As an 8-year-old, Valerie Gordon started making chocolate chip cookies for her classmates. Those bake sessions kicked off a lifelong hobby, and by the time she became manager of the Hollywood haunt Les Deux Cafés, she was regularly whipping up buttery toffees for friends. "Everyone said I should turn my side project into a full-time gig," Gordon says. In 2003, the restaurant closed; two months later, Gordon launched Valerie Confections out of her kitchen. She started with her toffee in flavors like almond fleur de sel; three years later, after opening a shop in Los Angeles, she began really experimenting, creating mint mendiants, lavender petits fours, and nostalgic California desserts like coffee crunch cake. "There's a dim sum appeal to what I do," Gordon says, with a nod to her Chinese heritage. "Lots of small treats."
Gordon and her team often hand-dip hundreds of chocolates per day, a technique she calls therapeutic: "Some people find Zen through yoga; for me, it's creating clean lines with smooth molten chocolate." Gordon's challenge is keeping up with her own imagination. She has a penchant for surprising flavor hybrids (rose petal–passion fruit, pansy–black currant) and finds inspiration at the flower market and spice shop. As she works, she often thinks of her grandfather, who once said to never arrive at someone's house empty-handed. "I want everything I create to feel like a gift," she says.
Since her dessert debut, Gordon has opened two more locations. This fall she published Sweet, a gorgeous baking book created, she says, "for all the customers who tell me, 'I could never make this!' Now they can see that dessert-making doesn't have to be overwhelming." Gordon should know: She often writes recipes while helping her 6-year-old son with his homework and frosts cakes with her 1-year-old daughter on her hip. She hopes they'll both master a batch of cookies soon.
Excerpted from Sweet: Inspired Ingredients, Unforgettable Desserts by Valerie Gordon (Artisan Books) Copyright 2013. Photographs by Peden + Munk.
As a teenager, Thea Alvin spent some time working for her dad, hauling and shaping stone on Martha's Vineyard. "He needed the help," says Alvin, 45. "Plus, I'd totaled his car, so I had debt to pay off." She gave up the work after eloping at 18, but in 1998, when she found herself divorced and a single mom, masonry became a way to make a living—and then some. "Whether it was a wall or a well, the brute labor relieved any lingering turmoil from my broken marriage and the stress of raising three kids alone," Alvin says. "It's like a daylong yoga practice, where I can breathe, move, meditate, create—and laugh!"
Using stone as her medium, Alvin creates stunning sculptures: spiraling arches, open circles, and towering cairns. She begins by slowly carving tons of rock, with a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other. (She owns more than 50 hammers, all painted pink, and calls her favorite Garfield.) Alvin sculpts primarily as a dry mason, without any adhesive. Instead, her work, like the helix that spans 100 feet on her Vermont front lawn (or, as she calls it, her public sculpture park), is held together by gravity and the careful fit of each crafted slab. Alvin balances stones on top of a wooden frame until they're secure. Then it's time for her tried-and-true wiggle test: "I shake the sculpture. If it moves as one, I know it's stable."
Her Dream Job
For the past four years, Alvin has been traveling to a 15th-century village in Italy to repair crumbling stone roofs on 19 homes. "I get my artsy side from my Italian grandfather," she says, "so when I'm there, I feel connected to my roots." Which means that although the project will take several more years to complete, Alvin's happy to keep chipping away.
— Zoe Donaldson
"As soon as I could read, I was flipping through my mom's cookbooks," says food stylist Susan Spungen. But it wasn't until age 17, when she took a year off after high school to work the counter at Philadelphia hot spot the Commissary ("I got to do the fun stuff: charcuterie, salads, omelets"), that she discovered just how creative food prep could be. "I loved finessing," says Spungen, 53. "For the perfect smoked salmon slice, I had to be able to see the blade of my knife through the fish. When plating chocolate mousse cake, I had to slice it just so for it to look beautiful." She went on to work as a pastry chef before styling and developing recipes for cookbooks and magazines.
In 2008 Spungen got an out-of-the-blue call from Nora Ephron, asking if she wanted to style the food for Ephron's movie Julie & Julia. "I didn't hesitate," she says. Next came It's Complicated (in which Meryl Streep feeds Spungen's flaky croissants to Steve Martin), followed by piles of pasta for Eat Pray Love.
Her next film project, Labor Day, stars Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and a peach pie—which actually means several hundred of them. "I baked cases upon cases of peaches, pounds upon pounds of dough," says Spungen, who spent hours coaching Brolin on pie-making for his role. "Styling on movies is grueling, but worth it when the food gets a close-up."
Spungen's schooling in fine arts impacts her plating style: "I go mad for color. Right now, not enough green or purple can find its way into my food." She advises treating large white plates as a canvas: "Look at food like a painting. Think about the composition." When plating a main course, she says, a good rule is to place the protein at 6 o'clock and then group the rest, with little negative space. Garnishes (herbs, microgreens) add freshness. Above all, she warns against getting too fussy. "Simplicity and elegance do go together," Spungen says. "I'm a big fan of dishes that look effortless. That means relaxing your hands when plating. Don't be afraid to gently toss food onto the plate, so it looks like it just landed there."
In December 2011 Jessica Mindich listened to a talk on gun violence by Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, that left her stunned. "I was completely unaware of the enormity of the problem," she says. "I couldn't look away." Mindich, who designs jewelry as fund-raising tools, decided she wanted to create something for Booker's city. Together, she says, they developed the idea of salvaging the brass and steel remains of the pistols, shotguns, and shell casings seized by Newark police at crime scenes to make the initial line of Caliber Collection bracelets. "We wanted to turn the destructive weapons into symbols of renewal," Mindich says. She pledged to give 20 percent of proceeds to the Newark Police Department (NPD) to fund the city's gun buyback program. Booker just didn't want the design to convey the materials' gritty origins; Mindich half-worried that "he wanted only butterflies or rainbows!"
