Making Things, Giving Things & Keeping Things

A northern fulmar in flight near Boreray, an uninhabited island in the archipelago of St. Kilda. Photograph by Philip Mugridge / Alamy

Last week I read an essay explaining the allusive power that human-made objects can have. It got me thinking about St. Kilda. Reading four years ago about that place and its people spurred my imagination sufficiently that the following year I committed to a challenge. The challenge was created by the speed of change impacting travel culture, and the tendency of travel retail to homogenize over time.

Things you might see in the Authentica shops

Local artisans all over the world were finding their goods displaced in shops oriented to travelers by things made in faraway factories.

Specifically, the commitment was to support local artisans by creating a venue for selling their goods to travelers. Perhaps utopian is a concept too big to apply to this commitment; anyway, maybe the word quixotic is more apt. Authentica offers human-made things for travelers to take home with them, within the context of a travel-retail complex that operates with very different resources and intent.

We understand why the replicas are made, and why people buy them. We refuse to confuse understanding with acquiescence.

The scoop and the bird clip in the image above, two such things I also wrote about two years ago, are examples of local culturally relevant artifacts that we hope will not be outsourced to a factory in another part of the world. The coffee in that image is another example, with a twist. What I like about coffee as a memento is that it is at the intersection of tangible and intangible. It is quintessentially Costa Rican, but once you enjoy the entire bag you no longer possess that thing. As you consume it, it tells you something about Costa Rica. When it is finished you possess a memory of the coffee, and of Costa Rica.

Points For Creativity

Edward Constance and Brian Souyana race on Rasta Rocket, made from plastic drain pipes and fishing buoys that washed up on Aldabra. About 68 tonnes of marine litter a year is washed ashore

Do not ask yourself whether this will change anything; just smile and acknowledge that it is probably not hurting anyone to have some creative fun with environmental disasters:

Recycled regatta: world heritage site highlights plastic pollution crisis

When environmentalists on a Seychelles atoll decided to race boats made from ocean litter, they had 500 tonnes to pick from

Photographs: Anna Koester/Seychelles Islands Foundation

Martin van Rooyen, a researcher, and Luke A’Bear, a science coordinator, prepare to set sail on Red Lion, buoyed by discarded oil drums

Red Lion is the kind of boat you would not see in most regattas. Its frame is made of bamboo, sourced from washed-up fishing equipment, and it uses two old oil drums for buoyancy.

Equally strange is Rasta Rocket – made from old plastic drain pipes, washed-up floats and fishing buoys.

These were two of the boats in the inaugural Aldabra Regatta: an ironic attempt to draw attention to marine plastic pollution by racing boats made from marine debris. Continue reading

Roses In The Cloister

Roses in the cloister.   SIMON WATSON

Yesterday’s post linked to earlier ones with rose references, and one of those led me to a small correction. The photo above shows a slightly different angle on the roses in the garden of the restored convent. I had assumed those roses were very old. A bit of sleuthing led me to the fact that they were planted during the restoration, and they are “indeed quite perfumed.” For that and other reasons it is worth taking another look at that project, this time told by Olinda Adeane and with excellent photos by Simon Watson:

A mother & daughter’s restoration of a 16th-century Tuscan convent

A mother-and-daughter design duo has taken an unconventional approach to the conversion of a sixteenth-century convent in Tuscany, filling the rooms with objects and artworks of their own making.

In the library, hand-coloured prints stand out against the white walls. SIMON WATSON

Henry James once described his friend Edith Wharton as a ‘great and glorious pendulum’ swinging back and forth across the Atlantic. In a similar fashion, Holly Lueders, a designer from New York, has returned to Greece every year since she first visited the country as an 18-year-old student. Holly grew up in a sleepy town in Missouri with little in the way of culture or local craft, but her family was artistic and good with their hands. ‘Anything we wanted, we made for ourselves,’ remembers Holly. She studied art history and archaeology at Columbia University and completed her studies in Athens. Continue reading

Smithsonian Craft Show

Some of the crafts we carry seem museum quality to us, but we offer them in the context of commerce.

We would love to attend this show at the Smithsonian, primarily to see the work of Jessica Beels, whose work is showing in the Mixed Media and Paper section of the Show. Her website is full of reasons to see more of her work.

Nowhere on that site do  we see works like these three bird figures. We favor birds in art, wherever it may be, and when the medium stretches boundaries as these do, all the more interesting.

