Reflecting on creative genius

On a recent trip to Seattle I was able to visit Chihuly Gardens and Glass, an indoor/outdoor exhibition of the glass works of Dale Chihuly. The very first room of the exhibit struck a familiar chord with me. On one wall hung a collection of indian blankets layered upon wooden ladders. On another, a collection of photographs of Native Americans from the early 1800s. I frequently see similar blankets, patterns and photos in my home of New Mexico. In fact, it was as a teacher at the Institute of the American Indian Arts in Santa Fe that Chihuly found inspiration for his Navajo Blanket Cylinders.

Glowing in the studio lights, however, was something both familiar and very, very different. The traditional Navajo patterns, colors and threads were now reinterpreted in beautiful glowing glass. The woven baskets, now woven with light.

Dale Chihuly showed early artistic excellence and received classic training in his field at a high level. In 1968 he received his M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design – where he would later teach. A Fulbright Fellowship allowed him to work and study in Europe. With an invitation from architect Ludovico de Santillana, son-in-law of Paolo Venini, Chihuly became the first American glassblower to work in the prestigious Venini factory on the island of Murano.

According to his web site, a key shift occurred in 1977. “Breaking with 2,000 years of glassblowing history, he begins a lifelong pursuit of organic and asymmetrical forms, using fire, gravity, and centrifugal force to help shape his work.”

It is here that I find a powerful lesson to apply to my own work. The true magic of creative genius lies in talent and technical mastery coupled with unique vision, passion, and daring to break the rules.  To be creative you must look at the same thing in a new way. To solve a problem you must approach from a different angle. To create change, you must change perspective.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
– Marcel Proust

Collaboration of Nations

I am not smarter than a 5th grader. In fact, when I was in 5th grade the world as we knew it was very different. We had nine planets, and the USSR (dating myself). A lot has changed since then, and I admit that with day-to-day life I’ve not taken the time to learn a lot about changes in the world. Where am I going with this? I don’t know anything about Tajikistan.

On a recent visit to Boulder, Colorado Megan and I had the opportunity to visit the Dushanbe Tea House. When we approached from the street, the exterior of the building greeted us with a vibrant cacophony of color, beautiful tile work, and exquisitely detailed trim. I knew we were in for something special.

A symbol of peace & global friendship

When I entered the tea house, I truly felt transported away from the southwest into another culture. A culture I knew zippo about. Soon, I learned the Dushanbe Tea House was a gift from the city of Dushanbe to its U.S. sister city, Boulder. Dushanbe is the capital city of Tajikistan, formerly part of the Soviet Republic.

The tea house is an artistic marvel of texture, color and light. It was created by forty Tajik artisans by hand over a two-year span. The techniques they used were traditional, descendant from Persian design, and shared across generations within families. After its creation, the tea house was dismantled and shipped to the United States to be reassembled in Boulder.

I was struck by the work and care that resulted in the tea house. Two far distant nations – traditionally beset by ignorance, distrust and misunderstanding – found common ground in their sisterhood and began a collaboration of nations that we are able to enjoy today. These cross-cultural relationships allow me to glimpse beyond my own borders and participate as a global citizen.

In this jewel box we enjoyed a lovely tea. I am not usually a tea drinker, but I was entranced by their Boulder Tangerine custom tea blend and I purchased some to enjoy at home. All of our food was delicious. With a glass of sparkling wine and the wonderful and tasty gluten-free menu for Megan and I, it was a splendid way to spend an afternoon.

SparrowGals at Dushanbe Tea House

Our visit to the tea house took on additional meaning when Sparrow Creative Studio was approached by Rikki Quintana of Hoon Arts Fair Trade. Rikki began her introduction of the company by explaining that they were a fair trade importer of hand-crafted materials from Tajikistan!? I’d never heard of the country before, and in the scope of two weeks, I’d encountered it twice! A bond was forged as Rikki shared the scope of the Hoon Arts mission.

The hand crafts of the Tajik people use nature and repetition of patterns, beautiful colors, and meticulous quality. We were so inspired by these patterns that we incorporated them into the Hoon Arts branding and materials.

Sparrow Hoon Arts flower

Many of the artisans are women from impoverished rural mountain communities. Through their art, they are able to substantially improve the quality of life for their families.

Too many companies destroy communities by exploiting artisans and polluting cultures. Fair Trade practices help promote economic development and also help ensure the preservation of traditional culture.

Individually, each of us has tremendous power to contribute. Through our purchases, literally putting dollars where our ideals are, we can improve – or impoverish – the lives of others.

Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want. – Anna Lappe

July 8-10 Hoon Arts Fair Trade will display their wares at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe. I encourage you to visit the market, and visit Hoon Arts. You may find an exotic treasure for your home, or the perfect gift for a friend. You may have the opportunity to impact the life of a woman in Tajikistan – seize it!