After the police drop off a batch of guns at the metal shredder, the scraps are sealed in plastic bins and transported to a foundry, where they're mixed with a softening alloy and then cast into an oval mold to shape the bracelet. Mindich's five-person team embosses each bracelet with a shredded gun's serial number and "Newark", and hammers the surface for a dimpled look.
In just four months, the bracelet sales allowed Mindich—who spent her childhood "collecting pennies, jump-roping, roller-skating, and selling candy bars for causes"—to donate $60,000 to the NPD. She has expanded the line beyond the signature bangles and cuffs to cuff links (from $150 at JewelryforaCause.net). Mindich hopes to bring the concept to other American cities with high homicide rates. "I am fiercely proud of this project," she says. "The jewelry has the potential to raise the quality of life in Newark by getting these guns off the streets."
— Elzy Kolb
Growing up in Southern California, Ashley Lloyd Thompson spent all her free time at the beach, straddling her first surfboard at age 8. "It took years of paddling around to even stand up," says Thompson, 32. "And once I did, people assumed I couldn't surf because I was a girl. But then suddenly I'd be the one catching all the waves." She started competing at age 15, eventually touring the world as a pro. Yet after trying out countless boards, she craved a custom one that felt like an extension of her body. "I didn't want to just ride the same boards as my heroes," she says. "I wanted to make them better suited for women, for the way we approach the wave with balance, flexibility, and grace."
Before Thompson begins work on a custom board in her Santa Cruz studio, she asks a lot of questions. "Every curve and measurement changes how the board rides," she says. "So learning if you're a beginner or more advanced, surfing mushy or strong waves, influences the design." Next, she draws a template onto a foam blank (a giant featureless surfboard), then breaks out the power tools. "You've got to be willing to get dirty," Thompson says. Fully face-masked, she saws, sculpts, and sands for hours, fine-tuning the board's dimensions. Over the next few weeks, the sculpted board gets dipped in fiberglass—to make it sturdy and waterproof—and laminated with resin, which Thompson tints with color pigments for her signature "stained-glass look."
Though she's been shaping for only about ten years, Thompson—one of the world's few female shapers—has gained a following among surfers in Japan, Australia, and Spain, and often crafts as many as 15 boards per month (they sell for about $1,000). "It takes years to understand the engineering aspects and also make the board look beautiful," she says. "A shaper used to seem like a real magician to me."
— Laura Birek
Mui values the comfort of her pieces just as much as the colorful design: "I want the line to be a second skin for women."
Four years ago, Jenny Mui was more likely to be practicing yoga or attending a parent-teacher conference than crunching sales numbers. But her life as a stay-at-home mom took a drastic turn when her husband, Peter, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 56, leaving her with seven kids and the daunting prospect of helming his newly launched women's activewear line, YMX. "It was an incredibly fragile time to have to decide if I would continue the company," she says. "I was filled with self-doubt; I had never even been to a business meeting before." But if Mui, now 44, had learned anything from her nearly 12-year marriage to Peter, a man who sported electric blue hair on their first date and once pulled their kids out of school for an impromptu cross-country trip to the Grand Canyon, it was to embrace bold decisions. "He was impulsive," she recalls. "Whatever he did, he did in a big way." So she channeled Peter's sky's-the-limit attitude and went for it.
Mui didn't want to compromise the edgy, tattoo-inspired style Peter had first envisioned for the line of yoga pants, cycling shirts, and running shorts. Intricate patterns adorn each piece, a reflection of the couple's passion for the art form. Before Peter's death, the New Yorkers traversed the globe from Fiji to Vietnam and Brazil, commissioning original sketches from top needleworkers. "I'm giving artists an outlet for their designs," Mui says. "I can feel their energy when I look at the clothing."
Unlike Peter's extreme aesthetic (his motto was "Dare to wear"), Mui's take is softer, with a muted color palette, more delicate and abstract tattoos, and, most of all, an emphasis on comfort. "I want the line to be a second skin for women," she says. Now, as the self-described "heart of the company," she's involved in everything from social media to retail sales. "This line has become a mirror," Mui says, "for reminding me how I want to live my life."
— Zoe Donaldson
Beth Ann Magnuson traces her affection for offbeat art to her mother and grandmother, whose "use what you have" mentality taught her to see aesthetic value even in humble objects. But it wasn't until she moved from New York City to rural Illinois about 20 years ago that a local "farm gal" opened her eyes to the full potential of some of the humblest: eggs. Whereas most of us regard them as things to boil, scramble, fry—and, come Easter, dye—Magnuson looks at an egg and sees a masterpiece.
On a typical workday, Magnuson retreats to her studio, cranks up Erik Satie or Jimi Hendrix on her headphones, slips on a protective mask, and carves intricate designs into a half-dozen eggs. She begins by drilling a small hole into the blunt end and blowing out the white and yolk. Next, she draws a design—often based on handwoven Victorian lace or 19th-century floral wallpaper—on the shell. For the actual carving, she uses a high-speed dental drill—which, she says, cuts the shell "like a hot knife in butter." She then cleans each egg in a bleach solution and applies a protective coating to prevent erosion. Once they're dry, Magnuson sells the intricate creations on her Web site, WindyCornerFarm.com. While she prefers to come up with her own patterns ("It"s a doodler's art," she says), she has also carved swans, angels, and elephants for custom orders.
