Friday, November 25, 2011

Our Holiday Open Houses: Save the Dates!

This holiday season, our mantra is shop relaxed. Kate is opening her home for four open houses. Join us for unhurried shopping with free parking and hot cider. We'll be featuring our glorious new alebrijes, whimsical, carved, painted critters from Kate's scouting in Oaxaca.

We have some fine new turquoise and silver jewelry from Tibetan artisans in Nepal.  Our seasonal sparkle  forecast: outstanding. Shimmery,
subtle hues of cranberry, cinnamon, silver and gold, in your choice of chunky, slinky, ropy, loopy...even understated!

Our vivid basketry from Rwanda has a sweet scent of grass. The colors pop in bold geometrics. We'll have the world's finest, one-of-a-kind Wounaan baskets from Panama, plus your favorite South African telephone wire baskets.
We'll have fabulous bargains as well. We're closing out several lines, including our Bulgarian mugs, Indian and Egyptian boxes, Egyptian recycled glass vases, Vietnamese ceramic vases, and soapstone critters and candleholders.. If it's bulky or heavy, we're motivated!

We'll also be discounting our scarves, as we narrow out focus to one-of-a-kind and small production. We've plenty of sumptuous Indian silks in rich palettes and elegant drape.

We're looking forward to seeing friends old and new!

The open house schedule is as follows:
Saturday, December 3rd, 11 - 7
Sunday, December 4th, 11 - 6
Saturday, December 10th, 11 - 7
Sunday, December 11th, 11 - 6

The address: 24 Ottawa Road in Arlington. Easy access from Route 2 and Mass Ave.

Looking forward to seeing you!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Our Inuit art prints are up!

We are delighted that many of our limited-edition Inuit art prints are now on our web site. These are prints Kate bought from the famed Holman Eskimo Cooperative and the artist's collective at Cape Dorset -- both within the Arctic Circle of Canada.

Our prints are all numbered -- most from an edition of 50, some from an edition of 25 -- and signed, some with Inuit symbols in addition to the artist's name in English. Collectors will recognize the names Mary Okheena, Mabel Nigiyok, Mayureak Ashoona, and others. Our web site is completely searchable, so feel free to type in a name or a theme.

Some prints are easy to interpret, such as "Hunter's Dream" above. Others, such as "Asking for Help" on the right, recall Inuit legends and stories and shamanistic beliefs that are not entirely suppressed even in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Our prints are all shrinkwrapped on foam core, and are priced to ship in an oversized art box. If you'd like to discuss shipping prices with Kate, e-mail her at

We still have some more prints to post. Keep checking back!

-- Lisa Deeley Smith

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting ready for Town Day!

Town Day in Arlington, MA is a splendid aggregation of merchants, community organizations, food vendors, and musicians. The center of town is closed off and more than 200 booths line that section of Massachusetts Avenue. This year, Town Day is on Saturday, September 17, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's been a while since we've had a booth there, and we're eager to go back and see old friends and be part of the local business community in Arlington.

We'll have lots of charming things for sale: the ever-popular Kenyan soapstone hearts and critters, all sorts of earrings, wallets, handbags, and scarves; dream catchers and worry dolls; little Egyptian and Indian boxes and Guatemalan baskets. And more; be sure to look in the $5 bins! We will have amazing buys on items we're closing out. If you're paying cash, we'll pay the sales tax.

We hope to be near our old storefront location at 669 Mass. Ave, but one never knows where one's booth will be until the morning of set-up. Nevertheless, you'll be sure to find us as you walk up and down the Avenue, debating whether to have fried dough or a slice of pie, a sausage or a plate of Thai food, and what community e-mail lists to sign up for. It's always satisfying to contemplate what you've brought home after Town Day. Your bag should include something special from Crossroads Trade.

-- Lisa Deeley Smith

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oaxacan alebrijes come to life

Alebrijes, fantastically shaped and colored animal figures, were born of a fever dream of a Mexico City artist in the 1930s. Sick and hallucinating about these figures, he recovered and fashioned these figures he had seen from cardboard and papier-mache. These figures are now a firmly established folk-art form in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca. Artisans there incorporated these new motifs into the local tradition of carving in copal wood. We are always interested how an art form evolves from a copy of another form into its own authentic style; wooden Oaxacan figures are a perfect example of this.

Kate visited some Oaxacan artists on her recent trip. Oaxacan pieces are made by artisan families. Here Narcisso and Ruby work take turns painting a dog.

Kate writes: "Painting this alebrije is trully collaborative. Where Narcisso leaves off, Ruby begins. Back and forth they went, as they went about their afternoon tasks."