Coffee & Plastic, Second Shift Footwear

The company said the shoe, called Nomad, will be made from coffee waste and recycled bottles, while recycled polyester will be used to create the membrane to make the footwear waterproof. Photograph: c/o Rens

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the idea of using coffee bags a second time. But it was fun realizing how easy it is, and just doing it. Less easy and maybe lots more fun is the idea in the article below. Hats off to the creative founders who chose this path instead of chasing Silicon Valley unicorns (perhaps their success will demonstrate that unicorns thrive on a healthy planet, as expressed in this t-shirt I saw recently):

Firm seeks funding for ‘performance sneakers’ made from coffee waste

Finnish firm Rens says shoes made from used grounds and recycled plastic will be climate neutral

It is the typical morning routine for hundreds of thousands of Britons: have a cup of coffee and then slip on your trainers before heading for a jog. Upon returning, a quick drink of water to rehydrate before stepping into the shower.

Now, one firm has enabled one thing to beget another, by creating trainers made of recycled plastic bottles and used coffee beans.

Finnish footwear firm Rens launched an online fundraising campaign for its latest sustainable trainer on Tuesday, which it claims will be climate neutral in its production, packaging and transport. Continue reading

Year 9, Day 365

Seth’s photo of the view from the hill at Morgan’s Rock in Nicaragua

Today marks ten years since the first post on this platform. Seth’s description of a crab-eating little possum wandering by as he was reading, and a sloth-sighting together with two people visiting Nicaragua from the USA, reads like an entry in a travelogue. A later post about boarding down a volcano was the most viewed post of the first year.

Seth sandboarding down Volcán Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

A man named Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru, was on a hunger strike to protest corruption when Michael, a senior at Amherst College, landed in India to begin an internship

Michael’s first post likewise starts as a travelogue, but veers into different territory as he reads the news about two men who are sacrificing comfort, and even life, for causes they believe in. The post goes on to identify drinking water as a cause worthy of the reader’s attention. Over the course of his time with us in India he wrote some of my personal favorites. He helped me better understand that the value of the internships we offered were as much about personal growth as about work experience.

Within a few years, permits could be issued for commercial miners hoping to harvest the submerged wealth of the sea. Illustration by Sophi Miyoko Gullbrants

A decade was set in motion. This is our 10,286th post. Whatever meaning might be drawn from statistics, such as 827,462 views of our posts as of this writing, I find reasons to continue what those two started. Every day a bird is featured, thanks to Amie’s network of bird photographers. And every day I scan the news to share something enlightening, or I jot a note about a new idea we are trying out, always related to causes we care about. Today, on this rounding out of a decade, I mark the occasion by sharing the latest publication of a writer whose work rarely makes me happy but who I nonetheless link to often as a head-out-of-the-sand gesture:

The Deep Sea Is Filled with Treasure, but It Comes at a Price

We’ve barely explored the darkest realm of the ocean. With rare-metal mining on the rise, we’re already destroying it.

June 14, 2021

The International Seabed Authority is headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, in a building that looks a bit like a prison and a bit like a Holiday Inn. The I.S.A., which has been described as “chronically overlooked” and is so obscure that even many Jamaicans don’t know it exists, has jurisdiction over roughly half the globe. Continue reading

The Human Touch

The Economist offers this brief thinkpiece on what to make of the recent uptick in interest in craft-made products (unless you are a subscriber to the magazine you will need to sign up for free limited access to the magazine’s website):

Can human creativity prevent mass unemployment?

The market for artisan goods is likely to grow. But organised craft could lose its charm

In “THE REPAIR SHOP”, a British television series, carpenters, textile workers and mechanics mend family heirlooms that viewers have brought to their workshop. The fascination comes from watching them apply their craft to restore these keepsakes and the emotional appeal from the tears that follow when the owner is presented with the beautifully rendered result. Continue reading

For Everyone In The USA

We studiously avoid politics, though we never hesitate to highlight policies we agree with and especially those we disagree with. But today, unlike any day since we started this platform in mid-2011, we cannot not notice that it is a politics-crazy day in the USA. So, we only go as far as noting that, and share what may be an antidote to the craze. The title says it all (click above).

From Brooklyn to Beyond

The Brooklyn Film Society has been organizing the Brooklyn Film Festival for decades, providing a public forum for the local community to view an extraordinarily wide range of national and international films. Scheduled from May 29 – June 7th, the 23rd edition of the festival features 6 categories of films: Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Animation, and Experimental.

