Monday, March 7, 2011

Handmade Mafia - my other family...

EDMONTON - Ally Ng has two busy jobs — kindergarten teacher and mafia don.

During the day, the 31-year-old teaches little ones at Belvedere Elementary School. At night and on weekends, she oversees a unique collective of artists and crafters known as the Handmade Mafia.

What began as a smallish group of friends who made things has, in two years, grown to include some 200 members, many of whom put on monthly sales of eclectic, interesting crafts in Old Strathcona.

“It started just as a way for crafters just to hang out and see each other because I had made some wonderful connections through my years of doing craft markets and I never got to see my crafty friends outside the shows,” explains Ng, who started making and selling jewelry when she was teaching in Taiwan a few years ago.

“Providing the crafts was just a really great bonus.”

At first, Ng and her crafty colleagues wanted the show to have an “art walk” feel, so they set up in two locations near Whyte Avenue and 104th Street — the Savoy Lounge and the Orange Hall.

Last year, in the interest of unity and simplicity, they focused on Orange Hall, but as Christmas approached and word of the mafia spread, the cool, quirky venue became too small, so they spilled over into the Strathcona Baptist Church across the street. Now, as the group hits its third anniversary this month, all the vendors will set up shop in the church, and the Orange Hall will be used as a site for public crafting workshops, to spread the love of handmade out into the community, says Ng.

As well, the group will be offering small business development workshops to help its own members grow and prosper.

“I think one of the things that’s really attracting local crafters is that this is a local event, and it’s really about community. We want to foster a real community, so we’re having different social events throughout the year. We’re doing the workshops to educate; we just want it to be like one big family,” says Ng.

“Everybody’s so warm and welcoming that if you’re a new person and you’ve never done this before, you will completely be embraced and made to feel comfortable at your first show.

In any given month, between 35 and 45 artists sell their wares at the show, from handmade accessories and toys to art prints. Mafia vendors tend to be a little younger than those at other shows, “and therefore the crafts are different, they’re maybe a bit more kitschy or a bit more unique than you would find at the Strathcona market,” she says.

The show also gives them a regular place to sell their crafts, where customers can easily find them.

For graphic artist Lon Wenger, who joined the mafia in December, the feedback he’s got from buyers and from colleagues has been invaluable.

“As an artist and a crafter, you spend so much time alone with your craft; it’s nice to have that time at least once a month where you can put it out there into the world and have people receive it and love it. It just gives you that fuel to keep doing it.”

Wenger, who sells his own pop-art style prints, greeting cards and magnets under the name Minus Industries, says the support of the group has been “incredible. It really is a family.

“You find these people who have similar interests, and they’re constantly trying to help you and further your career. They know what you do and you know what they do, so if they need design they’ll approach me or if I need something, I’ll approach them.”

He’s also working on collaborations with other members to put his designs on items like pillows and dolls. “It’s really great to see my art come alive in different ways than I ever would have really expected because of these people that I’ve met.”

Mafia member Karen Whitehead Kuntz is a busy mom of three small kids who makes wooden toys and puzzles, which she sells on the popular craft website, under Mama’s Wood Shop. But the group’s shows have been a great way to meet face-to-face with customers and fellow crafters, some of whom she had only met before online. “They’re very supportive and everyone has ideas for you on setting up your booth, on signage, on where to find resources like business cards and stuff like that.”

When Ng started the group in 2009 after returning from Taiwan, the “handmade revolution” that was so widespread there was just beginning here. In the last two years, that interest has grown tremendously, she says. “I think it has to do with the awareness in society that buying local and supporting local is really important,” she adds.

“People are touched that someone made this by hand and that you can give that gift to someone. It’s a really special connection that goes in a circular motion.”


The next Handmade Mafia show will take place Saturday, March 19, at the Strathcona Baptist Church, 8318 104th St., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

It will also include the first public workshop at the nearby Orange Hall, at 10335 84th St., about designing and carving a lino block for printmaking. It will be hosted by Kim Fjjordbotten from the Paint Spot. For more information, e-mail or call 780-432-0240.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

1 comment:

The Tompkins Family said...

That's a great article!

And I'm SO loving your haircut!