By Charlene Rubinstein
Perhaps you’ve been told to “Buy Local” or seen the posters around town. What does that mean exactly? Buy Local? And how do you buy art locally. It’s easier than you think. Olympia has a thriving arts and crafts community that cares passionately about making quality, memorable, handmade items. During November and December several opportunities to find that unique gift abound right here in our community.
Shanty Slater organizes Make Olympia. The group is behind the Fall and Spring Artswalk and the upcoming Lincoln Winter Market held on November 30. Shanty is excited to be part of an organization that encourages, supports and promotes small-scale crafters & artisans. Make Olympia is a great launching pad for new artists. “It’s a great thing for local people to sell and try out new things. There are lots of success stories that come out of our markets. Plus its a fun way to shop,” she explains.
Indeed. There’s something about walking around a market and being able to look right at the craftsperson, ask questions and connect. Items purchased in this particular manner have a deeper meaning. It includes a story and a face.
Local silversmith, Jenifer Thacher, has been making jewelry for about 20 years. Silversmithing is the transformation of metals into shapes. She’s been inspired by local markets and crafts shows and sees them as a perfect place to find something unique. “People come to the booth asking, ‘What is that?’ They can be educated about what I do and people are often amazed at what I’ve created,” says the jeweler. She does all the finishing work herself. “The final product is very important to me,” she says. This quality is often what distinguishes gifts bought from handmade craftspeople and artists.
Jenifer also sells her jewelry at Childhood’s End, a gallery in downtown Olympia. She’s impressed with the gallery’s longstanding commitment to selling handmade work by Northwest artisans versus imports. But this venue isn’t enough to sustain her. “I think there are a lot of local artists that go elsewhere to sell their work. There is so much talent in this area and they don’t have the support here financially to make a go at it,” she comments. For artists wanting to put their handwork out into the world, the online website Etsy has been invaluable. Etsy also has a local support group that meets once a week.
Clothing and accessories maker, Colleen McDonald, owner of Mercy Me Designs and BCharmer is realistic about the market limitations here in Olympia but does not let that compromise the quality of her work or commitment to community. She met with a financial advisor a couple years ago and after discussing her business plan he asked her when she would start putting her items in one of the chain department stores. But she wasn’t going to do that. “My goal isn’t to be a trillionaire. He didn’t understand. There’s this business model to be as rich as humanely possible. I’m a business woman who wants to earn a living but also wants to do something that feels good in my community and the world. I want to do something that brings joy to people,” she explains.
Colleen’s involvement with an organization like Make Olympia goes beyond her pocket book. She’s a part of every one of their markets. “They are supporting me as a person because I am keeping money in my community as much as possible. And I am donating my own money and goods inside the community. Keeping money in your community is healthy for your community and I’m invested in my customers. I have more incentive for good quality. We see each other around town!”
Olympia stores that feature handmade items made by locals:
- Traditions Cafe and World Folk Art
- Dumpster Values
- Olympia Farmers Market
- Olympia Food Co-op, Eastside
- HUBBUB (Centralia)
- Matter! Gallery
- Compass Rose
- Childhood’s End Gallery
- Olympia Etsy Team
Holiday marketplaces to find homemade goodies:
Make Olympia’s Lincoln Winter Market – November 30, 2013. 11 am – 5 pm.
The third annual Lincoln Winter Market will have over 60 vendors selling a huge variety of quality handmade goods created by our community and beyond. This is a public event, open to everyone, and free to attend. There will be hot food, baked goods and entertainment too. The event is at Lincoln Elementary School in Olympia.
Olympia Waldorf School’s Winter Faire – December 7, 2013. 11am – 3 pm.
The annual Winter Faire features local and handmade items from Northwest artisans. In addition to the market, the school is transformed into a winter wonderland with magical activities for the whole family, a hot lunch and delicious treats.
Duck the Malls – December 14, 2013. 11 am – 6 pm.
Now in its 11th year, Duck the Malls has become a holiday tradition and draws a huge crowd of community members wanting to shop locally, creatively, and alternatively for the holidays and support true craftsmanship. You can find the event at the historic Capitol Theater.