Describing the first time she carved an egg ("I stayed up all night, drilling and carving and doodling"), Magnuson speaks with so much enthusiasm that you"d be forgiven for thinking she discovered the art form only last week. But after two decades, the unusual work has in fact become soothingly familiar—a process as delicate and durable as the eggshells themselves.
While studying art history at the University of Michigan, Zorlu took a course in hat-making, or millinery, that stuck with her. She began making hats for Broadway theater but soon moved to the West Coast for a corporate job with a bigger paycheck. "The problem was, my heart wasn't in it." A vacation to Paris brought her back to her passion. "I was so excited by the city's millinery suppliers that I bought a suitcase's worth of materials." Four years later, her hats were selling at Barneys New York.
Zorlu never knows when inspiration for a new design might strike: "It may be a person wearing a baseball cap sideways or a 1930s film that intrigues me." Typically, she'll sketch a few ideas before choosing a material. "There are so many you can use, like fish leather or Paris cloth, a blend of cotton and banana-plant fibers." Next, Zorlu creates a prototype by folding and draping her material into a boldly sculptured piece. Once it's complete, she wears it to "get instant feedback."
The designer sells her hats at boutiques as well as online at Etsy.com. When she's not handstitching, shopping for new materials, or conducting a fitting, Zorlu teaches millinery at Parsons The New School for Design. "Hats are such a part of me, if I go outside without one, I feel like I went out without my underwear."
Growing up in Texas in the '50s, Marion Coleman learned to sew on her grandmother's sewing machine—and gained experiences that would inform her work for years to come. "I draw from memories, translating them into cloth," she says. With the image of a man positioned as a guardian at the top of the piece, her award-winning quilt "Neighborhood Watch" evokes the "African-American man of my youth," she says, "who was a protective, stable figure." Another piece, titled "Ruby Bridges" in honor of the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South, fades from dark to light to signify the integration of the New Orleans school system—a story that resonates with Coleman, who graduated from a segregated school herself.
Before sewing a single stitch, Coleman lays out fabric and old photographs to create a rough blueprint. She sometimes manipulates images with Photoshop, tweaking colors or sizes before transferring the photos onto a variety of fabrics including silk, cotton, and taffeta. A free-motion quilter, meaning she constructs the quilt spontaneously without a pattern or a predrawn sketch, Coleman often finds herself using thread to embed barely perceptible words—love, beautiful, nurturing—in her work. "I try to engage the viewer to look closer, to see what she can find," she says.
Coleman, whose quilts are currently traveling the country with the International Quilt Festival, believes quilting is a reminder of the past—not just our nation's but our families' as well. "Most of us have an old dress from our mother or a blouse from an aunt," Coleman says. "Quilts preserve your history—they take those memories out of a box or a drawer and make them into something you can see and touch."
Camille Seaman's photo series "The Last Iceberg," in which she documents massive chunks of prehistoric ice in locales around the world, began with a stroke of serendipity: an overbooked flight. In 1999 Seaman was asked to give up her seat on a packed airplane in exchange for a free round-trip ticket to any destination the carrier served. When she chose a ticket to Kotzebue, Alaska, a remote city northeast of the Bering Strait, she encountered a natural panorama so arresting it altered her view of the Earth: icebergs, some as big as Manhattan, floating in the frigid waters. "For the first time, I felt like I was standing on my planet," she says. Five years later, the single mother boarded an icebreaker ship bound for the Antarctic. With each passing sight—like icebergs that extended a thousand feet below the water's surface—Seaman's passion deepened. "A little light switch came on, and I thought, I'm going to photograph the hell out of this."
For seven years, Seaman made annual trips to the Arctic and Antarctica to shoot "portraits" of icebergs and glaciers—all of which are threatened by global warming. "These images are a record," she says; amid constant talk of climate change, "the pictures actually document what's occurring." Seaman has exhibited her work around the world, and the response has been tremendous. "I get e-mails every day," she says. "People say these images helped them see nature in a way they hadn't before. That's more than I could have hoped for."
Seaman feels that capturing these threatened natural wonders goes beyond artistic endeavor—it's her calling. "I didn't have a plan when I set out to make these pictures," she says. "I just opened myself up to the possibilities, and the universe pointed me to a way I could be of service."
"You can find just about anything on my paintings," says Mae Chevrette. "Old maps, lengths of tape measure, vintage sheet music. I moved last year to an industrial part of Boston, so lately I've incorporated tack nails onto the edges of my work." These found objects typically encircle an arresting quote, such as Emerson's "Live in the sunshine, swim the sea / Drink the wild air" or Tennessee Williams's "Make voyages! Attempt them! There is nothing else."
Chevrette starts with a printout of one of thousands of photos from her travels, which she adheres to a canvas. Then she embeds ephemera and applies broad strokes of paint. "I keep layering until the piece matches what's in my head," she says. Finally, she adds the quote. "These are words that have been helpful in my life," she says. "I don't want to forget them."
Chevrette was 18 when she embarked on a cross-country drive from her hometown of Seattle to Massachusetts for college. To calm her nerves, Chevrette jotted a note to herself: "It is in all of us to defy expectations, to go into the world and to be brave...." The words became the centerpiece of To Be Brave, now Chevrette's most popular print. Subsequent trips have also informed paintings: The real coffee stain on The Road is a shout-out to the small-town diners she visited in Wyoming and South Dakota, and American West features snapshots of the power lines above Route 66. "I want to get across a feeling of wanderlust," says Chevrette. "I want to convey the sense that our lives are filled with possibility."
