During the first week of October, I traveled to Toronto to attend the annual B Corporation Champions Retreat. (And to celebrate our 10th anniversary as a founding B Corp!) Less than a week before I was set to leave for my first-ever trip to the Great White North, I learned that Stephen Kitras, a long-time member of our maker family, owns and operates the largest hot glass blowing studio in Canada. I immediately contacted the Kitras Art Glass team with fingers crossed, hoping to squeeze in a last minute visit while on their side of the continent. A few days later, I found myself in Fergus, Ontario, thrown into the fire of glassblowing alongside artists who have traveled from all over the world to practice their craft at Stephen’s studio. Continue Reading…
When you think “fine art,” your mind doesn’t usually jump to “plywood.” That is, in large part, why Robert Hargrave’s sculptures are so intriguing. Born in Ohio, raised in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and now based in Portland, Oregon, Robert handcrafts exquisite creations from layers of richly colored plywood. At first glance, you’d never guess the material—and, in a way, that’s the point. “In a homogeneous world of sameness, diversity is something to strive for,” Robert says. “My goal is to make products that are a joy to look at, a pleasure to touch, and an honor to own.”
After taking an up-close-and-personal look at Robert’s Layered Hardwood Magic Lamp Sculpture (albeit in the comfort of our Brooklyn office), we here at UncommonGoods knew we just had to find out a bit more about him, like how he manages to make two-by-fours look so darn fancy. Read on for more insight into Robert’s background and day-to-day as a creator, including a breakdown of what motivates him—and a tip o’ the hat to the sculpture that started it all.
Some 60 miles north of New York City, Newburgh, New York, sits quietly on the western bank of the Hudson River. To some, the name of the city is synonymous with a rough history. For others, it evokes vistas of riverside streets lined with 19th-century mansions, many mere blocks from abandoned homes. To a growing group, however, it’s become a refuge—a place that celebrates local creators, welcoming artists and entrepreneurs into a vibrant community of like-minded folks.
Enter KaKyung Cho, one of many makers who’s forging a home for her business in a newly renovated space in Newburgh. Like the duo behind design firm and longtime Brooklyn fixture Atlas Industries, KaKyung is a recent transplant, still transferring operations from her kitchen in Williamsburg, where she first began crafting soaps with the aid of a rather unlikely household tool—her slow cooker.
As we saw when we visited KaKyung back in July, she does everything herself, from selecting suitable loofahs for her three-piece soap sets to assembling the boxes she uses to package her equilateral soaps, and she does it all in a beautiful space a stone’s throw from Newburgh’s notable historic homes. In her workshop, antique furnishings mingle with massive ferns, delicate crystals, and piles of snacks just begging to be eaten. (Whether said snacks are always there or KaKyung just happens to be a great hostess, we’re not totally sure.) Buoyed by calming vibes and friendly conversation, we munched on burritos, watched KaKyung hand-cut and package her soaps, and asked her a select few questions about what life as a maker in Newburgh looks like. Read on for more.
“Being a full time artist is never easy, but it’s certainly worth the hard work (and gray hairs),” says Tony Holman, a potter who makes practicality and purpose look good.
Tony began honing his pottery skills almost 40 years ago at Indiana University, fine tuned them soon after at Bloomington Pottery, and now runs his own studio in Plano, Texas. It’s here where he creates his line of handcrafted helpers that play a vital part in the well-appointed kitchen.
His kitchen creations—an all-in-one fondue warmer and platter set, self-draining utensil caddy, and omelet maker that turns out fluffy eggs in 45 seconds flat, to name a few—are an irresistible blend of form and function.
Imagine that you’re walking along the beach on a gorgeous sunny day when something shimmery in the wet sand catches your eye. At first you think it might be a rock, still glistening from the tide that washed it in. But as you get closer, you see that it’s really more of a gem. Not a gem in the precious stone sense, but in that “Wow, I just found something really special!” way. It’s sea glass–the smooth, frosty product of broken glass left to tumble in the waves.