 You can see the unpainted copal carvings on Ruby's table in the photo below. To the left, you can see the levels of detail the artists add to their painting. The pieces are signed, and with experience one can identify a particular family's work by sight. The dog Ruby and Narcisso are working on is a piece Kate is bringing home to sell. When it was finished, Kate said, from a distance it looked so chihuahua-like that only the blue color told you it was not a real dog.

Here Julio is at work on the back of a spectacular owl. And here is the owl itself, among some other alebrijes.

We sell Oaxacan figures in all sizes. We have a wide range of price points, although we look for originality and energy in the carving and the painting, and so do not stock the cheaper, tired-looking works. You'll see more Oaxacan creatures on our web site on Kate's return.

-- Lisa Deeley Smith

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kate's in Mexico!

Kate's in Mexico busy with several things: taking an intensive Spanish-language course, doing some scouting (she 's found one spectacular Oaxacan sculpture on a collector's special-request list), and seeing the sights.

She spent some time at a Guelaguetza.

She writes: "The Guelaguetza is an annual Oaxacan celebration of the ethnic traditions of its seven distinct regions and cultures. Combining ancient traditions with mestizo culture and Catholic ritual, the Guelaguetza takes place on the last two Mondays in July in several towns. This Guelaguetza took place in the town of San Juan Chilateca."

She went to a museum and solved the mystery of putting on armor. Note the buckles and straps in the second photo.

 And contemplated the differences in ironing among the socio-economic classes:

 More to come about Kate's adventures in Mexico.

-- Lisa Deeley Smith

Friday, July 22, 2011

Watch Our Other Space!

We want you to read this blog, of course, but we hope you are checking out our web site. We are posting new entries there nearly every day. Some are new arrivals, such as our stunning collections of Rwandan baskets and Nepalese beaded bracelets. Others are best sellers, such as the molas we ship all over the world.

Our web site is now completely searchable, both the titles and the text. Type in "Guatemala wallet" and you'll get all our selections, in two sizes and from four regions, each with its own distinctive motif.

We'll continue to keep you posted about new arrivals via this blog, but you don't have to wait for us. Just type in your search items and see what we've got!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Fair-Trader's Dilemma and the Republic of South Sudan

In January, Southern Sudanese cast their votes for independence; the day has come!
We join the rest of the world in welcoming the Republic of South Sudan, whose flag will be raised as the 193rd nation on July 9 (locally, at 11 a.m. over Boston City Hall). We've followed the fortunes of this newborn country, especially through the Lost Boys of Sudan (all men now, and many married and with children), some of whom we had hired for jobs around the store.

As this new nation grows, it highlights one of the dilemmas of bringing fair-trade goods to market. We had a choice of carrying pure shea butter from two fair-trade sources -- one from Ghana, and one from South Sudan. The shea butter from South Sudan was triple the price of the shea butter from Ghana. The major reason for the cost difference was the cost of transportation. Ghana is on the west coast of Africa with access to the Atlantic Ocean. South Sudan is landlocked; most of its roads are packed dirt, many unusable at some point of the rainy season. The nearest airports with flights to America are in Kenya and Uganda. The nearest port is Mombasa, Kenya. There was no option of getting shipments through northern Sudan: Americans are allowed to do business with the South, but the government of Khartoum is still listed as a terrorist state.

There are many efforts to improve and promote commerce in South Sudan; transportation costs are being addressed. We still can get that very expensive shea butter for those who would like to support this new nation. We'll also be writing more about the other barriers of bringing fair-trade items to market, and how these barriers can be overcome.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ethnic-looking, but not Fair Trade

A beaded fair-trade lizard from Crossroads Trade
I was in a Christmas Tree Shop recently, and saw some familiar things -- colorful metal geckos hanging on the walls, and beaded lizards walking across a table.

They looked familiar because I have carried both. The metal geckos I've carried are steel-drum art, hammered and shaped and painted by a  men's co-op in Haiti (recently back in business after the devastating earthquake). The beaded lizards are from a South African organization that provides school and support to children of AIDS victims.

But the geckos and lizards I was looking at were not quite right. They weren't striking. They had no vitality. I couldn't figure it out. They just didn't look jaunty, just lifeless.

Then I turned them over, and I saw a clue to their lifelessness. I also noticed that they wouldn't be providing any of the social and economic benefits of the ones I've carried. These were factory-made in China.