Erin Flett's patterns—which she silk-screens onto pillows, bags, and wall hangings—are often inspired by her collection of unusual bric-a-brac. (Old sushi bowls, a 19th-century coloring book, and a vintage scarf have all influenced projects.) "I grew up sifting through junk at estate sales," Flett says. "That's where I get a lot of my aesthetic."
Flett sets a screen atop a piece of fabric and, with a squeegee, rakes ink across it to transmit an image to the cloth. Flett's 4-year-old, Aryana, is her biggest fan: "When she was little, she would clap when we got a good print," she says.
The zippers on Flett's pillows—which are stitched locally—are sourced from family-owned manufacturers. "If someone helps you make something," she says, "their energy is in it. So I want to know them, and I want to make sure they feel good about the result, too."
Flett's designs—shown here on throw pillows and messenger bags—feature everything from cheerful pups to graphic florals and abstract, riverine ripples.
Maria Moyer's love of the ocean stems from a childhood spent on the beaches of Southern California, where she swam and surfed, collected sea glass and feathers, and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. "I'll never forget the first time I held an octopus as a kid," she says. "It wanted to play with my hand the way a cat would!" When Moyer's parents gave her a book about ocean life—crammed with scientific illustrations—she realized that the sand and sun could fuel her artistic side as well. "The book captured my head and my heart," she says. "I spent hours drawing the creatures I saw in those pages."
Moyer's passion for nature eventually led her to help companies like Gap operate in a more eco-friendly way. But by 2001, she'd tired of corporate life, quit her job, and enrolled in art school. Eventually, she discovered porcelain. "I liked the juxtaposition of its incredible strength with how fragile we perceive it to be," she says. From the start, nature infused Moyer's sculptures: Raised surfaces echoed the armor of microscopic sea dwellers, and sinewy silhouettes evoked swaying seaweed. This spring a new collection sold at West Elm includes decorative biomorphic orb vases and whimsical tea lights with sea-foam-like holes. Moyer also creates one-of-a-kind porcelain roses and jewelry, available at BDDW (in New York City) and March (in San Francisco).
"I'm obsessed with plankton—the teeny-tiny plants and animals in the ocean," says Moyer. "Phytoplankton turn carbon into oxygen, just like trees do in the forests. They're also fascinatingly beautiful." Though she can "geek out" for hours looking at pictures of microscopic ocean life, Moyer doesn't try to capture specific creatures in her work. Instead, they inspire textures and shapes, which she re-creates in porcelain and bakes in a kiln. She then sands the pieces and fires them again. Says Moyer, "When I sand a sculpture, it begins to feel like a perfect seashell—like something you'd pick up on the beach."
Jennifer McGarigle had only $2,000 in seed money when she opened a floral design studio out of her Venice, California, home in 1993. But she has steadily built a following around town with her sculptural arrangements, creating everything from a centerpiece striped with pink and brown flax leaves to a globe-shaped glass chandelier filled with rose florets. In 2004 McGarigle's company, Floral Art, moved into a former supermarket in Venice with a studio in back and boutique in front. Three years later, while gazing at a large projection screen showing time-lapse film of flowers blooming—an installation created for her shop—McGarigle came up with an idea to use flowers in another larger-than-life way. Soon she was sketching out a line of floral-inspired furniture.
McGarigle—whose lifelong romance with flowers began in the dreamy garden of her childhood home in Sonoma County, California—says she tries to design pieces that will enhance each flower's characteristics. (A calla lily stretches across a sleek bench; the circular back of a dining chair accentuates a ring of daisies.) Her Floral Art Home collection launched in 2009 with a chair featuring a photographic rose floating within its Lucite back. "It took almost two years to find a manufacturer," McGarigle says; nothing like the unusual piece existed on the market. Since then the line has expanded to include bookshelves, accent tables, and other home accessories.
Floral Art Home's line also includes pieces like a credenza with poppy-covered removable panels (you can swap in new flowered panels as you like), as well as less-floral furnishings—like a chair with Venetian lace upholstery, which McGarigle likens to "sitting in your favorite dress." But however her sensibilities expand, McGarigle always returns to her roots. "I can't imagine anything more beautiful than fresh flowers," she says. "I want my furniture to help people experience them in a whole new way."
Photo: John Konkal
New flavors are occasioned by "whatever I'm craving at the moment," Baker says, whether that's the chocolate-hazelnut mousse she sampled in Monaco that inspired a praline confection, or the passion fruit filling that reminds her of her visit to Bora Bora. She also looks to the runway for ideas: "Fashion translates so well onto a cake," Baker explains. Her Valentino creation features a cascade of the designer's signature rosettes. Baker says the aesthetic of her patterned chocolates—often decorated with plaids, polka dots, and stripes—is drawn from the tongue-in-cheek guide The Official Preppy Handbook.
