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Artists share love of Earth and crafts

Friday, April 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 3:02 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 25, 2009
Jolene Kington hand-stitches a purse made from old wool sweaters at her home in Columbia on Thursday. Kington will be selling her crafts this weekend at a Mothers of Preschoolers spring fundraiser on Saturday as well as at Earth Day Festival on Sunday.

COLUMBIA — A group of online friends will be making their crafts debut at Columbia's Earth Day Festival on Sunday.

Etsy.com is a Web site that allows people to buy and sell handmade and vintage items and crafting supplies. The site has street teams where members can form mini-organizations based on location, type of craft or other interests. The teams network, help with promotion and share advice and skills.

"It's kind of another social network," said Lisa Bartlett, a member of one of the Etsy.com groups. "There's so many social networks online. This is funny because this is like an online situation that forms a social network of people who actually meet in person."

Columbia gained a street team of its own last summer. Kansas City and St. Louis already had established groups, but there was nothing for mid-Missouri.

It started with three friends: Laura Pugh, Jolene Kington and Beth Costello. The three had been doing art shows together and selling on Etsy.com. They decided that Columbia needed a team of its own and founded the group. The requirements are simple: be on Etsy.com and live in mid-Missouri. The group has 32 members.

Seven members of the Missouri Etsy-Centrics will be exhibiting at the Columbia Earth Day Festival this Sunday. Gail Barnickol, Kristi Mott, Laura Pugh, Jolene Kington, Beth Costello, Jenn Hynes  will be exhibiting as a group, while Lisa Bartlett has a separate exhibit.

"The goal of the group is to support each other and promote Etsy and each other's shops," Pugh said. "This (group fair) was a goal for 2009 to actually do things together."

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This will be the first time the group is exhibiting together, and the setting fits the artists since many of them try to practice sustainable art.

Kington tries to recycle and "upcycle" goods as much as she can. It's evident in the things she makes: baby toys from organic cotton, purses and clothing from old felted sweaters.

"I hate wasting anything. I even save itsy-bitsy pieces of yarn so that birds can use them for their nests," Kington said.

Since she started making toys for her own kids, she has become much more safety conscious.

"If your baby is going to be teething on something, it just makes more sense to have something that doesn't have a bunch of chemicals or is chemicallybased, like plastics," Kington said.

Mott's youngest son had skin issues when he was little, but she couldn't find anything that wouldn't make him break out. After looking for natural products, she decided to make her own. With some research and experimenting, she came up with a viable product in natural soaps. Now she sells to friends, families and people all over the world.

"Etsy has allowed me to share my love for soaping to literally the world from the convenience of my home," Mott said. "I have shipped to Australia, China, Israel, Canada. It's like a little geography lesson every time I ship something out."

Even though her products aren't "reusable," Mott is always looking for ways to keep her products Earth-friendly. She searches for Earth-friendly harvesting methods for her natural ingredients and uses recycled paper for packaging.

"I know I would rather have something someone made with their two bare hands than something mass produced and full of chemicals that are so not good for you — and everyone on Etsy including the street team members understands that notion," Mott said.
 
Bartlett has had extensive experience selling in both stores and online. Co-owner of the now closed Spare Parts Gallery, she also has exhibits downtown and has a studio at the Orr Street complex. Now she's making plans to open a new gallery on Walnut Street with fellow artist Jessie Lawson. She hopes to have members of the Etsy team exhibit there.

Things from the past, such as skeleton keys, vintage jewelry and old watch parts are reused in Bartlett's mixed media art. 

"This is a throw-away society so things today might not have the same beauty of things of the past," Bartlett said. "I see a beauty in things that are obsolete."

The group members hope to provide support for each other at their first group event.

"I hope that as we grow as a team we will be able to promote each other, our Etsy shops, and our businesses in a confident manner," Mott said. "It will be interesting to see how everyone works together as a team, yet promotes their own products."

The Earth Day festival will feature about 250 booths. Nonprofit organizations, artisans and businesses will be exhibiting.

"We're providing an event that provides sustainable education, access to a volunteer fair and especially the opportunity for the community to be able to sample the diversity of our community," said Mark Haim, co-coordinator of Columbia's Earth Day Festival street fair.


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