Archive for the 'What's New' Category


Vintage Bobbie whistles from Burma, courting balls from the Hmong

Yes, really.  We are putting them out today.  We have four vintage whistles used by the Rangoon police while the British were still in Burma, now known as Myanmar.  Where else in Decatur will you find these?  There are only 4 of them at $30 each, so you’ll have to act fast!  Maybe the ideal Mother’s Day gift for keeping the youngsters in line or to call everyone to the dinner table?

And we also have the essential tool for playing pov pob, a Hmong courting game played by young folks in Laos.  What do you need?  A single simple cotton ball, made from scraps of indigo batik fabric.  Girls and boys line up to face each other and toss the ball back and forth to those who catch their eye.  If no one tosses to you, or if someone drops or refuses to catch your toss– heartbreak.  The game is played during Hmong New Year at the time of the full moon in November.

We’ll soon be posting more about the Hmong people and about some of their beautiful crafts and artifacts we have in the store.  In the meantime, you may want to read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman, the Mingei Book Club selection for May.  It is available at Mingei for $15.00.  We will meet at the store on Tuesday, May 11 at 7:30 pm.  Everyone is welcome!


The Nats are coming

Nats?  Nats, not gnats.  Gnats will be in Georgia soon enough.  What are these “Nats”  and what planet do they come from?

A vintage Nat that passed through Mingei once upon a time

Nats are nature spirits that pre-date Buddhism in Burma, but are now worshipped along with Buddhist traditions or at least acknowledged and placated by people who also practice Buddhism.  They are spirits of mountains, of lakes and trees, of birds, but also the spirits of  people who died violent or premature deaths, otherwise known as “green ghosts” in Burma– spirits who suffered traumatic deaths and therefore cannot leave this plane.  There are countless nats, but they were consolidated by an 11th century Burmese king into a more manageable pantheon of 37.  Many families or communities may honor and tend to additional nats, however.  Many of these are local nats they feel must not be ignored.

Nats are very powerful, and easily disturbed.  They appreciate receiving offerings.  In fact, if you are not attentive to them, they may cause mischief, or worse.  When a large number of traffic accidents take place on a certain stretch of road, a shrine may be built to the Nat thought to be causing the problem, in hopes that the accidents will stop.

Nats can also be helpful to those who honor them.  Shrines to Nats are commonly built in homes, at crossroads, and at central worship sites.  People offer them gifts, food and drink to keep them happy and helpful.

If you’d like to set up your own Nat shrine, or just enjoy a beautifully carved figure and the interesting cultural and religious traditions they represent, have we got a Nat for you!  At least, we will soon.  After many years of not being able to find good-quality Nat figures in Thailand, where they find their way from Burma or Myanmar, several of our vendors had wonderful examples,  so we gathered quite a few.  We are very excited about the quality and affordability of these Nat figures  and look forward to sharing them with you.

When they arrive and are unpacked,  we will post the stories of these particular Nats ( as we can determine) and their photos.

In the meantime, to put you in a “natty” mood, you may want to read Amy Tan’s novel Saving Fish From Drowning or the amazing memoir by Pascal Khoo Thwe called From The Land of Green Ghosts (A Mingei Book Club selection from last year.  Both are available at Mingei and both are fascinating views into Burmese culture, and Nats.


Pete the Cat hanging out close by

A well-known blue hat has been hanging out right by our store for the last week or so.  This very blue fellow, a creation of local artist James Dean, has a permanent table now at the Yogurt Tap, and is constantly consuming yogurt and Javamonkey espresso (our  neighbor on the other side).  We just wish he would come on into Mingei.  We have some scarves that would look really good on him.

And, in his honor–come into Mingei and say “DeCATur” at check out to get 15% off any non-book item in the store that is not from Thailand, Laos or Burma.  Our sea shipment will be here soon and we need to make some room!

Watch our facebook fan page for tomorrow’s secret password!  This game will continue through Friday.


Who needs a tiger reading Blake?

Readers by Sergio Santos and Calixto Santiago

This is National Library Week, and have we got a library for you!

