By Elizabeth Dolge
Like it or not, this time of year we are being bombarded by commercials encouraging us to engage in holiday cheer by buying gifts for our friends and loved ones. It all starts with Black Friday. Better hope that turkey tryptophan wears off in time to so you can be one of the first in line to buy the best gifts at the best prices. At least that’s what the major retailers want us to do. Here’s an alternative: unique gifts by your local artist community – many made from recycled and/or reclaimed materials.
In this economy, many are struggling and certainly artists are no exception. By purchasing items from a local artist you are supporting a fellow citizen – perhaps even a neighbor – and engaging in sustainable gift-giving, a practice with an undeniable ripple effect. This accomplishes so much on so many levels. Aside from using recycled materials in their pieces, many artists are also involved in sustainable work benefiting communities locally and globally. Some may participate by donating a percentage of their profits to a cause, others more directly – by leading programs to generate jobs in communities challenged by poverty.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, many artists are busy hosting holiday open studios. Visiting artists in their studios (often their garage or actual home) can provide one with a much deeper connection to both their work and personal story. Michael Parayno of Berkeley Rustic Birdhouses is one example. A graduate and part-time professor at UC Berkeley as well as long-time Berkeley resident, Michael started his art form on a whim over 12 years ago. A lover of nature, he wanted to attract more local bird species to his neighborhood. Having lots of lumber scraps lying around at the time, he put the two together – the lumber could be re-used as primary material to build birdhouses. And so Berkeley Rustic Birdhouses was born.
Michael’s creations are truly unique and just one example of art you could find in your area. Made from salvaged lumber, he adorns his birdhouses with whimsical decorative elements: finials found at Ohmega Salvage or vintage door knobs or keyholes are but a few of the elements he incorporates into his designs. He boasts there is a birdhouse to meet most every budget and taste. Adding to his many accolades over the years, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) has taken notice, awarding him in both 2009 and 2010 with a WRAP (Waste Reduction Awards Program) Award.
Beauty can be a very powerful motivator, at least when it comes to making purchasing decisions. A big fan of form and function, to me there’s nothing like receiving a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, hand-made creation, especially one that serves a purpose. If for no other reason than sheer aesthetics, consider giving a gift this year made by a local artist in your community. Chances are you’ll be happy you did and perhaps inspire others to do the same.
Elizabeth Dolge (Betsy) is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer/researcher on all things sustainable.