Saturday, December 13, 2008

Setting up the Nativities

Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger ...

So the Christmas carol goes. Ever since the days of St. Francis, nativities -- creches, naciamentos, pesebres -- have been a hands-on tool for teaching the Christmas story. Our selection of nativities is a delight to the collector, and culturally fascinating as different countries express the story in different media and with different iconographies.

Our Krygystan nativity is made from 100 percent wool, and the yurt is also the storage container for Mary, Jesus, and Joseph. The sheep here is a horned ram, and the characters are dressed in the clothes of Krygystan.

Our painted wooden nativity from El Salvador has magi of extremely interesting iconography. It's common for Latin American nacimentos to have three kings ("los reyes") representing different ethnic groups, a tradition that started when Europeans began exploring the globe. But these wise men represent different classes of people: an earthly king, a monk, and a worker. Whether the wise men are coming from different countries or from different social positions, the use of them to teach the message of the world-wide reach of the Christmas story is both charming and profound.

These two nativities are some of many that we carry that are suitable for children -- fun to play and learn with and unbreakable. Collectors appreciate them, too, but they may also have their eyes on something like our $520 Santa Clara Pueblo nativity, made by ceramic artists Andy and Marcia Padilla. This northern New Mexico pueblo, registered in the National Register of Historic Places, is famous for its blackware pottery, most especially its vases. Here at Crossroads you will find the a rare, elegant rendering of the Christmas story.

There are many more: Kenyan nativities of banana fiber with wise men bringing gifts of fish and grain and beer, wooden Russian fixed-based nativities (each member has a peg that fits into the base) painted in a subtle and sophisticated style, and jolly round ceramic figures from Colombia. All contribute to the storytelling that is a wondrous part of Christmas.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Friendly Beasts

We carry so many animals in so many media from so many countries that "critters" is a category in our store database. This time of year, new shipments come every week. Here are the new arrivals.

This porcupine is a wonderful example of the many South African beaded animals we import. (This was part of a shipment that led a customs agent to leave a message, "We have your wire items from South Africa here." As Kate posted previously, getting items from artisan to the market is not always easy.)

From the same South African source we have a great collection of recycled-plastic dogs. These dogs are made with the discarded remains of parade floats.
The porcupine is made by Johannesburg wire artist, and the dog by one of several employment projects around Cape Town. As our supplier notes, "There is so much more to African crafts than African carvings and tribal objects!" Here we have artists using traditional media in new ways, discovering ways to use 21st-century media, and creating new African art forms.

If you go to East Africa without a pair of flip-flops (I learned), your hosts will make sure you have some. For many people, flip-flops are the only footwear they have. People with shoes need flip-flops when they come home and take off those dust-caked shoes. (In Kampala, for example, only the major roads are paved.) Everyone uses them in the bathroom (whether you have full plumbing or a latrine for a toilet and a basin for bathing). With many flip-flops come many flip-flop scraps; Kenyan artisans have turned these scraps into delightful hippos, elephants, and warthogs.

Artisans in the Philippines have transformed the fiber of the Buri palm tree into a delightful series of animals. The palm fibers are shreeded, twisted around a wire frame, and trimmed by hand to make the brush-like texture. Eyes and ears and other details are made from seed pods, carved wood, or rope. We have these critters as stand-alone animals (our possum mother and babies is about nine inches long) and as small ornaments.

These are just four of our critters, but they represent our commitment to recycled materials, to artisans exploring new forms, to employment projects all over the world, and to delight all our animals bring.

-- Lisa

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fair-Trade Thoughts

We’ve just about wrapped up our buying for the holiday season at Crossroads Trade, and, as always, it’s highlighted emerging, complicated ethical issues in fair trade.

We do our buying in several ways. We buy directly from artisans and producer groups in some countries, and we buy through fair-trade wholesalers in others. Many factors go into deciding whether to buy directly. What quality control measures are in place? Can we get an order to port? What export hurdles exist? What trade agreement is in place between a given country and the US? How expensive and time-consuming is reliable shipping? What does it take to get our order out of US Customs? When significant obstacles exist, wholesalers play an invaluable role.

The linchpin of wholesaling is the trade shows. The New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) is the biggest venue. Five thousand vendors showcase their wares to the retail industry, and, each year, the fair-trade presence at the show increases.

But not only retailers see the products. Industry scouts, wholesalers, and producer groups all have the opportunity to see what each other is producing. At this past show, I saw two wholesalers who were devastated to find that others had copied and were touting as their own products the wholesalers had spent years developing. In other cases, signature products of certain countries were being copied by producer groups from other countries. Telephone-wire and other recycled-basket styles that originated in South Africa are now being produced in Vietnam. They can be produced more cheaply, in part, because the hard work of product development had already been done.

Fair traders have differing perspectives on these dilemmas. Some view anything as fair game; if producing a Russian nesting doll in India will lead to employment in a destitute community, they’re all for it. Others believe it’s cultural theft to produce South African necklaces in Guatemala.