Collectors scavenge the shores to find these tiny treasures, and some creative beachcombers even turn bits of found sea glass into beautiful jewelry pieces. Since we recently expanded our own collection of sea and beach glass designs, we decided to learn a little more about the glass “gems” at the center of these wearable works of art. Read on for a few of the uncommon facts we found about sea glass.
For Patrick and Carrie Frost, the glass is always, well, half full. The husband-and-wife team, who founded Frost Glass in 2012, love being able to create together. “Collaborating and having a combined vision for Frost Glass makes it possible for us to achieve great things,” Patrick told us in a Q&A. “And being an artist teaches you to see potential in everything. Once you embrace that principle, it’s very empowering.”
The Ohio-based pair aim to share that sense of joy with those who buy their handmade wares: “Our goal is to enhance your everyday experience. We try to fill your day with magic,” he says, adding that the best compliment is “hearing that people entertain with our glassware or decorate their homes with our work.” He fills us in on the art of glass-making, the couple’s long studio days, and their inspiration.
When did you and Carrie start creating work together?
We met in the spring of 2009 at the Penland School of Crafts, assisting a master glass maker from the Czech Republic in a two month course. Both of us had experimented in different media through elementary and high school, but glass was always mysterious. Once you have your first encounter, it is hard to break free! No other material offers the same levels of challenge and reward, it is a very addictive experience to have.
What does a typical day in your studio look like?
We usually work in the studio first thing in the morning for about 6-8 hours. Afterwards, we spend a few hours doing administrative tasks, equipment maintenance, packaging and shipping, ordering materials, answering e-mails, and applying to shows and events. A typical week is six days, 10-12 hours a day. We devote one day a week minimum to “office tasks” — this gives us a break from the studio and allows us to catch up on everything else!
This is a loaded question we get asked at shows — nobody is ever impressed when you tell them 20 minutes! I say we’ve both dedicated a great deal of time and energy over the past 13 years to get to where we can create at our current level. It’s like being a pilot — 10,000 hours makes you comfortable flying. We’ve done that many times over by now!
One of the great things about glass blowing is that the best tools and techniques have remained unchanged for more than a thousand years. Heat, gravity, how you turn, and the way you move and manipulate the glass without touching it will make the most efficient and elegant form.
Even the hand tools we use are very primitive. Glass work is essentially a throwback technique, which makes it really cool and protects it from being obsolete. There are things that can only be done by hand that a machine cannot replicate and that is what makes it special.
Do you keep anything inspirational around you when you work?
Our rescue dog Jeffrey is a great inspiration! He keeps us grounded and gives us an example of great K-9 courage, overcoming what he had to as a young puppy. Now he keeps us company in the studio or wherever we go.
Do you drink from glasses you make in your home?
We keep some of our glassware handy, but our favorite works are ones from friends or other artists that we’ve worked for. These are the best to drink out of because they remind you of a time, place, and experience you had with someone special.
The next Instagram Challenge theme is CLEVER COSTUMES. Every autumn, I always remember one of my favorite lines from Anne of Green Gables: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” From the perfectly cool weather, to the creative energy leading up to our favorite spooky holiday, there’s so much to love about October. For the rest of this month, we want to see the clever costumes you’re planning for October 31! While sharing your most creative Halloween photos, be sure to use the hashtag #UGInstaFun to be in the running for a $50 gift card. Visit here to see the entries we’ve received so far.
As a B Corp certified company, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green” – we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always excited to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.
While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft – those who are making an uncommon impact.
Meet Lishu and Leonardo Rodriguez, founders of fellow B Corp El Dot Designs, which specializes in mindfully-sourced home furnishings that have a positive impact on the lives of the people who make them. Their work is as much about sustaining the environment as it is about providing economic opportunity for disadvantaged women and minority artisans, all the while nurturing the traditional craftsmanship behind practical modern designs.
Where does the natural environment find a place in the inspiration for and impact of your work?
Nature is our teacher and our muse. We believe in our symbiotic relationship with the natural environment. Our work nurtures this relationship where humanity and the natural environment benefit form one another.
How do craft traditions and modern practicality merge in your designs?
Craft is based on necessity dating back to the beginnings of technology. Our designs appreciate this evolution towards efficiency and durability while maintaining that human touch and our heritage of making with our bare hands.