The green cabinet near the counter at Mingei is full of whimsical carvings of cows, mermaids, goats and dogs and other studious creatures reading.    All of these readers are from the village of La Union in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, a beautiful agricultural spot in the mountains which had no library until two summers ago.  That problem has now been remedied, thanks to the tremendous generosity of our customers and of fabulous and big-hearted local performers Carmen  Deedy and John McCutcheon who created a wonderful benefit performance for us at the Georgia Center for the Book.    To continue to support the village and their library, we sell the reading figures at Mingei and send 20% of the sales to the library.  To read more about this project, click the link on your right (under About Mingei World Arts)!

While the green cabinet is full– that’s all there is!  We have worked our way through the spares tucked away in the back and are down to what we have on display.   It is time to get those carvers working again so  we can get plenty more in time for the Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day weekend!

Now here’s where it gets fun.  Is there is special someone in your life who really needs a snail reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking? or a red dog reading Clifford?  Because of our special relationship with the carvers, we are able to make special requests.  We would love to help you plan a very special gift, choosing the price range and carver for just the piece you want.  Since we are working with artists, sometimes the final product differs from the vision; sometimes it is better!  Come on in to talk to us about your ideas!  The figures begin at $35 for the beautifully detailed little pieces by Maximino Santiago and go up from there.  Most are $55-$60.  A fine piece by well-known carver Gabino Reyes could be $250-$300.  We work regularly with 11 carvers in the village, so there is quite a variety of styles– something for everyone.  Depending on your request, we may ask for a deposit.

We will be sending our wish list to Mexico early in May, so please make your requests by May 1.


“My mother is looking at the sky.”

Every night in Luang Prabang, a forest of red canopies appears down the main street.  The night market features mostly Hmong women selling hand-made goods, T-shirts and imported knock-off craft items from China.  An occasional stall will have a collection of old sticky rice baskets, a few pieces of jewelry or some old textiles or parts of textiles.  We found some gorgeous old copper opium bowls our first night here– arguably the best “score” of the Laos portion of the trip.

The last time Mingei shopped in Luang Prabang, we found lots of rustic jumping folk toys which were missing this time around.  But the women of Luang Prabang have been very busy making something new– hand-stitched children’s books.  We gathered the books from all around the market, settling in front of each stall on the ground to read the simple stories about farm and family life among the Hmong.  “My father is pounding the rice.”  “My brother is riding a horse.”  Each of these descriptions is accompanied by a wonderfully detailed, charming image hand-stitched into the book.  We tried to cull the ones with English errors, expecting that many of our customers might prefer proper modeling to “My sister is picking the pineaple.”  or “My younger is minding the pigs”.  Minding the pigs?  We did wonder about the real authors of  these little storie as the women who made them do not spek any English. There were lots of books to chose from, and we probably picked all that ended “I am a boxer.”  We also skipped the ones that told portions of a fairy tale in which a character is pushed off a cliff and shoots his wife.  Maybe next time.  By the end of the evening we had chosen about 2 dozen books, including one that we will be keeping behind the counter which features two frazzled-looking creatures on the cover of “Travelling in Laos”. After reading dozens and dozens of these books aloud to each other (much to the amusement of their creators) we were really quite punchy, even uproarious, but managed not to push anyone off any cliffs–


Chiang Mai-Part the First

We are sitting at Wawee Coffee on the Ping River killing time until we leave for Luang Prabang.  We haven’t had time to catch you up on our shopping, shopping, shopping.  You really need to hear those lost 3 words as the staff of the guest house here great us as we stagger in laden with bag after bag after bag every day.  They haven’t even seen the mountains of textiles we have left with our driver’s wife to label each day.  Full disclosure, gentle reader, we have blown past our budget at each stop.  You will be pleased.  The laptop is running out of juice, but we will post pictures and more from Laos where the pace will be more relaxed.  Know that we have a gazillion scarves (cotton and silk), BAGS, and lovely carvings old and new.  See ya!


Cotton, silk, horn, silver….

Yesterday, we attended an exhibition by Thai Craft, featuring 35 different fair trade artisan groups from all over Thailand, and what a haul!  We found some wonderful hilltribe textile bags, fabulous fine cotton shawls from Hod, wonderful irridescent silks from Ban Napho, buffalo horn bangles, modern hilltribe silver and gorgeous stone and silver jewelry.

Here are a couple detail photos to give you an idea of what’s coming–

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