The primary difference from past editions is the venue… all the films will be available on line, free of charge. So sign up following this link – and enjoy!

THEME: Turning Point

Just a few months ago, nobody, not even the most daring sci-fi screenwriter, could have predicted the current situation and/or the extent of the COVID-19 takeover. Besides the fact that we are all still dealing with the basics and a resolutive approach feels still far away, one thing seems certain: we won’t be able to go back to the pre-virus thinking and lifestyle anytime soon. The fear of the “invisible danger” that threatens our life is radically modifying our own life routine and the way we deal with our neighbors. It is a “Turning Point” in history. It is a moment that will ultimately reveal who we are as human beings. The Brooklyn Film Festival, with its 2020 event, plans to highlight and dissect people’s character and problem solving attitude as it shifts from one time zone to the next. The international role BFF has always played on the world’s stage, will now come truly handy while with our film lineup we travel from one corner of the planet to another. “Turning Point” is about refreshing our own point of view. It’s about rethinking our old assumptions and learning from the people who share our screen whether they live in a different continent or across the street. “Turning Point” is about reinventing our planet and our life.

 

Captivity, Creativity, Penguins & Art

I visited the Nelson-Atkins many times in recent decades when visiting family in Kansas City. I never visited the Kansas City Zoo because, while I am grateful for the essential services zoos can provide, animals in captivity generally depress me. Our son Milo and his 3-year old daughter were in Kansas City just after Amie and I visited in late February. With grand/great grand-parents they visited both the Nelson-Atkins and the Kansas City Zoo. The zoo was a huge hit with our grand-daughter, and I am grateful to that zoo for her exposure to live animals she might never otherwise get to see.

I did not know before just now what exceptions might exist to my general rule of avoiding even images of wild animals in captivity. I have discovered one. I suppose on reflection I will probably change my mind, but for now I stand by the idea that the directors of these two institutions are doing their best in tough times to find creative solutions for everyone:

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Kansas City Zoo executive director Randy Wisthoff says their Humboldt penguins have missed their regular interactions with zoo visitors, so a field trip was in order.
Gabe Hopkins/The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

WATCH: Missouri Penguins Enjoy ‘Morning Of Fine Art’ At Local Museum

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Penguins were allowed to waddle through the galleries of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Both the museum and the Kansas City Zoo — home to the penguins — have been closed because of the pandemic.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

What a time to be a penguin.

First, a group of the flightless birds were recently allowed to roam the halls of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium — a through-the-looking-glass moment if there ever was one.

Now, penguins visited a museum for a “morning of fine art and culture.”

The outing was arranged by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and the Kansas City Zoo. Both institutions are closed to the public because the pandemic.

“Quarantine has caused everyone to go a little stir-crazy, even the residents of the Kansas City Zoo. So several of the penguins decided to go on a field trip to the Nelson-Atkins, which is still closed, to get a little culture,” said a caption accompanying the video. Continue reading

Escazu’s Family Farms

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March 8, 2020 will remain a memorable date for me. I was walking down the mountain to pick up something from the store, and I came upon this gathering close the location where the feria happens in Escazu.

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It will remain memorable because I was aware of the growing crisis in other parts of the world, but at this moment did not yet see it in perspective. Nor, on this lovely morning, did I have reason yet to think about family farms the way I am thinking about them today.

Continue reading

Darn Charm

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Thanks to Steven Kurutz, whose first two appearances in our pages (6 and 4 years ago, respectively) prepared us well for this charming news:

Now Is When We All Learn to Darn Our Socks Again

“Visible mending” has been taken up by those who want to protest fast fashion and disposable culture. It’s also thrifty.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Only a few generations ago, socks were routinely darned, sweaters mended and pants patched. You could buy a sewing kit at any drugstore. Knowing how to use it was a mark of good housekeeping.

Kate Sekules, 58, remembers that world, in which the act of repairing clothes was integral to wearing them. “My mother was a dressmaker to the end of her life,” said Ms. Sekules, who grew up in England. “My mother just mended as a matter of course.”

