Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thuya Wood Boxes

Thuya wood (pronounced twee-ya) is a very special wood.  It comes from a coniferous tree in the cypress family (Tetraclinis articulate) that is native to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Today, although there are small endangered thuya populations in Malta and Southern Spain, the trees still primarily grow only in Morocco.

The other reason this wood is rare and highly prized is because it is the underground burls that grow from the roots, not the trunks of the trees, that are harvested. These burls are relatively small and heavily figured resulting in gorgeously patterned products.

Because of the burl the wood can be difficult to work with, splitting and chipping easily. Artisans in Morocco know that it should be shaped by hand, then sanded and rubbed with oil and lemon juice to bring out the natural lustre and grain pattern.  In Morocco, particularly in Essaouira, generations of artisans have been working with thuya wood and handing down skills and techniques.

Our lovely thuya wood boxes come directly from Morocco, fairly traded of course.  By continuing our support we hope to be part of the effort to keep the handcrafting tradition alive. Replanting programs and regulating measures are in place to protect the trees, and craftspeople continue to teach their children the techniques they learned from their parents. Sounds good to us.

The boxes are everything that boxes should be: they absolutely delight the eye, they feel good in the hand, and they intoxicate with a smoky cedar-like scent when opened.
When it comes to boxes, you couldn't ask for more.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What is Fair Trade?

Fair trade, in essence, has come to mean a commitment to fair business practices so that workers are paid a living wage, are never exploited, and are ensured safe working conditions.

It's a movement that began as early as the 1940's and primarily impacts commodities and handicrafts. It demands higher standards for people and the environment, and it's a movement that we at Dogwood Box believe in.

For us, buying fairly traded handcrafted boxes from artisans means we are helping those artisans to continue their handcrafting traditions.  Living wages mean they are able to build sustainable businesses around their craft, and build community around those businesses.  Stability and dependable income help families to thrive.

This is why we don't include machine made, mass-produced boxes in our collection.  We are not interested in selling cheap goods at the expense of people and the environment. We're interested in helping people gain access to unique, handcrafted items they can feel good about purchasing.  We believe we need more handcrafted things in our lives, not fewer.

So does fair trade matter?  Besides keeping children from forced labor, workers from exploitation and dangerous conditions, and minimizing environmental damage, fair trade promotes transparency and long-term relationships between business partners.  Again, supporting community strength and stability.  It may cost more, it may take longer, but it's founded on respect and not greed.  That matters to us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Spotlight on Soapstone

Soapstone, or steatite, has been a favorite carving medium for thousands of years.

It is a type of metamorphic rock, meaning that - in simple terms - temperature and pressure underground caused an existing rock to change form into another type.

That new type of rock, soapstone, is composed largely of talc making it relatively soft (that changes depending on the talc content), with an oily or soapy feel to it.  That's right, soapy.

It is because of that soft carvable quality that soapstone has been used to make sculpture, handicrafts and home goods for a very long time. The oldest identified soapstone sculpture was found in China, and is over three thousand years old. Soapstone use began in China but spread all over the world, from Alaska to India, as other cultures began mining or trading soapstone, and carving it for themselves.

Soapstone can be found in a variety of colors, although it is sometimes dyed for handicrafts. After the stone is mined, processing the stone generally consists of carving, washing, etching, and polishing.

In our collection we currently have several interesting soapstone boxes.  From India, and its long history of soapstone carving, our Black Soapstone box is actually gray stone that has been stained black.  Artisans then use small drills to etch the floral designs, revealing the gray color underneath.

We also have boxes from Kenya.  Both our Lizards and Soapstone Swirl boxes are from the region of Kisii.  A local mine provides soapstone for many artisans in that region, including the artisans who formed SMOLart Self Help Group, a fair trade organization from Tabaka and makers of our Lizards box.

Soapstone continues to be a medium that carvers embrace, coaxing out character and beauty. So we'll continue to add more amazing, always fairly traded, soapstone boxes to our collection.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Art vs. Craft

The difference between art and craft?
A very old question, with many different answers and opinions.

Some say the difference may lie in the intent of the artist or artisan.  Are they exploring an idea, or trying to convey meaning, or expressing feeling with their work?  
Does that make it art?
But craft can certainly express emotion, can come from the artisan’s exploration of an idea.

