This past summer, HAND/EYE Magazine special correspondent Abbey Chase visited one of her favorite places in Atlanta, Georgia: Mingei World Arts. Mingei is a store like a museum, where everything has a story. Ann Van Slyke and Ellen McFee travel the world and personally select unique hand-made items directly from the artisans and antique markets of the world. You never know what you will find
Below is an interview Abbey did for HAND/EYE Online with Ann and Ellen to learn more about the beginnings of their business and how they have grown over the past 18 years.
HAND/EYE: How did you begin your business journey and create Mingei World Arts? What inspired you to create a dialogue with the world using textile arts, the crafts, antiques and its artisans?
Ann Van Slyke and Ellen McFee: We started with an empty duffel bag and an idea for a social purpose business in 1994. Mingei has grown to become a treasure chest for those who appreciate unique and distinctive objects that are beautiful, functional, accessible and intended for everyday use. Webelieve that interacting with such items is essential to the human spirit….and I totally agree!
H/E: What are the various kinds of worldwide objects that Mingei World Arts carry?
AVS & EM: We carry items from many cultural traditions. We have a mix of antiques, craft, textiles, furniture, folk art, etc. Our items range from jewelry to ritual and home items. Right now, we are featuring wonderful contemporary ceramics from Thailand, beaded jewelry from Kenya and Ghana, Kenya, old baskets from Burma, folk toys from Thailand, antique Afghan jewelry,old household tools from India, singing bowls, and hand-loomed silk, cotton shawls and scarves from India, Thailand and Laos. We have fanciful wood carvings and Day of the Dead items from Mexico!
H/E: Who are some of the local global artists that you have worked with or are currently working with?
AVS & EM: We have loved working with local immigrant and refugee artisans here in metro Atlanta. We currently have paintings in the store by local Egyptian artist Mohamed El Ganouby and carved gourds by local Peruvian artist Arturo Salome Huali. We recently added delicate Turkish-style crocheted necklaces by a local Lebanese woman, Hannan El Mayas. On our Facebook page you will find pictures of all these great artists and their work as well as photographs of many more of Mingei’s fabulous pieces.
H/E: What distinguishes you from other stores?
AVS & EM: One of the most important things about our store is that we buy directly from individual artisans around the world. This allows us to get wonderfully quirky and unique things. We have also built genuine, close relationships with our artisans. For many of them, we have been to their homes, seen their children grow up, their businesses flourish, their craft evolve. We love that. We aim to have long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our artisans. It is also important for us to build community here and place our merchandise in context.
H/E: What is Libros Para Pueblos? How did Mingei World Arts become involved? What other projects are you currently working on?
AVS & EM: Libros Para Pueblos is an organization that works to build libraries in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. In 2008, with the support of our community and local carvers from Oaxaca, we were able to fund the establishment of a library in La Union Tejalapan. We are currently also supporting a second library in Santiago Yaitepec, an embroidery village. We will visit them this September for the first time and look forward to working with the artisans there to create items we can sell to help support the library.
We have also enjoyed working with various local organizations that service refugees, including The Global Village School, Refugee Women’s Network and The International Rescue Committee. We’ve held fundraisers, shown refugee art and helped to connect refugee artisans to markets. We were instrumental in founding 50 Cents Period, a local non-profit dedicated to girl’s education in India. It’s been wonderful!