Wednesday, March 10, 2010

(Really) See The World

I own a lot of sticks. I have everything from small twigs to large branches, proudly displayed all over our home.  My family and I have hiked and nature-walked a good deal of California and its environs, and on every single one the kids would pick up sticks and one or two huge branches we encounter on our path. Each stick tells a story, and we said we would label each one but they got too many we were never able to do it. We would stuff them into this jar that fittingly has its own story too. Years ago after a visit to Manila, I was so hung over and homesick that I rushed to Pier 1 Imports and bought a huge earthenware pot that came from the Philippines. I placed it in my living room and every time I would stare at it I felt I was home all over again. I treasure these along with a whole lot of other souvenirs I've picked up from different places and items my family have brought me from their travels. They are by no means expensive in any way, but having come from such faraway places makes them so special and intriguing. I guess like taking far too many pictures, it's just a way of taking home something of the places you've been to. Potent reminders of good times gone by. 

It's also about having pieces of the world around you. In design talk they call this look, "global," or "well-travelled." You look around your space and it's like opening a book. Stories of different places and cultures told on tables and walls. Various cultures unfolding, right in your living room.

This goes hand in hand with the fact that people's desire to see the world is as old as time itself. Human beings have always longed to see what's out there and beyond, and our ancestors have always practiced the exchange of gifts from their homelands, bringing pieces of their history to faraway lands. These days despite the economic situation, wanderlust has not waned. According to statistics, international passenger traffic grew steeply, especially in places like Asia Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. We are also still interested in exchanging goods, and the steadily growing world production markets has led to an increase in freight traffic.

When we can't travel, there are ways we can get our hands on beautiful objects from around the world. Asia, Africa and the Middle East are favorite travel destinations and are known for their exceptional crafts in baskets, embroidery and weaving to name a few. There is a non-profit website called Ten Thousand Villages (, that "provides vital, fair income to Third World people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America. Ten Thousand Villages works with artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. This income helps pay for food, education, health care and housing." They are a fair trade retailer that helps people in these countries to sell their crafts and improve their lives.

Beholding one of these items immediately reveals its value. Like in the old days, they are the work of true artisans, each one lovingly and laboriously made by hand. Through Ten Thousand Villages, these artisans get to do something they're good and get fairly compensated for their hard work. Truly a far cry from the cheaply-made, mass-produced goods churned out from sweat shops that are sadly all over these places now too (more on that in coming post). 
Here is a detail of how one such vase is made: 

"Artisans stomp the clay with their feet, then throw it on the wheel. Final details are added the next day. The dried piece is burnished by hand. The following day, a clay and water mixture is applied three times. After the piece dries again, artisans apply various mineral oxides for color, then burnish the surface twice more. Designs are etched by hand, and larger patterns carved into the clay. Finally the bowl is fired for 6-9 hours in the kiln, left to cool and finished with a wax polish."
Above: Burnished Ceramic Vase from Nicaragua

Check out the items shown here and more. Ten Thousand Things provides online sales and retail stores in several US states and Canada as well.

Left: Bamboo Teapot from Nepal, Bottom, left: Palewa Owl Bookends from India, Bottom, right: Rattan Pod Stool from the Philippines

1 comment:

jennifer said...

Hi Auel - it's nice to see you're writing again! Ten Thousand Villages had a pop-up store in our town last Xmas season - a lot of cool finds. I also saw some capiz items from the Philippines :) I got some great gifts. I will check out their website.