Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Toronto Junction Arts & Crafts Neighbourhood: Wise Daughters' Story: Part 1

Screenshot: Wise Daughters' craft market
Wise Daughters Craft Market is a new enterprise at Quebec and Dundas, showcasing the handiwork of local artists and artisans. Nearly half of the 40-odd suppliers are from the immediate area, with more neighbourhood crafters approaching the shop to carry their wares almost daily. The Junction has become a hotbed of arts activity, and I hope Wise Daughters will serve as an incubator for creativity, and contribute to the Junction’s ever-increasing reputation as an artistic (as well as historic and gastronomic) neighbourhood, with its own distinctive flair.

Photo of a group of local artists:
L to R: Rhonda Nolan, Roy Macdonald, Diana Brugos, Rhona Jones,
Carol Barrett, Paula Rossley, Melissa McColl, Mary Breen.
2009 © Wise Daughters Craft Market

In March 2009, I assembled a group of local artists whose work is carried by Wise Daughters so we could share thoughts about “making it” as an artist, about what motivates us, and about the Junction arts scene. I thank Melissa McColl, Diana Brugos, Carol Barrett, Alida Lemieux, Paula Rossley, Roy Macdonald, Rhona Jones and Rhonda Nolan for sparking so many ideas.
Mary Breen, Owner, Wise Daughters
Part 1 - It’s the Story

My hope when I opened Wise Daughters on January 31 – the worst retail time of year, in the worst year in recent memory – was that the poor economy would make people more discriminating in their shopping habits. Instead of buying generic goods, mass produced a long way away under who knows what kind of working conditions, consumers would, I believed, move towards more responsible consumption. Added awareness about sustainability could only create a stronger market for recycled, reclaimed and repurposed goods, such as the shop’s toy monsters made of old sweaters, banjos made of maple syrup tins, and women’s belts made of men’s ties. But what also clearly matters to consumers with a pressing need (real or imagined) to scrimp and save, is to select items with “soul”.

Each object in my shop has a multi-faceted story. There is the story of what it’s made of, and how and where it’s made. In the case of some art pieces, there is the question of what it means, which is, of course, open to interpretation and therefore invites the viewer to participate in the story. Then there is the personal story of the individual artist. Some of the people who create handmade merchandise for Wise Daughters have day jobs and use art as a creative or therapeutic outlet after hours. Others are having a go at making at living at their craft, or do a combination of more and less commercial work to help pay the bills. One can easily see the influence of Wendo van Essen’s weekday gig as an animator in her delightfully silly felt animal trophy heads. Rhona Jones is a gardener, which affords her the opportunity to notice and pick up all kinds of natural and discarded treasures for her beautiful mobiles.

Most of Wise Daughters’ suppliers are not well established artists familiar to craft fans; many have never sold to the public before. This is also where a small element of social enterprise comes in – I carry work by clients of Sketch and Sistering, both community agencies serving vulnerable populations by offering support programs as well as fine arts training. One recent “graduate” of Sketch can hardly keep me in wire tree sculptures. His striking pieces sell as fast as he can make them in his spare time, now that he has found steady employment in a restaurant. Women from Sistering’s Inspirations Studio make gorgeous ceramic bowls that uplift them as well as helping to lift them out of poverty.

Frequently, the object’s story elicits a story in response. More often than not, customers tell me about the handmade traditions in their families, or about the significance of particular scent, fabric or image they come across at the shop. It’s one of the most unexpected pleasures of this enterprise. I feel like a shopkeeper from a bygone era, when people had the time and inclination to converse. I love it that I know that Aunt Eunice the sock monkey was an 80th birthday present for someone, and that the blue and purple necklace flew to England for a Bat Mitzvah, and that the IT guy is enjoying his Super Mario painting, and that Heidi Hoo the stuffed owl comforted somebody in hospital. How many other retailers know not only where their merchandise comes from, but where it ends up?

2009 © Mary Breen
Owner of the Wise Daughters Craft Market

Wise Daughters Craft Market
Local handicrafts and do-it-yourself workshops

3079B Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON, M5P 1Z9
(facing Quebec Ave, just south of Dundas, behind Crema Coffee)
There is ample street parking on Dundas and Quebec.
Via TTC: Junction bus from Dundas West Stn,
Lambton bus (or 15 min. walk) from High Park Stn.

Coming in future instalments... how crafters lose track of time, why those of us with mothers who liked to spray paint things in the 70s are compelled to make stuff, and why we choose to do it in the Junction.

Part 1 - It’s the Story
Part 2 - In the Zone
Part 3 - A Genetic Predisposition
Part 4 - The Junction Vibe

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