They were, of course, less expensive.  And everyone is on a budget. But when you spend your money on ethnic-looking home decor, think about where that money will go. Do you want the artisans to receive a fair living wage? Do  you want to support a region's economic recovery, and causes that rely on enterprise to fund their operations?

Think, too, whether you are supporting a vital artisanry or mechanical knock-offs. Those knock-offs lacked an artistic vitality because there were no vital artists at work.

Look for the country of origin when you shop. Or ask. Or buy your home decor from a member of the Fair Trade Federation. Like us!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wedding planning the fair-trade way

We've posted a separate blog entry with ideas for fair-trade gifts for wedding guests to bring. Wedding planners (whether professional, or members of the wedding party) can continue the theme of a fair-trade wedding by providing gifts and accessories for the bride's attendants that reflect the couple's commitment to cooperation and justice.

Bridesmaids can adorn themselves with tagua-nut bracelets as part of the wedding's color scheme, at the reception, or later as a memory of the big event.  We carry a variety of colors and styles on our World of Good website. Tagua is made from the nut of a Colombian palm tree that is dried and dyed. Farmers who sell tagua now earn enough to stop growing coca leaf for the cocaine trade. Brides should know their gifts to the wedding party not only commemorate their day, but bring economic freedom to Colombian families.

Our Nepali beaded bracelet also comes in a variety of palettes, should the bride wish to coordinate accessories with her attendants' gowns. Brought to market by a fair-trade wholesaler who is a former Peace Corps member, these bracelets are fashioned by women who are earning money to send their daughters to school.
Our World of Good earring selection features price points ranging from under $20 (Kenyan recycled metals)  to over $40 (intricate Guatemalan beadwork). Our web site features an even greater selection.

At the reception, your guests find their table strewn with a variety of our Kenyan hearts. These hearts are carved out of soapstone from the Kissi district of western Kenya. Dyed and batiked in Nairobi, they are a cheerful and affordable table favor.

The bride's attendants will look extra-spectacular. The guests will be charmed by their favors. The wedding will be part of the fair-trade movement. And the day will be even more meaningful than before.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Be a Fair-Trade Wedding Guest

We're delighted to be featured in the Fair Trade Federation's Fair Trade Wedding Guide, which is full of ideas how wedding planners and wedding guests can add joy to the day. As the introduction to the guide says, "Fair
Trade is an economic partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect. What better way to start your new life together than choosing items for your wedding that represent these values?"

We have lots of ideas for fair-trade wedding gifts. As featured on page 31 in the FTF guide, our wedding mola would make a spectacular gift. Handmade by the Kuna women of the San Blas Islands of Panama, this mola uses reverse appliqué. The women layer fabric and cut intricate patterns that expose colors in the underlying layers. This one-of-a-kind piece is collector quality with fine, even lines, invisible sewing and lovely composition. Our molas look beautiful framed (we recommend a framer who specializes in textiles), or fashioned into a sumptuous cushion cover.

Those who like to give tableware should check our our offerings from Bulgaria. Traditional designs have been incorporated into ceramic tableware that is food-safe, ovenproof, and microwaveable. Crossroads Trade carries plates, individual and serving bowls, mugs, and steins in a variety of colors and patterns.

Our telephone-wire baskets from South Africa are part of a story of local entrepreneurship. The first telephone wire baskets were made from multi-colored plastic-coated telephone-wire scraps, which had been carefully saved by basket weavers.After much experimentation, the artisans devised a technique of weaving over a form a fantastic multi-color bowl from the top down. As the baskets became more popular, telephone lines were raided to provide more raw materials. Our suppliers now use specially-purchased telephone wire for their works. 
Our Rwandan baskets are part of the story of Rwanda's rebirth following the 1994 genocide. The thousands of widows and orphans who were left alone after the slaughter are rebuilding their lives through their own talents, including the hand crafting of these baskets. Our baskets are not only beautiful and useful, but contribute to that rebuilding process.

We have lots more items on our Crossroads Trade web site and our pages on World of Good. We ship all over the world, either to you or to the happy couple. Bring extra-meaningful congratulations and best wishes this wedding season.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Having a Mother's Day Dilemma?

Our last porch sale was a great success -- so great we're going to do it again! This time, our focus will be on items made by mothers, perfect for Mother's Day.

Back in the day of our brick-and-mortar store, we would get all kinds of husbands into the shop. Some would know exactly what they were looking for. Some would walk in, look around, exhale, and look for help. And help we would, asking questions about what the wife in question usually wore (earrings? necklaces? scarves? big or small? colors?), holding up approximately-sized fingers for ring sizing, modeling necklaces and shawls.