Baker was inspired to pursue her dream of working with chocolate by an unlikely catalyst—a difficult marriage. In 2007 she found the strength that would help her begin to break free: "I thought, If I don't make a small step today, I'm going to be stuck in the same place next year, and the year after that." Within a year, Baker had secured a factory space and ended her marriage. She credits her passion for her work with changing her life—and keeping her going through the hard times. "For a small business to succeed, it has to be something that's really your love," she says. "It has to be something you can't live a day without doing." —Molly Fischer
Photo: John Hall Photography
Typically, the delicious aroma of food foretells an equally delicious meal, but with Meghan Cook's line of soy candles—many of which are food-inspired—the scent is the main course. "I've always loved mixing flavors," says (the aptly named) Cook. "As a kid I tried to make a cookie dough out of butter, brown sugar, hot cocoa mix, flour, and honey—my mom was nice enough to pretend to take a bite." In 2007 Cook decided to combine her interest in flavor with her love of all-natural beauty products and candles, and soon she was whipping up lip balms, lotions, and candles with scent combinations like cocoa and espresso, fig and vanilla, and grapefruit and orange. When some candles she'd created for a bridal shower were a hit, Cook made them her main focus. By last year her candle company, Sydney Hale Co. (named in honor of her grandfather Sidney, and husband, Christopher Hale Cook), had become so successful, she left her job to devote herself to the business full-time.
When developing a new candle fragrance, Cook often works backward. "I come up with a name first—something that rolls off the tongue, like mint and geranium," she says. "If a combination sounds interesting to me, I want to bring the two elements together to see if they work." Once she hits on the perfect pairing, Cook experiments with aromatic oils until the scent is just right. ("I don't like overpowering smells," she says. "So I keep mine very subtle.") Then the actual candle-making—melting soy wax flakes, pouring the molten liquid, trimming wicks—begins, carried out start to finish in Cook's home kitchen. "I work in small batches," she says. "And after the candles finish cooling, I polish each one and hand-stamp each label. It's very much a labor of love."
"I like to provide materials that can be reused," Cook says. Sydney Hale Co.'s candles—available in 12 fragrances—come in a 14-ounce tumbler that becomes a drinking glass after the candle is finished. But her primary goal will always be to offer a sensory experience: "I want my candles to add to the beauty of your home but also serve as aromatherapy." They might just awaken your appetite, too.
— Rachel Bertsche
Photo: Stephen Hansen
When she was in third grade, Beth Shorr finger-knit a black and mint green yarmulke for her father—and was delighted when he wore it to temple that year for the holidays. But it wasn't until she landed a job assisting a producer at Comedy Central's The Daily Show that she started knitting regularly. When Shorr and a coworker took a local class, she discovered that needles and yarn helped her unwind in the evenings; soon she was experimenting with vibrant scarves and hats. Then, in 2006, Shorr's father passed away from cancer. "I found the yarmulke I'd made for him, and it was a source of inspiration," she says. Knitting became less a casual hobby than a way to grieve. "I made gifts for family and friends, and they started encouraging me to sell them," Shorr says.
Her Support Staff
A year later, Shorr opened her shop, BShorr Handmade, on the crafts Web site Etsy. Her colleagues at The Daily Show—where Shorr is now a talent coordinator and the assistant to host Jon Stewart—were early supporters, offering to model her hats, berets, and scarves for the site. Some of her creations are named after her coworkers (the Chabotski hat honors production prop master Justin Chabot, who needed a hat with a brim to wear skiing). Shorr's hectic days fetching coffee for celebrities and ushering Stewart to meetings even inspired her to knit a cell phone case she calls a Gadget Cozy, with a wrist loop to keep her BlackBerry close (and her hands free) at the office.
Her Double Life
Shorr knits late into the evening, usually in the company of her two cats. "Sometimes my sleep suffers when I try to balance my worlds," she says. "But I like having a social work environment and then quiet time at home to knit." BShorr Handmade is a hit at local craft shows, and last year Mad Men star January Jones was photographed wearing Shorr's circle scarf. Still, her Daily Show colleagues remain her biggest fans. Says Stewart, the proud owner of a one-of-a-kind black BShorr hat, "Somehow Beth assessed my cranial weaknesses and was able to design and knit me a perfect kepi, one that didn't make me look like an eggplant wearing a sock. Girl's got skills."—Arianna Davis
Photo: Ben Goldstein
Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, Ashley Leckey Schoenith logged hours in her grandmother Cecile Marcoux's kitchen, helping bake cookies and gobbling up Marcoux's homemade waffles topped with ice milk (ice cream made with milk instead of cream). When Schoenith moved to Atlanta after college, she missed her grandmother so much that she floated an idea: Why not start a side business together? "Aprons were an obvious choice, because we'd spent so much of our lives in the kitchen," explains Schoenith. Marcoux, a master seamstress, readily agreed.
With $5,000 from her family to cover start-up costs, Schoenith began scouring fabric stores for ideas. The women agreed on a simple, flatteringly neutral palette (Audrey Hepburn was an inspiration). On weekends Schoenith drove four hours to spend long afternoons sewing and sketching with her grandmother, all while chatting about family history (a favorite story of Marcoux's involved an uncle who traded his small island for a jug of whiskey). "I was never thinking, 'How am I going to make this a booming empire?'" Schoenith says. "It was more about being together."
IceMilk Aprons (IceMilkAprons.com) debuted in 2008—but for Schoenith, the experience was bittersweet. Months earlier, as she prepared to ship handmade samples off for manufacturing, her grandmother passed away (she'd been diagnosed with cancer shortly after they started the business). Marcoux's death only strengthened Schoenith's resolve: Now she sketches in the evenings after work, and has sold more than 5,000 aprons. In 2010 she turned a profit. Recently, she even rolled out a kids' line, with her new baby boy in mind. "I can't wait to cook with my kids by my side," she says. "We'll use my grandmother's measuring cups—the same ones we used when I was little." —Nicole Frehsee
Photo: Heidi Geldhauser
Katie Goldman Macdonald thinks of her work as "painting with plants." Wearing gloves and brandishing extralong tweezers or chopsticks, she uses "ship-in-a-bottle precision" to make dreamlike miniature landscapes of succulent, desert-friendly greenery inside glass orbs handblown by West Oakland, California, artist Evan Kolker. Her terrariums—which range from softball-size "little hanging possums" to larger "armadillos"—overflow with pink-tipped echeveria rosettes, powdery silver moonstone plants, and hardy green kalanchoe. "Each stem and blossom is magnified by the curve of the glass," explains Macdonald, who includes tweezers and an instruction manual with each terrarium (they require only indirect light and watering every three weeks). That way, owners can "give it a makeover once in a while," she says.
