New Markets, Centuries-Old Techniques

It’s gift-giving season, and the Skirball’s special Women Hold Up Half the Sky Holiday Pop-Up Shop is buzzing with activity. (You may have heard about it in the feature story “Handcrafted with Humanity” that appeared in the Home section of last Saturday’s Los Angeles Times.) Setting up a pop-up shop was something we’d never attempted before, and it’s been an enriching experience to learn about the hundreds of artisan groups and distributors that champion entrepreneurship for women worldwide.

Entryway to the 2011 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

Entryway to the 2011 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

The first person I turned to for advice was an experienced colleague at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. She referred me to Ahdina Zunkel, the director of special projects at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market (now in its eleventh year), where more than 120 artisans from around the world—all carefully vetted to ensure they produce authentic craft—come to sell and display their handcrafts each year.

With Women Hold Up Half the Sky coming up in the fall and the idea for a related pop-up shop in mind, I attended this year’s market in July. The attendance was high and the temperature even higher! 2012 had been designated as the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives, so it was no surprise that fifty-seven women’s cooperatives exhibited.

The market was absolutely amazing. The sheer number of artists represented and the quality of their work were a treat. Language was often a barrier, but I was able to learn some of the women’s inspiring stories firsthand.

Kakuben Babubhai Ahir

Kakuben Babubhai Ahir traveled all the way from Gujarat, India, to showcase her exquisite needlework at the Santa Fe International Folk Market.

I met Kakuben Babubhai Ahir of India after spotting her charming decorative Elephant Wall Hanging, which we carry in the pop-up shop along with matching pillows. After living a nomadic life for nearly ten years in search of work, Kakuben and her husband were able to settle back in their village with the help of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Trade Facilitation Centre, a trade union that aims to protect poor, self-employed women workers in India, a largely unprotected labor force. Thanks to SEWA, Kakuben has been able to make a living out of her needlework, a skill she never thought could be so profitable. Until she launched her business, embroidery had merely been a family tradition passed down to her, something she considered a chore. Now it’s a way to make a living for herself and her family, even enabling her to educate her son and daughter, as well as regain and expand the agricultural land her family had lost.

As I continued to explore the market, a crowd was amassing outside one particular booth, so I had to take a look. There, I met Kadyrkul and Farzana Sharshembieva from Kyrgyzstan, showcasing a multitude of beautiful felted silk scarves. They, along with their daughters and nieces, use ala-kiyiz, a traditional felting technique in practice since the seventeenth century. Kadyrkul learned the technique from her grandmother before she was even ten years old. With the assistance of Alfia Mirasova, who works at their local United Nations chapter, we are able to make available a selection of scarves in colors exclusive to the Skirball Cultural Center.

Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez

Taking pride in Peruvian heritage craft, Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez (at right) and a colleague staff their booth at the market, filled with lovingly woven products, from hats to ponchos to table runners. Nilda projected a warmth and friendliness I’ll never forget.

I also came to know Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez, who founded The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco in Peru. This organization helps to preserve traditional dyeing and weaving techniques that might otherwise fall into obscurity. Proceeds of the organization’s sales go toward fair wages for the weavers and for training. The pop-up shop features a number of Nilda’s woven tote bags as well as charming weaver dolls carrying swaddled babies on their backs.

These are just a few of the many uplifting stories I heard during my trip to Santa Fe. What an honor it was to be able to learn so much about the global marketplace and meet some of the women entrepreneurs who are creating opportunity for themselves, their families, and their communities.

The Skirball’s Women Hold Up Half the Sky Holiday Pop-Up Shop is open through January 8, Tuesday–Friday, 12:00–5:00 p.m. and Saturday–Sunday, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. After the pop-up shop closes its doors, select bestselling items will be available at Audrey’s Museum Store. Starting tomorrow, Friday, December 2, through Sunday, December 4, stop by for a trunk show featuring merchandise from Original Women, an organization dedicated to supporting female artisans in the developing world.

WHUHTS-pop-up shop

Find something for everyone on your gift list at the Holiday Pop-Up Shop.

Posted in Holidays, Shopping, Women Hold Up Half the Sky.

About Pamela Balton

Pam Balton is Vice President of Special Projects at the Skirball, which means that for our museum stores she searches high and low to discover or create items that have meaningful connections to the Skirball mission—whether around town, in New York, on the web, at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, or in Israel, not to mention trade shows representing countries around the world. Pam also takes a lead role in the openings of our new buildings and exhibitions. A recent highlight in Pam’s life? The birth of her first grandchild!

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