In March 2005, Vancouver-based graphic designer Jan Halvarson launched Poppytalk, an influential design blog followed internationally by design enthusiasts and shelter-magazine editors alike.
A prolific curator of all things “handmade, decayed, and beautiful,” Halvarson has been at the forefront of contemporary arts and crafts trends, spotting new talent here and abroad. In conversation with MOV, she shares her thoughts on the revival of craft, how the Vancouver scene is evolving, and the local artists she’s following now.
What inspired Poppytalk?
Back in the day, I was studying graphic design and was using the blog to catalogue inspiration, never realizing or even thinking of a readership.
Poppytalk Handmade was added in 2007. It was hard to find quality work to write about and I was spending an incredible amount of time online looking for inspiration. Etsy was very new and I had started an “Etsy Pick of the Day.” It got so popular that I created a blog just for it, and people started sending me submissions to write about them. I realized there was a need for these artists to be seen and heard, and I loved the idea of giving them a venue to showcase their work. As it was also difficult to find these artists in the sea of shops online, I realized it must be hard for buyers and retailers to find as well. I started curating all this talent and realized that when I did post about their work, people were buying their wares. Hence Poppytalk Handmade, a curated online virtual arts and crafts fair, launched thanks to my husband and partner Earl Einarson, who built the site.
How has craft and the handmade world changed since then?
It’s totally bloomed! People have realized the importance of handmade for so many reasons, which in turn has created a new and positive economic model. So many more artists and designers are able to quit their day jobs and can support themselves selling their work than they were able to in the past, and this is probably due to their online presence with blogs, virtual marketplaces, social networking sites, etc.
The online and local community is also very supportive these days, making it easier to learn how to create a handmade business from the arts. And the general public is more socially aware of the benefits of buying handmade, and how it helps the environment, the economy, and people’s quality of life vs. purchasing mass-produced items made in sweatshops overseas that are sold in big-box stores.
Through our current exhibit Art of Craft we’ve observed a schism between, let’s call them traditional craft artists and emerging craft artists. The traditional crafters seem to take a more formal approach to their work. They have a strict definition of their audience and how and where their work should be shown. Emerging craft artists seem to draw influences from a wider sphere; there’s a social aspect to their work, too. Have you observed something similar?
I think in the past it was much harder to support oneself in the arts and people never took you seriously unless you had some sort of formal education or training. That might be part of what you are talking about. I don’t know, it’s a tough call. I don’t focus on that at all, as I’m more interested in the beauty and meaning of one’s work and how it affects the lives around us.
Why do you think handmade arts and crafts are experiencing such a revival?
I think it goes back to social awareness and genuineness. We want to be good to the earth, we want to create and support community, we want meaningful things in our lives; items that are unique, one-of-a-kind, recycled, and beautiful.
How would you characterize Vancouver’s craft scene?
I think it’s amazing. We have some of the most amazing talent here out there. There’s a sense of Canadiana present in many of their works, from woodland forest inspirations to pieces made from locally found or reclaimed wood to pieces from one’s own unique heritage. I think the scene here is really alive and thriving. It’s probably one of the more established scenes and is also supported by great schools here such as Emily Carr.
Which Vancouver artists do you follow?
Local artists here keep popping up and it’s so exciting. A few come to mind. There’s a collective called Hob Snobs. I also love following student work. There’s Kate Beckett, a ceramic student from Emily Carr, and Alanna Scott, a recent graduate of their communication design program. There are so many little clusters everywhere, it’s hard to mention them all.
Image credit: Poppytalk