Macdonald—a designer for the clothing brand Old Navy who spent her childhood going on wildflower classification walks with her father, a musician and mushroom expert—was transfixed when a friend gave her a book about terrariums a few years ago. Published in 1974, the book recounted terrariums' resurgence as a type of artful, DIY home decor of that era, and inspired Macdonald to experiment with thrift-store fishbowls and the succulents she kept in her apartment. Soon she enlisted Kolker to blow elegant glass spheres, giving her creations an airy, luminescent feel. At an Old Navy employee craft fair last December, Macdonald's terrariums were a hit. She now sells them at stores around San Francisco (and accepts local commissions at botanyfactory.com).
Macdonald works at night and on the weekends out of her sunny apartment, which has become "an operating room for plants," she says—stocked with mason jars full of soil and the charcoal she uses for homespun drainage. Next she hopes to collaborate with other artists on a table with a built-in terrarium and possibly a terrarium lamp; she also teaches a Bluegrass & Botany class at a local store with her father (he plays the banjo, she talks cacti and organic soil). "We live in high-rise apartments; we work a million hours," she says. "People want a connection to the natural world. Terrariums are a way to bring it inside." —Brook Wilkinson
Photo: Brian Fong
When Katie Deedy was growing up in Georgia, she and her mother—a children's book author—liked to sneak into an abandoned train depot and old, empty houses on the edge of town where the elder Deedy would delight her daughter with folktales. Her mother's passion for stories inspired Deedy's own: For years she filled notebooks with landscapes of her imaginary worlds. Later, working as a freelance illustrator for publishers and ad firms in New York, Deedy struggled to find a way to make a living from her own drawings—until the day she turned a sketch of a girl in a polka-dot dress being stalked by a monster into a repeating pattern in Adobe Illustrator, just for fun. "Suddenly, my eyeballs went, whoa," she recalls. "And I thought, wallpaper."
Deedy saved money working as a bartender and barista, and in 2008 launched her handmade wallpaper company, Grow House Grow, out of her Brooklyn apartment. From the start, storytelling infused her designs: "Staring at a blank piece of paper is really daunting," she explains. "But when I have a story that interests me, it helps me draw that first lie." A playful print called "Ms. Ward"—part of a "forgotten female scientists" collection—pays tribute to a 19th century naturalist (it features Georgian dresses accessorized with a butterfly fan and glowworm stole). "Captain Smith" draws inspiration from the last hours of the veteran seaman who helmed the Titanic (a tentacled "crew" floats amid abstract ship's wheels—or are they sea sponges?). A dreamy pattern of tree trunks with secret doors references Deedy's own childhood adventures in the woods. "There are too many interesting stories," says Deedy, "and not enough time to explore them all!"
Deedy sketches in pen and ink, with watercolors, or on her computer before sending her patterns to be hand-silk-screened by a mom-and-pop shop in upstate New York. "In my first year, I made one sale," she recalls. But she kept exhibiting at design shows, and eventually the retail chain Anthropologie called. In 2010 Saks Fifth Avenue wallpapered the windows of its Manhattan flagship store with Deedy's creations. Now she designs a new collection every year, and posts "curiosities and weird stuff" she discovers in her process on her blog at GrowHouseGrow.com. "Research is the fun part for me," Deedy says. "I'm pretty indulgent with myself about how much time I take." —Andrea Lynch
Her journey Baldwin confesses to an obsessive love of paper, which she indulges at the Berkeley shop Castle in the Air—a wonderland of rare craft supplies and handmade wares. "They agreed to stock my favorite German crepe paper if I used it to make things they could sell," she says. Long fascinated by the minutiae of zoological classifications and species variations (she'd once considered a career in the sciences), Baldwin trained her focus on sculpting birds, she says, "because there's just a huge variety to choose from." Her avian artworks are a big hit at Castle in the Air (and on her Web site, vegantaxidermy.com). Lately, Baldwin has grown excited about the unusual tropical birds of Hawaii: "A species there has a uniquely shaped beak that coevolved to pollinate specific flowers," she says.
Her technique After drafting numerous sketches, Baldwin carves each bird's torso from rigid foam before gluing dozens of crepe paper feathers in place. (The only prefabricated parts of her sculptures are the glass eyes.) This painstaking process dovetails with Baldwin's creative philosophy: "I want to make things that exist outside of our 'cheap and now' culture—things that won't be discarded in a few weeks when people tire of them." She believes her customers appreciate the loving attention she pays to each species, no matter how humble. "I like that people can see my work and say, 'Hey, that's the bird I saw in my backyard."
Photo: Tue Nam
Her learning curve Long was determined to restore her new house to its original glory. Though she'd remodeled a few kitchens and bathrooms over the years, a historically accurate renovation that did justice to the Savannah architecture she loved was daunting. But the all-nighters spent poring over floor plans and scouring eBay for doorknobs paid off: Every detail of the home—from the crown moldings to the brass finger pulls—is as it was in the 1800s. Yearning to share her handiwork, Long turned the home into a vacation rental. Soon, enchanted out-of-towners were eagerly booking their stays.
