I was watching the Shanghai episode of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show, Parts Unknown.
Anthony and his dinner companion, a young English teacher, Bill Wong, were at a dumpling restaurant. Anthony asked Wong what were the biggest changes he saw in his rapidly changing country.
“Food like this is getting hard to find,” Wong said. Then he shrugged and picked up a dumpling with his chopsticks. “After all, it’s handmade.”
That exchange hit me like a ton of bricks.
We live in a time where dumplings or bread or a tablecloth or a bed cover or a rug that is made by someone’s hand is so rare it is singled out as special.
That is why I do what I do. I want to celebrate the artisans that make the rugs, the weavings, the beads, the collectible art I bring to the Loaded Trunk. And I want to help ensure that these precious things continue to be made one at a time, carefully, with someone’s two hands.
To support the men and women who make handmade objects is to ensure the tradition will survive. It also brings income to people that desperately need it. And with earning money comes self respect, and pride of making something of beauty.
Their children and ours will be richer because of it.
Throughout history and around the world, crafts have been gender specializations. The more common scenario is women as potters and fiber artists, and men take on the role as ironsmiths, metal casters, stone and wood carvers, and leathersmiths. In many ways this reflects the gender standards of society: women take care of hearth and home, while men are the warriors, hunters and builders.
Crafts are such a prerogative as a practical and economic staple that many traditional communities are born into craft castes. Young women learn the art from their mothers, and then pass the skills and rights to pottery or weaving to their daughters. The 20th century saw changes to the gender structure. With expanded global trade and tourism, women’s arts became more economically viable and men started adopting traditional women’s arts. Artisan collectives have also formed as a way to sustain centuries old artistic practices.
The Loaded Trunk supports many women collectives, especially important since women generally use their money to nurture and educate their children. Below are examples of the many regions around the world that depend on women and the arts:
Hand-woven fabric draws from traditional Mayan techniques and designs that continue to be practiced by the 300 Mayan women weavers from the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico who make up the Jolom Mayaetik Cooperative, as seen in the textile art of Petrona Gomez.
In Guatemala, women employ the back-strap looms that has been used in the area for centuries, if not millennia, to create vibrant textiles and cortes (skirts) that are woven on a very wide foot-powered loom. A shared aesthetic can be seen in the weavings of the Lenca people of Honduras, direct descendants of the Maya.
Takeo textiles are handcrafted by a women’s collective in the Takeo region of Cambodia.
Vintage weavings by women in Laos are intricately handwoven and women of the Hill Tribes in Thailand incorporate cross-stitching and indigo block printing in their fiber arts.
Sema women of Myanmar (Burma) also weave on a back-strap loom with small patches of embroidery added.
Kurdish women of the Anatolia region of Turkey weave wedding kilims (blankets) on a narrow loom, then village women add tassels and pompoms as best wishes for a happy marriage and home. The Berber women of Morocco also weave wedding blankets.
In addition to weaving, the women are also cleaning, preparing, dyeing and spinning the wool. Kenyan women weave sturdy bags from long strips of fiber extracted from banana palm and baobab leaves. Around Lake Turkana in Kenya, women make baskets out of palm fronds.Through their art, the women who produce these baskets are able to earn income that gives them status and enables them to help their daughters have a better life.
As an entrepreneur and a mother, supporting women and women's causes is a no-brainer for me. This International Women's Day (Sunday, March 8) and every day, we honor all the women around the world who work and are such an important part of our global economy.
Over the course of my life, I've been fortunate enough to live and travel throughout many Southeast Asian countries as well as learn about the remarkable religions, traditions, and mythologies of the cultures. Although it's not the religion I practice, the teachings of Buddhism have had a profound impact on me.
Buddhism is the dominant religion of contemporary Southeast Asian cultures, with up to 90% of the population some countries practicing Buddhism. Buddhism began with Shakyamuni Buddha who was born Siddhartha Gautama in India over 2500 years ago. He left the palace life to live as an ascetic in the wilderness and attained nirvana after sitting under the Bodhi tree for six years. He is the teacher of the Four Noble Truths, not a god but an enlightened being who has escaped the cyclical life cycles (Samsara) and achieved enlightenment (Nirvana).
Shrines to Buddha, however, did not begin to appear in Indian monasteries until about 700 years after Shakyamuni Buddha's death. The unifier of India, Emperor Ashoka the Great, was said to have sent royal monks to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). Buddhism then spread to China and other countries via the extensive trade route known as the Silk Road.
The tradition of sculpting images of Buddha began 1800 years ago and continues today, as seen in this teakwood head of Buddha from Thailand. His calm features show his compassion and meditative state while the top-knot reflects enlightenment. Buddha's long earlobes, stretched by heavy jewelry, is evidence of his former life as prince. These features can also be seen in the contemporary prints of Buddha by Thai artist Vorakorn Metmanorom.
