Booth after booth of handmade folk art. Artisans telling you how they created their crafts. Being embraced by a kaleidoscope of colors and intricate designs. Hand-loomed textiles, copper containers, crèche scenes with tiny figures, hand-painted crosses, delicate tinwork…and so, so many crafts. There is so much to admire, touch, learn about, and hopefully purchase.
Just thinking about walking through an artisan market during my travels makes my heart sing. Whether I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or Antigua, Guatemala, or San Antonio, Texas, or Oaxaca, Mexico, or perhaps the night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I love exposing my senses to the color and bustle of these gathering places.
With a long love of folk art, a lengthy career in sales, and experiences in starting several successful businesses, it was natural to think that someday I might open an import store. For years I’ve collected folk art while traveling. Friends would continually ask what I’ve brought home that they could purchase. But that nagging idea that I should seriously consider becoming an importer would be put aside, thinking, “someday.” Finally, in 2005, while traveling in Mexico, and once again overcome by beautiful folk art, I made the decision to purchase a quantity of handicrafts, had them shipped home, and began my import business, Global Hands Artisans, in earnest.
Beginning with that first shipment, I sell my imports at craft fairs, conferences, festivals, home events, and alternative gift fairs. All of my travels now include a search for outstanding folk artisans. I purchase for the collector of ethnic art, for the conservative decorator who is willing to add something different, for those who seek wearable art, for the gift shopper, for teachers’ classrooms, and for those who enjoy conversation about how they decorate their homes or themselves.
Because of the mark-ups I can make when I bring artisan wares back to the States, I can pay artisans whatever they ask for. A woven table runner I purchase at the asking price of $29 can be sold at a U.S. fair for $79, an $8 beaded bracelet can be sold for $30.
Importing can be a full-time, self-supporting business or a part-time side income. It provides funds to continue traveling, it feeds my love of beautiful art, it gives additional purpose and interest to my travels, and it helps artisans. All I have to do is attend events to sell the art, then, once I’ve sold my wares, I get to take another trip to restock. Profits from my sales cover everything from my airfare to the cost of new imports, with plenty left over.
It is such a joy to observe people’s reactions as they walk up to my colorful display, look over the art, make their selection, listen to the stories behind the pieces, and see them walk away with their purchase and a smile. Just as my heart sings when I travel, the colorful handcrafted folk art opens the eyes and hearts of people who come to “just take a look.”
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