Her business model In 2003 Long quit her job in sales and bought and restored four more homes, traveling between Savannah and Chicago (where she and her ex-husband share custody of their 9-year-old son). "Some of the properties had been vacant for 20 years," Long says. "They had rats you could put a saddle on." They're now certified landmarks—with 14-foot ceilings, elaborate plaster medallions, and sweeping staircases—and can be experienced firsthand through Luxury Living Savannah, Long's vacation rental company. As much as she adores re-creating these relics, Long loves sharing them even more. "People get to stay in a piece of history," she says. "Women get to be Scarlett O'Hara for the weekend. I take great pleasure in that."
Photo: Richard Leo Johnson
Their craft "On Capri, legend has it that the Roman emperor Tiberius started the strappy-sandal trend," says Nord. Because cobbling is back-straining labor—leather straps are stretched, braided, then hammered into the soles—it traditionally has been a men's profession passed down through families. "Everyone is surprised when we sit down at our tool bench," says Coleman. "But we love every minute of it." She and Nord can cobble a custom pair of sandals in about 30 minutes.
Their sandals The duo offers traditional Italian toe-ring and T-strap styles, updated seasonally with vibrant colors, animal prints, and antique appliqués. "Whenever we see anything interesting, from an old Elizabeth Taylor movie to wicker patio furniture, we'll say, 'I see a sandal there!'" says Nord. Adds Coleman, "We hope that customers will come to our shop one day and say, 'I bought these sandals 20 years ago, and I'm still wearing them.'" (Sandals start at $178; tucciadicapri.com.)
Photo: Jeffery Salter
After earning a master's degree in graphic design in the UK, Brodskaya abandoned the computer programs she'd been trained on in favor of a simpler artistic tool: her hands. Trying to drum up work as an illustrator, she created a brochure for prospective clients; on the front, she used a technique she'd seen in an old textbook in her native Russia. Gluing the edges of thin strips of paper to a page, she wrote her name in big red block letters, filling each with lively strands of white that curled around each other like smoke, or tiny, tangled tree roots. The letters teemed with life, exploding from their borders. Soon Brodskaya had a commission from The Guardian, the British newspaper, to design the cover of its 2008 holiday supplement. "I've never been out of work since," she says.
Brodskaya's studio, in the home she shares outside London with her husband and their infant daughter, is stacked with "piles of paper," she says, all arranged by color and cut into strips about one centimeter wide. "I'm passionate about what I do," she says. "I can happily spend hours gluing and listening to audiobooks" (a recent favorite: The Time Traveler's Wife). Her international roster of clients keeps her busy, but she'd eventually like to apply her signature technique to more personal work, not for an ad campaign or magazine but for "live" viewing in a gallery. "People have only seen pictures of my illustrations," she says. "It would be interesting to see how they react to the actual physical thing."
Photos: Michael Leznik
One morning in 1998, Wendy Hollender, a successful textile designer in Manhattan, woke up and noticed that the lump in her breast—the one her gynecologist had told her not to worry about—was visibly larger. A biopsy confirmed it was cancer. At the time, Hollender was taking a botanical drawing course, something she had wanted to do for years, and she found herself scheduling her doctors' appointments around the class. "I needed to focus on something else," she says.
Over the next year, as Hollender went through five surgeries and chemotherapy, she filled sketchbook after sketchbook. There was always a fresh flower cutting at her bedside. "When I was drawing, I could concentrate on the colors of petals, or the delicate shape of a leaf," she explains. "I wasn't thinking, 'Okay, right now they're pumping my body full of poison.'"
With a clean bill of health, Hollender left her textile design firm to become a full-time botanical artist. She produces luscious pencil and watercolor renderings, some of which are currently on display at the New York Botanical Garden. Hollender says she finds particular beauty in nature's patterns, like the repeating scales of an acorn: "Nature isn't chaotic; it's predictable, which somehow feels reassuring."
Last year Hollender moved to a four-acre farm in upstate New York, where she's surrounded by her subjects. Her two grown kids helped her convert the property's stables into a sun-filled studio, where she teaches workshops and hosts potlucks for her neighbors. But most often, you can find the artist on a stool in her garden, at work on a children's book about a mouse that made its home in one of her rutabagas.
A clematis flower, from the buttercup family.
The Switch: At NYCB, Wolf faced long stretches of downtime between seasons. "It was important for me to have something else to get excited about," she says. At first Wolf was simply stringing beads and wrapping wire as a hobby—but in 2003 she managed to land a meeting with a buyer at Barneys New York. "Once I had the attention of a store, I had to go for it. And ballet can be so exhausting that it's smarter to leave while you still love it."
The Plunge: "When I started, every day was a fire drill," recalls Wolf, who counts Julia Roberts and Halle Berry among her customers. "I was completely naive. But when you're totally present and don't have expectations beyond trying your best, you can't get wound up in fear and anxiety. Now I know what to do and when to do it." Next up: a spring line featuring white and cognac diamonds.
The Philosophy: "Women want to create an individual style," Wolf says. "I'll make maybe seven pairs of each earring, or ten of each necklace, then ship them to different cities. I don't want my clients seeing themselves coming and going."
—Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg
From top: Teardrop earrings in 18kt gold with cognac diamonds ($3,890); Bisou ring with white moonstone and diamonds ($3,400); Circular earrings in 18kt gold with amethyst ($1,650); Stacking bangles in 18kt gold set with diamonds ($990 to $2,800); Woven hoop earrings with rose-cut diamonds ($5,900).