Ms. Sekules has kept up that thrifty tradition. She started one of the earliest secondhand online clothing exchanges, Refashioner. She buys all of her clothes vintage and mends them all, including her husband’s moth-eaten sweaters. Continue reading

Musical Influences

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ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360

It is commonplace belief that music from our youth influences our taste in music for the rest of life, and that no music ever displaces the favorite music of our late teens and early twenties (this is lore, admittedly, not science), so it makes sense that this same period of music acquisition can influence much more:

How Hip Hop Can Bring Green Issues to Communities of Color

The environmental movement has largely failed to connect with people of color and marginalized urban communities. By confronting issues from contaminated water to climate change, hip hop music can help bridge that divide and bring home the realities of environmental injustice.

When I was diversity director at North Carolina State University, part of my job was to recruit young people — often from communities of color — into the College of Natural Resources. It could be a struggle; these were talented and creative kids, but often they didn’t see how environmental or sustainability issues were relevant to their lives. Continue reading

Getting a Bigger Bang Out of Plastic

Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy.  Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.

We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.

Big Bang, Indeed!

Ceiba @ Authentica

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Ceiba2.jpegIt is equally rewarding to introduce new friends here as it is to talk about old friends. I already mentioned Ceiba recently, but I chose one of their more esoteric (if extremely useful) products to highlight in that post. This group of artisans had our attention sufficiently with the beauty of their products when we first met them last year. When we brought some of the products home to test them out in our own kitchen, the utility factor added to our decision to carry their products. But a third factor, which is our extra attention to coffee and coffee culture as essential parts of Costa Rica’s identity, made their products among my personal favorites. So here I am providing a second look at their work.

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This simple bird motif carving is a clip to hold your coffee bag shut after opening. I use it every day.

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I also use the coffee scoop every morning, and while I love all their products it is these two coffee-centric ones I appreciate the most. Even for someone living in Costa Rica these are lovely little reminders of this country’s commitment to conservation, considering where Ceiba sources their wood, one of Costa Rica’s most important renewable resources. That makes me think these products are particularly well-suited to offer value as a takeaway for visitors to this country.

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Biesanz @ Authentica

BB1.jpegWhen we moved to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s one dimension of my work required analysis of the handicrafts sector as part of the nascent tourism industry. That led to my getting to know one of the country’s pioneering wood turners, Barry Biesanz. We have been friends ever since, and as we started planning for what is now Authentica, a range of Biesanz wood products were the first we committed to.

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BB3.jpgAbove is a bowl not currently on display in Authentica, but it is a favored part of our home collection. Last year one of the old trees behind our home came down in a storm. Barry sent a few of his workmen to help clear it away. Months later this bowl was gifted to us, one of many bowls he had been able to craft from the wood from that tree.  In the sign we have placed with his work, note the reference to defects. You can see those in the bowl above. During the last year Barry also introduced us to other Costa Rican artisans, and we have featured their work alongside his in the two shops.

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When Life Gives You Lemons

Juicer at Authentica, as seen in front of the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen

To make the best use of the citrus in your life, visit Authentica and find this item. You may already have a fancy electric gadget that can perform the same function as this juicer, and it may seem self-evidently superior.

I beg to differ. First, on the experience: the mix of metal, plastic and/or glass of the electric juicer, designed for speed, eliminates any inherent satisfaction that either the fruit or the tool might provide. Holding this wooden juicer is a form of time travel. It resembles one I first saw in 1969. And that one likely resembled juicers in use in that village for hundreds of years, typically made of olive wood.

Secondly, I beg to differ on utility. Electric juicers may get the job done quicker, but this juicer gets another, more important job done. Its carbon footprint is a tiny fraction of the electric one, starting with construction and finishing with the use of electricity. And this is made by a group of craftsmen in Costa Rica who work with wood that has been recycled from previous use–timbers or railings from old homes–or wood from trees felled by storms. Experience + utility + sustainability = an authentic Costa Rica takeaway.

Graphic Artists & Ecological Education

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Since we started this platform in 2011 I have been on the lookout for graphical representations that help me, and therefore might help others, understand complex issues related to the environment. Photography has been the easiest reach for me, perhaps because I am a son of, a brother of, and a father of people who have mastered that form. Comics were not part of my life, so that form has eluded me. And I realize that the work of Susie Cagle escaped my attention–as I have shared visual artists’ depictions of natural phenomena, with science and especially ecological issues emphasized–until now. And this is a good way for her work to come to my attention, because in our family we have been debating this tree’s value for decades:

Fire-starting weed or ecological scapegoat? The battle over California’s eucalyptus trees

The fight over a celebrated exotic plant highlights questions over California’s future amid the climate crisis