For those worried Mother's Day shoppers, we can still help.We're offering our personalized service again: Thursday and Friday evenings, May 5 and 6, from 6 to 9 p.m., at 24 Ottawa Rd., Arlington, MA. We're also holding a sale traditional yard-sale items and scarves, accessories, and gifts from the home Sat., May 7, from 9 a.m. to 1 the same location.

We'll have our new, show-stopping jewelry from Nepal that received rave reviews at our booth at a recent show. It can be brought separately or in sets.


 We still have some of the popular Guatemalan beaded jewelry from the store.

For those mothers who like to focus on the home, we have cushion covers and hangings from Bolvia, Palestine, and South Africa.

We've got striking new baskets from Rwanda. Rwandan women began weaving baskets for sale after the genocide, when so many were left to support their families by themselves.

And for kids on a budget, we have soapstone hearts and critters from Kenya, handmade paper flowers and baskets from Guatemala.

So come by! And you can't, check out our offerings on our web site and on EBay's World of Good.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Buying molas on the islands

Kuna Yala, the homeland of the Kuna Indians (San Blas Islands) is an archipelago of 350 islands, give or take, on the Caribbean coast of Panama. The Kuna are famous for their molas, reverse-applique fabric art panels, worn in their blouses. This art form ranges from simple pieces sold to cruise-ship tourists to museum-quality works, stunning in their design and execution.
I've been going the San Blas Islands to buy molas since 1999. I've visited about 10 of the most traditional islands, extending almost to the Colombian border. Each trip, I base myself in a little bamboo hut, with my delightful Kuna hosts, whom I've now known for many years.  I eat a lot of seafood and coconuts. Each day, I focus on one island. 
Over the years, I've explored different islands with different results. Three of the ones I went to have been reliably good, the other two only sometimes yield fruit. I also know some Kuna artisans from these same islands, who are in Panama City for a few years, so that their children can go to school.
The buying rituals were, shall we say, energetic. On any buying trip, I'm trying to balance what I'm seeing with customers' interests. I look at more than 1,000 pieces, of which I'll buy 100-200. I buy the entire blouses that molas are sewn into. The first few days are the most challenging, as I figure out the trends and issues. Is the image I'm seeing one I'll see again? Is it limited to just one island? (I posted earlier on the trends and motifs I found on this trip.)
Kuna women are quite emphatic. They have plenty to say when I don't buy. They also wait for the longest time to pull out the best work, even though I've asked for it from the outset. I always like to peruse everything before deciding. Not possible. Whenever I was told that she'd shown me the last, and we concluded our deliberations, the woman would suddenly find a new bunch. One woman told me that if she sold me any more (I'd just bought 9 blouses), she'd have to go around naked. Somehow, more suddenly became available! 

Over the long term, it becomes harder to find high quality work. It also becomes harder to find women who know the meaning of the traditional motifs. On my latest trip, one Kuna man put this in perspective in a way I hadn't quite put my finger on before; the more the girls go to school, the more the traditional art suffers. This is such a dilemma. If they don't get an education, their options will be terribly limited. If they do, they will be less able to carry on their cultural traditions.
I'm almost done prepping the molas. I still have to separate several of them from the blouses, pick threads from most, clean, classify, grade, sort, photograph and code. I'll let people know when the molas are going to hit the website.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Easter tidings

At this writing, the snows of April have been replaced by the rains of April, giving us hope that the new life of spring is here to stay. Here at Crossroads Trade we offer some of the most traditional symbols of new life as well as some unusual ones.

Strictly speaking, our decorated Easter eggs are not pysanky, because they're not from the Ukraine; they're from Hungary. But the Hungarians do a beautiful job with this tradition elaborately decorated eggs.

The blue one seen here is made by dyeing an entire hen's egg and etching the design.

The red-and-gold egg to the right with the tassel flourish is a handpainted white duck's egg.

And the red-and-gold egg to the left is batiked, using the same technique as fabric design, where portions are covered with wax, the item dyed, and the wax removed.

All our eggs are sent double-boxed with foam chips; they come to us intact, and we have had great success shipping them all over the world.

For something less formal, more whimiscal, we have hand-knitted Peruvian bunnies and ducklings. We call them ornaments because they have a yarn loop at the top for hanging. They can hang anywhere and are especially cheery during the Easter season. At 3.5" high by 3.5" wide, they are safe, squashy toy for children, as they admire the hand-decorated eggs that have been put out out their reach.

Visit the Easter page of our web site for more offerings. You will find new life there even as the rains fall.

-- Lisa Deeley Smith