Her Background: Before she turned her attention to orange peels and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Ryan earned a degree in medical and scientific illustration; her subjects have included a beetle and a beaver jawbone. "With illustration, the artist directs the viewer," she says, "but painting lets me capture a moment without telling you what to think about it."
Her Other Talents: Ryan also makes delicate abstract works by layering thin washes of ink or tea on paper. "One of these ink pieces can take months to complete, because I keep adding layers," she explains. "So there's a yin and yang between the slowly evolving works in ink and the spontaneous daily oil paintings."
Her New Project: Inspired by the Dutch masters she saw on a recent trip to Italy, Ryan is working with a ceramist to design pottery—specifically so she can make paintings of it. "A handmade object is enthralling because it has its own presence and energy," she says. "And I love collaborating with a fellow artist—it forces me to think differently. It's a way to make the act of creating new again."
Photo: Courtesy of Abbey Ryan
The Spirit: Many of White's pictures combine playful whimsy with the sinister undercurrents of a Brothers Grimm tale (as in her enigmatic image of a little girl crouching in the woods and wearing a paper wolf costume). She won a contest sponsored by American Photo magazine for her depiction of Peter Pan's Wendy flying toward her bedroom window (above). Amazingly, White collaborated with a friend, Clara Pathé, to conjure this fairy-tale vision without the help of Photoshop. "I jumped onto the bed while Clara took the shots, and this is the one that worked," White explains.
The Stories: For White, who lives in a woodsy Seattle suburb, an idea often strikes on an amble to, say, a barren beach or a pond's mossy shore. "I find places when I'm out walking or driving, and I invent stories about what could happen there," she says. "I think of the pictures as movie cels—a moment in a narrative." No surprise, then, that White hopes to direct a short film next, once her applications to art schools in New York are in. "I want to go everywhere and see everything," she declares. "I want to photograph as many things as I can." —Katie Arnold-Ratliff
Photo: Chrissie White and Clara Pathé
The spark: "It all started when I walked into a shop in Harare," says Jeffrey-West, who did a study-abroad program in Zimbabwe in the late '90s. She bought local gems, sketched some ideas, and asked jewelers to execute her designs; by watching them, she learned to hammer and solder silver.
The switch: Back in the United States and four years into a PhD in education, Jeffrey-West was still crafting jewelry as a hobby. "A classmate asked me to make a necklace like the one I was wearing, and I thought, 'Are you sure?'" she recalls with a laugh. "It never occurred to me that I could sell my stuff."
The latest: She has recently found ideas in Hawaii (the swirls of bubbling gold and silver in her Magma collection are modeled on melting lava) and closer to home. "At the doctor's office, I saw an anatomical drawing of inner ear tissue and thought, 'That texture is fantastic!'" — Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg
From top: Lotus-shaped honeycomb earrings in 22kt-gold vermeil with flush-set cubic zirconia ($188).; Teardrop pendant in 22kt-gold vermeil with flush-set cubic zirconia on 14kt-gold-filled chain ($238).; Stacking bangle in hand-textured 22kt-gold vermeil ($100).; Multichain necklace with citrine, blue topaz, and clear crystal quartz stones ($375).; Handmade ring with pounded finish and flush-set cubic zirconia ($188).; Rococo lace ring with blue topaz rose-cut stone ($175).
The Mission: To provide steady work at above-fair-trade rates for disadvantaged artisans (mostly women).
The Spark: Dana Arbib (a Libyan Jew) met Farah Malik (a Pakistani Muslim) at a wedding in Italy in 2007 and hit it off; back home in New York City, they brainstormed ways to become their own bosses. Starting in Pakistan, Malik says, "we worked with family-operated, backyard cottage industries, bringing in looms and thread to get the artisans back up and running."
The Hurdles: In Pakistan, Malik got malaria; in war-ravaged Afghanistan, they had to arrange a fabric airlift. Creative challenges crop up, too. "To achieve a faded black scarf, we told the Afghani women, 'Imagine your burka has been out in the desert sun for 45 days,'" Malik recalls. "It took eight tries to get it, because they couldn't comprehend why anyone would want that!"
The Spirit: "Just as the two of us have transcended our political and cultural differences, A Peace Treaty tries to transcend obstacles to create something beautiful," Arbib says. "For us, fashion is about knowing whose hands have created the piece, where it came from, and what that took." — Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg
Left: Alpaca-and-silk blend in rich fall colors by indigenous Bolivian knitters ($320).
Middle: Dip-dyed silk from a Pakistani co-op of widows and disabled women ($125).
Right: Cotton scarves from Kabul—look for the artisan's name stitched in one corner ($290).
Bringing together some 170 artisans (more than half of them women) from 52 countries, the market unfolds on Santa Fe's Museum Hill, amid panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Prices range from $5 into the tens of thousands, with 90 percent of the proceeds going home with the artists. The work includes exquisite embroidered bedspreads and shawls from India (by the all-women collective Self Help Enterprise), silk-and-cotton rugs and wall hangings made in Laos according to 1,200-year-old traditions, and stunning baskets woven and dyed with organic materials—like leaves, berries, and herbs—from the Darien Rainforest in Panama.
"Right now there's a hunger in our culture to move away from the mass-produced and toward the handmade, to feel that sense of connection to the things around us," says Charlene Cerny, executive director of the market. "Knowing the story behind the object is like having the bragging rights to it." If you can't get to Santa Fe go to FolkArtMarket.org to browse the handicrafts available for order online. — Jessica Winter