03
Jul
14

Imperfection. Mingei then and now-

Through the years, we have told many of you what Mingei means. The roots “min” for people and “gei” for art, the same root as geisha, were put together for the first time in the early 20th century by a philosopher named Soetsu, who was concerned by the industrialization of Japan and the subsequent loss of handicraft. What was “mingei” was not intended for the court nor for the temple, but was for everyone to use, everyday. Interaction with the imperfection of the hand-made, Soetsu felt, was essential to the human spirit, as we, too, are imperfect.

Twenty year ago this July, three imperfect women met to talk about starting a business. One had a wealth of knowledge about design, craft, and Asia but was new to Atlanta. The others shared an interest in travel and hand-crafted items, had been in Atlanta for a while, and were mothering toddlers. That September, the newcomer traveled to Indonesia and lugged back a large duffel bag full of treasure: silver jewelry, batik sarongs, ikat jackets, and ceramic soap dishes. In December 1994, Mingei had its first home sale on Sterling Street in the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta.

On sale weekends during those early years, we posted a Balinese temple umbrella in the front yard, staked bright temple banners on bamboo along McLendon Avenue, and handed out postcards to folks waiting in lines for tables at the Flying Biscuit. By the time we opened on Friday evening, we might have 20 people waiting on the front porch to get first dibs on Javanese benches, bamboo wind chimes, hand-carved shields from Irian Jaya, and yes, panels from antique circumcision beds from Lombok.

Our first traveler married and moved to Australia. The two remaining women moved our operation to the Floataway Building on Zonolite Road, with an opening on the courtyard across from The Floataway Cafe. We worked Tuesdays–Fridays 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., splitting the days to be available for school field trips and other volunteer duties. Our husbands watched the kids when we opened one weekend a month: Friday nights 5:00-10:00 p.m, Saturdays 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., and Sundays 12 noon-6:00 p.m. Our friends at the Floataway Cafe served drinks to customers waiting for tables in our space and brought us cookies and bits of cheese.

We closed three weeks a year to make buying trips, started exploring more places—adding India and China to our maps. We shipped home containers of furniture, which we stacked to the ceiling on Zonolite.

After five years in this out-of-the-way location, we learned about a great space opening up on Church Street in downtown Decatur. Our kids were older, and we felt our business was ready to grow into a full-on, full-time retail endeavor. We opened the doors there on November 1, 2003, wound our way through some ownership changes and an economic downturn, added and subtracted countries on our shopping lists, and spent almost 10 happy years on Church. We closed that shop in September 2013 to reclaim a bit more personal time and to find some flexibility from the 362-day-a-year schedule that retail demands.

So here we are in our fourth incarnation, trying to find our way in new digs on New Street.

Much has changed since this business we call Mingei began in 1994: our mix of merchandise and where it has come from, our location and hours. I believe, however, that the quirky, beautiful, eclectic mix of people and things that are Mingei has remained, and I hope it can continue in some way. The business has changed as our needs, our families, and the world have changed.

Through all these changes, we have been blessed with wonderful friends and terrific helpers, both here and in the far-flung places we have shopped. Amazing things have passed through our hands—perhaps into yours.

When we made this move—a decision we do not regret—we thought that occasional and online sales would cover our reduced expenses. That worked for a while. Now— not so much.

We have been ramping up our presence on social media. We opened an Etsy shop, which has met with some success. We have opened our doors on New Street more often than we originally planned, have set up regularly at the Avondale Estates Farmers Market, and have reserved a booth for the Decatur Book Festival.

All that said and done, we wonder if we are giving you what you want. So we decided to take to the blogosphere and ask you. We aren’t ready for Mingei to be over, yet.

As we find our way forward on our imperfect path, we want to hear from you. What have you loved about Mingei, or not? What do you miss? What can we do for you now?

Summer is a slower time for us. I am headed off to India and Nepal in a few days, traveling with my family. It is not a Mingei buying trip, but I know I will be looking to pick up a few things—I can’t help myself! Ellen will be in touch with you in July, and I will be back in August.

Wherever summer breezes take you, we hope you will have a glorious and restorative time. We look forward to hearing from you. Tell us what you think about Mingei and “mingei.”

 

 

01
Jul
14

Hand-made surroundings

A coconut shell bowl, a peacock feather fan, and a white cotton sari. Those are the only possessions of Mataji, a 38-year-old Jain nun featured in the the first story of William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives: A Search of the Sacred in Modern India, a wonderful book I have been enjoying this week as I prepare to travel to India. Each section explores a variety of religious devotion through the story of an individual practitioner: a temple prostitute, a dancer who becomes a deity incarnate, and Mataji among them.

Jainism is a very ancient religion, described by Dalrymple as being similar to, but more demanding than Buddhism. While the Jains I have met are affluent merchants in Rajasthan, those who dedicate themselves to the ascetic path of ordination renounce family and possessions and take to the roads to wander for the rest of their lives. They are to avoid attachment to anyone or any one place. Their hairs are plucked one by one until their heads are bare, they eat only one meal a day which can be offered, but not begged, and the monks travel completely naked.

Mataji, as a woman, is permitted to wear a white cotton sari, no doubt hand-spun and woven khadi cloth. She also carries a bowl for water, which is strained to avoid swallowing small living things, and a fan to clear the path of tiny unsuspecting creatures that might be crushed by her footfall.

If you are to go through life with one set of clothing and two tools, how much richer can that life be if those objects are made of natural materials, marked by the hands that crafted them. Now, there is my bias and sense of attachment showing, but I was struck by the beauty of this aspect of Mataji’s life in a world where the poorest people may now only own a few plastic bowls and an acrylic blanket, a world in which increasingly, machine-made items are replacing hand-made, and the skills and traditions of handcraft are being lost.