Still others take a nuanced view, as I do. I used to view production of South African style beadwork in Guatemala with horror. But after doing this work for ten years, I’ve seen that Guatemalan beadwork is becoming an art form in its own right. I was upset by Vietnamese production of South African and Brazilian recycled products, until I realized that it was better to have Vietnamese trash put to use than not.

Over the years, I’ve seen many wholesalers come and go. I’ve seen products I’ve designed exclusively for our use sold by others. The decreased value of the US dollar has sunk many a supplier.

It is a rough business. It’s a lot bigger than any one of us. Our ethical compasses may give us guidance, but we’re still working in constantly shifting terrain. As the internet continues to reduce the degrees of separation between producer and consumer, and between producers from country to country, fair-trade terrain will continue to shift. We will always be a work in progress.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Small, Beautiful Way To Help Tibet

At Crossroads Trade we carry beautiful things not only for their beauty, but as a way to provide support and to uphold the dignity of refugees and exiles. Many oppressed people flee with their talents and their work ethic intact, and seek to express them and to provide income for their families. Kate made that commitment to help again when this morning she bought jewelry from Jewels of Tibet, headquartered in far northern India. Many Tibetan exiles are living and working in northern India, and we provide the connection from you to them.

The new finds range from the classically beautiful to the fun. The pendants feature the highly symbolic double dorjee motif. Known in Sanskirt as vajra, it represents both a diamond and thunderbolt, with all the attendant associations of power and strength. The well-known symbol of the lotus glows on the rings.
The scrap-metal necklaces are remarkable. Made of dozens of tiny cups, these necklaces hold their shape when twisted. They can be worn as necklaces, knotted or unknotted, but they're also striking when wrapped around your wrist.

As I write, the Bejing Olympics are in full force. Even as the athletes are competing, awareness of the fate of Tibet, of protestors suppressed and web sites shut down, is always present. The symbols on our jewelry are not only religious and cultural symbols, but symbols of a people who will not go away. How can you help the people of Tibet? One way is right here.

-- Lisa

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Not Your Usual Recyling Center

The recycling we do at Crossroads goes way beyond taking our flattened cardboard to the local drop-off. We carry an ever-growing assortment of goods made from recycled material. Our insecticide-can cars from Burkina Faso in West Africa (one of many styles of galimoto) reflect the ingenuity of kids and adults who fashion their toys out of what's thrown away. The Burkina Faso sparkplug musicians bring a note of whimsy along with a strong sense of design.

Some of our most popular recycled offerings come from Haiti. We do business with a group of men that flattens and burns out the residue from steel oil drums. The steel is cut into a variety of critters and painted in wonderfully cheerful patterns.

We have lots of jewelry from recycled materials. Brazilian magazine pages have been fashioned into bracelets and earrings. Our can-tab bracelets always bring hoots of recognition (perhaps some customers have their own collections?) when spied in the shop.

But there's so much more here at Crossroads Trade. We'll be posting an entry about our wallets and bags made from recycled material. Our recycled items are made by artisans who can work without investing a lot of capital in supplies and who make a dent in reducing the waste stream around the world. And all our recycled roducts are a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Gorgeous jewelry from Christopher Nieto

Our jewelry from Christopher Nieto, an artist from the Santo Domingo Pueblo (a place and a people, in northern New Mexico), arrived with a hand-written letter from him. Many of the pieces he sent are new designs, unavailable anywhere else.

"The eight-strand nugget choker (blue turquoise) is from Nevada; it's a really good stone and color, some of the better quality I've come across in a while."

The single-strand necklace features turquoise from Kingman, Arizona, where Chris can get "a wide variety of different shades" at one time.

The multi-colored stone chokers are "all various stones from all over the world."

Christopher Nieto jewelry sells for up to $1,500. Ours (we have more than what is shown here) range from $85 to $350. If you have coveted one of his necklaces, here is an excellent opportunity to acquire one at a good price.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

New Jewelry at Crossroads Trade

We're making great progress in finding new sources for Indian jewelry! I've tracked down two artisans from Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico, whom I'd been trying to contact for some time. Daniel Coriz makes spectacular inlaid earrings. Chris Nieto makes Santo Domingo's trademark hand-made heishi bead necklaces, in which every bead is ground by hand. Chris Nieto's work will arrive next week. We hope to have Daniel's earrings within the next few weeks.

Just received: a variety of Indian jewelry, including: Lupe Lovato's turquoise slab and hand-ground beaded earrings from Santo Domingo; Zuni inlaid and needlepoint earrings; and Navajo earrings and bracelets with a variety of stones and settings.

We also just received a shipment of lovely Balinese earrings. These pieces are made in five family workshops, and come to the US through a fair trade wholesaler. For this round, we've chosen a variety of shells in striking, simple, silver settings.

Please stop by for a look,or ask us to e-mail you photos!


Welcome to the Crossroads Trade blog!

Crossroads Trade now has a blog! Here you'll find the latest news -- new arrivals to the store, discussions on fair trade, and how the events of the world effect a charming little shop in Coolidge Corner.

The blogs will either be signed by Kate or Lisa: Kate Harris, the store's owner, or Lisa Deeley Smith, who works there.

Spread the word! Come back often!