmir. The Shaaksaz Producer Company, supported by Kadam Haat in India, featured willow garden and tabletop baskets, wattle fencing and light pendants designed by Howard Peller, founder of Living Willow Farm. Zadibal Crafts, supported by the Sasha Crafts exhibited a variety of paper mache vases and bowls, designed by Aviva Shulem. Paper Mâché is a legacy craft that has been produced in Kashmir since the 14th century. NoorAari, supported by Rangsutra in India, partnered with Sudarshan Textile Arts, to produce and design embroidered scarves and pillows. Women artisans in Kashmir, craft a specific type of hand embroidery called crewel that uses a hook and hand dyed wool yarn to create intricate designs. And Bandipora weavers partnered with designer Stacy Spivak to produce wool scarves and shawls using kani, tweed, and hand-spun pashmina and merino wools, using cultural techniques that have been passed down for generations.
I had fun previewing the photos of the beautiful finished products along with the artisans making them. In an effort to pre-visualize the different booth displays before arriving in Las Vegas to help install, I made a series of pencil sketches with watercolors to get a sense of how everything might come together. The sketches were helpful in ordering the Ikea fixtures and props we would need ahead of time, when the Aid to Artisans team and I arrived to merchandise the booths.
We had our share of surprises with missing shipments of products found at the last minute, and sizes and quantities of items we didn't anticipate. We were able to collaborate and problem-solve together, to create handsome displays showing the multiple artisan products at their best. I love comparing the raw sketches to the photographs of the finished booths, makes it all look so easy!
I had the pleasure of working with Lauren, Rachel and Hannah from the Aid to Artisan team and meeting Payal Nath, the co-founder of Kadam Haat, working to create opportunities for artisan women in rural India. She and I talked about the challenges facing international artisans, particularly during the pandemic and how to compete for market share in a struggling US economy. Payal has won numerous awards for her work in India over the past seventeen years and I hope to be able to visit her one day to continue our conversations.
We were happy to have our wonderful booth neighbors, Guillermo Jester and Sofia Tania from ATA Mexico, and Kristine Jones working with Dancing Yak Handicrafts of Nepal. Guillermo and Sofia did a great job displaying their products handcrafted by women weavers in Chiapas, including traditional huipil dresses with contemporary patterns, and pillows, blankets, table linens and hammocks in soft colors. Their booth was included in a buyers tour of the pavilion which brought a welcome crowd by our booths.
Kristine displayed a collection of felt wool products for Dancing Yak's booth, including a red tote bag with the word VOTE spelled out in bold black letters which also caught the buyer's attention. Kristine lives in Washington DC and is a very talented photographer documenting the protests at our nation's capital almost on a daily basis, including January 6th. I am encouraging her to have a show and publish a book of her compelling work.
In August I traveled to New England to visit my sister who had moved from Lockwood, California earlier this year to buy a house in western Massachusetts near friends, and found a cute renovated 1820's farmhouse in Belchertown. She showed me around her new home town where we went kayaking on a river, walked her dog Meeki through many parks and forests and found a local lakefront beach complete with a hotdog stand, where I plan to return for many more visits.
We also took a trip to Beverly Farms, where we spent a summer 50 years ago, at our mother's friend's mansion, while her friend was in Nevada arranging for a divorce. I must have been around thirteen years old that summer, but still have vivid dreams of the house and the moats and ocean surrounding the property. I had contacted the current owner and arranged a time to visit on our way to see old friends in Rockport where we used to live. The new owner was lovely and gave us a tour through the rooms and hallways of my dreams, it was quite a breathtaking experience.
From Massachusetts I headed to New York to attend NY Now and Shoppe Object to see some of my favorite vendors and to meet new artisan groups, and buy product for 12 Small Things holiday season. I arrived in time to attend one of my favorite Keena vendors, Kikkerland's 30th anniversary celebration, which was held on a charted yacht that circled around the Hudson Bay at sunset. It was fun hanging with the lovely ladies from Keena and the Kikkerland team on a lovely summer evening.
Over the next two days I saw many familiar and new vendors between both shows, and bought lots of products to sell at my store and website. One of my favorite new vendors I finally met in person, was Tanja Cesh, founder of Mulxiply, producing handcrafted clothing, jewelry and felt animal toys from Nepal. After spending nearly 20 years in fashion and design, and volunteering alongside humanitarian organizations in the developing world, Tanja Cesh launched Mulxiply in 2010. While traveling to India, Nepal, and other parts of Southeast Asia, she was exposed to the horrors of human trafficking and the poverty of marginalized women and men the world over. Visiting rural villages, surrounded by women who were sewing or felting to make extra money for their families, the idea for Mulxiply was formed. Tanja saw a way to create dignified employment combining her experience in the fashion industry and the western marketplace with skilled artisans who needed work. I am excited to be offering her clothing and toys in my holiday 2022 collection.
Another new vendor I met, recommended to me by Monica Geary of Noble Fibre, was Hans Valdez of MIA or Mothers in Action, a group of artisans who knit sweaters and other wool textiles in Peru. MIA was founded by America Durand, a Peruvian mother and knitter with a Social Assistant degree, who wanted to help Andean communities, particularly widows or single mothers who needed work to support their families. Hans Valdez, who has an Ecotourism and Fashion Management degree, helps create their exquisite designs with the MIA team and leads the company, attending trade shows worldwide. MIA started in 2007 with only 12 mothers, and nowadays has more than 250 women knitting in different communities of the Peruvian Andes. Not just about the knitting, MIA Peru also provides training and workshops about education, nutrition, and respect for the environment, using pure fibers to create high quality, ecologically-friendly products.
Once back home I was excited to get my store and website ready for all the new product I was about to receive. My first shipment of hats came in from Minga, made by artisans in Ecuador. While they didn't have a booth in New York for me to visit, my daughter Olivia was able to meet the founder and owner of Minga, Emily Rathmanner at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park, where she had a very popular booth.
I also checked in with my new collaborator Sasha Plotitsa from Formr furniture in San Francisco, who is helping me design and craft display fixtures, made from recycled construction debris, and handcrafted by formerly incarcerated individuals, getting a second chance. Sasha and I recently previewed our collection to senior sales representatives and owners of Keena, who gave us valuable feedback and suggestions for improvement along with much support. Once finalized, we will be selling the collection to other retailers and homeowners interested in handmade, sustainable furnishings that help people and the planet.
As I approach my 65th year on this planet, I am still learning and remembering to appreciate each day we share with others while we are able. One of our vibrant young Keena sales representatives, Andy Token, was recently killed at age 35 in a crosswalk by a hit and run driver. It shook our whole community, and we are still mourning such an untimely loss of our colleague who had so much ahead to look forward to.
After attending a memorial for Andy, I got caught up in the emotion of appreciating people while we have the chance, and rode my bike across town to crash a brunch my daughters were having together. They were tolerant of their mom just needing to say hi and get a few hugs in before heading back to our own homes.
My friend Darcy Lee, formerly of Heartfelt and now Hail the Snail Mail, has the right attitude. For her 70th birthday she had a large gathering of friends and family at Golden Gate Park with a cake that summed up her feelings about aging, complemented by a fan from a good friend.
We recently threw a party for my father-in-law's 95th birthday with family and close friends. Martin and Eveline, soon to be 93, are obviously doing something right, having had long careers, while appreciating the visual arts, music and literature and enjoying time with their family and friends. Here's hoping we can all do the same!