In my early 20’s, when I was a devotee of poet and novelist Robert Graves and carried a machine-printed but dog-earred copy of The White Goddess from apartment to apartment, I read somewhere that Graves’ study in Majorca was filled only with hand-made objects, but for a few machine-printed books and the electric light fixtures.

Thinking about Mataji’s life set me to the very un-handmade task of googling for a reference to confirm this memory, which I found in a 1969 interview for The Paris Review. As he spoke with Peter Buckman and William Fifield, Graves hand-rolled his own cigarettes. “Yes: one secret of being able to think is to have as little as possible around you that is not made by hand.”  

-Ann

 

20
Sep
10

A Soundtrack of Mexico City

As we have been going about our shopping and exploring in Mexico City these past few days, we have been carried along by the sounds of this place.  At San Angel artisan market, we were met with the playfully instructive demonstrations of the toy violins by Guillermo Figueroa as he chose the best ones for us to buy.  And was that a cat screeching in the wriggling black bag  the gentleman was holding as we were carefully selecting the Lorenzo paintings?  Our horror turned to annoyance when the cat screech turned to a parrot caw; he had a noise maker in his mouth.  Those sounds followed us through the day as did the drone of “botaneros, botaneros, botaneros” by strolling women relentlessly hawking decorative wooden cocktail picks.  The unheard sound of salsa music entertained as we watched the dance class through the large plate glass window of a second story building while we wiltedly waited for our taxi at the end of the shopping day.

The remaining  days in Mexico City  have been punctuated by fireworks’ whirrs and pops left over from the bicentennial celebration of the Independencia, and soothed with the sounds of classical guitar at a corner cafe as well as the smooth tenor notes of a strolling singer in an antique gallery.  And our nights’ sleep have been jolted by brake squeals, drunken conversation, and bad rock bands from the bar across the street.  But we were lulled back to sleep with quiet memories of Jorge Marin’s empty angel wings filled by a mother and child on a boulevard near Chapultepec Park

Jorge Marin's sculpture "Alas de la Ciudad", 2010

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08
Jun
10

Vote for our window!

In order to set the mood for the Decatur Beach Party on June 18, the city is sponsoring a window decorating contest with a beach theme.  So– what is the Beach Party?  Live music, dancing on the square and 60 tons of sand– sound like a good time?  You know that Decatur knows how to party!

Our entry for the Window Decorating Contest?  We have composed a global sunbather above, complete with an Indian paper mache head, thangka
hands and feet and a hand-made paper fan from Thailand.  She is sipping a strawberry drink from an antique lassi cup, enjoying some French Caribbean music and reading Flight of the Mermaid under a Mexican sun.

A number of businesses all over downtown Decatur have entered.  Come on over and take a stroll around to view the windows and vote for your favorite!  To vote for Mingei’s window, text “Dec mingei” to  80672 .  Only one vote per hour from each number!  You can vote until June 18, when it is time for the  Decatur Beach Party!

03
Jun
10

Gail Goodwin’s Mingei goodies!

You may know Gail.  She has been working with Mingei for a very long time, is a docent at the Carlos Museum, a writer,  retired teacher at Westminster, extremely active member of the Atlanta International Club– and a number of other organizations!  She also manages to travel extensively and always finds time to scour local markets for hand-made textiles.

Here are a few photos from her home and a few words about why she loves Mingei!

Tired of the Container Store look?  Tired of mall styles dictating your decor?  If you yearn to escape the commercial and reveal your true soul in your home, walk into the spirit-filled space of Mingei World Arts in Decatur.  At Mingei, you will tap into cultural creativity from ethnic groups around the globe.

An old basket sits atop a graphically striking textile.

New products emerge from recycled materials and vintage artifacts adapt to new uses.  Rare handmade objects are art for display.  What you can do with Mingei “stuff” is limited only by your imagination.

A yak butter container holds dry flowers.  A Hmong spirit lock fills a small wall space.  A chapati rolling pin or a weaving shuttle becomes a towel rod.  A dowry chest is a colorful coffee table.  A hand-worked shawl dresses a window or accents a sofa.  A framed page of Tibetan script or Miao baby head cover enriches the look of a living room.  And whether or not you use your Tjap as a stamp, it makes a unique doorstop.

Framed enbroidered baby head covers grace the wall above Gail's sofa, which holds a collection of luscious pillows. The coffeetable is draped with a woman's hand woven headcovering.


Come to Mingei to birth your creative soul and transform your home!

–Gail Goodwin

02
Jun
10

How are you using your Mingei treasures?

Gail Goodwin's house is full of textiles and other gorgeous pieces from her travels with her husband Clark, supplemented by items she has picked up at Mingei.

Calling all customers!  Every day things leave the store and go into your wonderful homes or find their way into other homes as gifts.  Sometimes you tell us about the wonderful, unique ways you are using the dewali oil lamps, old buttermilk pots or cannon balls you acquired at Mingei.  Occasionally,  you sent pictures or an invitation so we can see for ourselves the creative and functional way you are using your “artifactual”  Mingei finds!

Here’s your chance to be featured on the Mingei blog.  Please send us your photos of Mingei items in context, and write us a little about what you have done and maybe how you were inspired.  The first one will be posted directly!

Thanks in advance!

07
May
10

Mingei bites. Mingei flicks. Mingei reads.

There are far too many little sticky notes behind the counter, full of all of your suggestions.  Rather than keep all your ethnic eatery,  restaurant, foreign film and  book recommendations to ourselves (or worse, have them get stuck to the back of the bank statement and get lost in a manila folder forever), we decided to make a place for them on our blog.  Look to the right side under “Community”, and you’ll see the pages awaiting your contributions!




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