Temple paintings of Buddhist legends and bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who exist on the edge of nirvana before crossing over to help others) functioned to honor spirit beings, beautify ritual spaces and teach morality lessons. Modern interpretations on tin, animated with lively characters, bring these tales out of the sanctuaries.
Ceremonial ware used in rituals are a dominant part of Buddhism and they come in many materials and forms, such as this Burmese vintage cast brass bowl with intricate floral patterns and animal motif and these brightly patterned Burmese lacquerware offering vessels.
Many Burmese homes would have hpaya-zin, elaborate gilded wood and lacquer shrines, that were meant to hold miniature sculptures of Buddha for private contemplation. The shrine shown above is no longer available. It was absolutely one of my favorite things to have passed through my life.
Buddhist art continues to be a dominant form of visual expression throughout Southeast Asia today after centuries of tradition. If you'd like to read more about Buddhism and art, the Met has a superb article by Vidya Dehejia, which goes into much greater detail about the era.
And if you haven't already, check out the Southeast Asian Collection I've put together in the shop!
I get so immersed into work that I sometimes forget there’s a whole world out there. Some constant reminders that I have to tell myself: I’m a good cook and need to make a real meal once in a while, not just cheese and crackers. The road to and from the warehouse that holds my inventory isn’t the only one in town. There are streets and lovely parks that I haven’t explored in I don’t know how long.
In other words, I need to find some balance.
I’m addicted to travel and by now, you probably know I'm slightly obsessed with textiles and objects. It never ends, like any addiction. I can spend hours after my day is over looking at travel sites, making plane reservations that I may or may not keep, keeping track of what the big lifestyle sites are selling and even checking Etsy and Ebay. The next thing you know, it's midnight and I haven’t had a proper dinner and didn’t use my time for anything outside of this work bubble. I love it in here but realize I'm becoming a little too work-centric. After all, I do like eating in nice restaurants. hearing music, taking an occasional class, having a drink with friends. I want to fill in some of those holes where a well rounded life should be.
So, this year, I will try to act and do as well as think and plan. But stepping out of your bubble can be difficult. I can’t do this without a plan. To this end, here is my official List of 10 Things to Do in 2015. Wish me luck!
*I have started on one thing on this list and that's making baby steps toward launching the Flea Market Furniture for The Loaded Trunk. Here's a preview of what's to come. The first image is the original flea market find. The images that follow it are topped with textiles I'm considering. Please let me know what you think of my choices in comments!
The end of one year and the start of the next is always cause for a little looking back, second guessing, and also speculation about the future. As always, I have a few regrets. Working alone out of your home can make for some very one-sided conversations. And there was that time when I wore pajamas for ten straight days. But these temporary insanities of the past year are totally outnumbered by the excitement for what could be in my future. And being the travel-obsessed creature that I am, I gauge the future by where I’ll go and what I’ll find for the Loaded Trunk.
After much internal list making and argument, here are some, if not all, of my goals for 2015. Ten places to go and ten things to do aren’t unreasonable, are they?
1. Go see the sand cranes in Kearney, Nebraska. This is the 45th year for the Audubon's Nebraska Crane Festival and it runs March 19-22. How do they know what day all the cranes will arrive? I suspect tracking drones.
2. Mexico: the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas for artisan made textiles, rugs, and pottery. Also great mezcal.
3. Burma, Bangkok and Bali. I’ve been to Bali and to Bangkok many times. Now that the political situation is better, I can go to Burma. I may try to be in the neighborhood for Songkran, the traditional New Year’s celebration in Thailand in April.
4. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, April 24-May 3. My friends tell me to go to the soft-shelled crab po’ boy stand next to the Gospel Tent. Heavenly.
5. Brimfield Antique Show. The largest outdoor market in the Northeast, Brimfield happens May 12-17, July 14-19 and September 8-13. I think I’ll go in September.
6. Telluride Film Festival, Labor Day Weekend, September 4-7 in Colorado.
7. Return to Guatemala for more Loaded Trunk inventory and Spanish lessons.
8. The World’s Longest Yard Sale. It runs from Alabama to Michigan on the Highway 127 corridor. 690 miles of junk and treasures. I’m good for at least 350 of those miles. First Thursday thru Sunday in August.
9. The Flint Hills Rodeo, June 4-6 in Strong City, Kansas. In its 78th year, this is the oldest consecutive rodeo in Kansas. Real Kansas Cowboys!
10. The Venice Biennale. The International Arts Exhibition runs May 9-November 22. I want to go in May or October, before or after the summer tourist crush.