In 1938 the British philosopher R. G. Collingwood wrote that craft is preconceived, and pre-planned, at least to some degree.  Again touching on this idea of intent.  Yes, a carpenter makes a plan before beginning to build a chair, but don't some fine artists also make sketches and block out their canvas before starting to paint?

So is it material that defines craft?
Is it the use of ceramic or fiber or glass that distinguishes it from art?
Not according to the many artists who use those materials to express themselves.

Some say it is the repetition of creating handicrafts that make it craft, not art.  This is a very interesting aspect of the question.  If the original piece was created by an artisan who felt they were creating art, who then went on to create several pieces just like it, does the repetition diminish the artistic intention?  When an object is made by hand each one will be slightly different, so does the uniqueness support the notion that each piece is artwork?

And what about function.  We tend to think of craft as functional, something you use or wear.  But can art be functional? Yes.  And can craft be decorative, but not useful? Certainly.

Many think that a work can be either craft or art, but can also be both.
That may be the most important idea: that the lines between art and craft are blurred and indistinct.
It’s why we support handcrafting – for us, our handcrafted boxes mean wonderful elements of both.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Decorative Boxes - Office Supplies With Style

   We use push pins, paper clips, staples, and pens. Why not have easy access to those items while giving yourself something nice to look at?

Using decorative boxes to hold those small office supplies is a win-win. Your drawers stay neat and you've added interest and beauty to your space.

When you put a few decorative boxes on your desk you add character and enhance the look of your work space, whether it's a home office or an office outside of the home.

Of course, you could take it a step further. Handcrafted, fairly traded decorative boxes mean you have something you really feel good about holding your things.

Our boxes are handcrafted, so the little variations on each one mean that every box is a one-of-a-kind.  They're fairly traded, so you know that the artisans were fairly paid, never exploited, and worked under safe conditions.  And they're made by artisans who value craft and tradition, who don't believe mass-produced items should replace handmade goods.

We like using separate small boxes for things like pins and paper clips.  The lids open easily so taking those small items out (and putting them in) is quick, and there's no rummaging around to find what you need - that's the key to staying organized.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Great Gourds

Yeah, we're pretty excited about
gourd boxes.

What's not to like?  They're beautiful, each one unique, made from natural materials, and handcrafted using techniques that were handed down through generations.

Our gourd boxes are made by artisans, often families working together, living in the Andes Mountains of Peru.     

Using the same techniques their ancestors used, they start by harvesting and peeling the gourds.  

(Gourds are similar to pumpkins, by the way, and grow on low trailing vines.) When the gourds have dried in the sun they are ready to be decorated.  

The artisan etches the design first, then uses a piece of heated quinual wood to burn the gourd, creating the dark colors.  As they blow on the red-hot ember, they control the shading by blowing harder or softer. 

Blowing harder creates a darker burn.  It is through incredible skill that they create the contrasts and shading that result in such varied and fantastic designs.

Today, Peruvian families that produce these gourd boxes really depend on the craft to support their communities.  

We think gourd boxes are fun to collect and display, and they're handy little boxes too.  

They also make great gifts - especially when you share the story of how they're made.  See more at Dogwood Box

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Little About Us

Probably a good time to say a little something about ourselves.

We are Dogwood Box, an online retailer of handcrafted, fairly traded, decorative boxes.

Why decorative boxes? And why handcrafted?

Well, we love decorative boxes, and we love artisans.
We bring these two things together to create our collection of beautiful, useful boxes made by hand.
We appreciate what boxes bring to our living spaces, and we value what artisans bring to our world.
We support craftspeople, rather than supporting mass produced products.

We source our boxes from all over the world, striving to create a collection that is eclectic and unique, valuing craft while offering a wide variety of styles and materials to suit different spaces.

Since all of our boxes are handmade, small, charming variations in color, design or size will always occur.  And we love that!  It means each piece is absolutely one-of-a-kind.

If you'd like to see more, please visit our website where you can read about the origin of each box.
We feel good about helping a world-wide community of artisans and we hope our customers do too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Our Rabbit Trinket Box - More Than Just A Cute Box

Our Rabbit Trinket Box IS cute, but there's more to the story...
 Rabbit Box from Dogwood Hill Gifts, made from papier mache
Rabbit Trinket Box
From the region of Kashmir comes this sweet little rabbit trinket box, handmade by the artisans of MESH.  MESH is an organization that provides handicapped artisans opportunities for selling their crafts, helping them gain self-sufficiency.  
MESH is a wonderful organization, and we're happy to support their work by offering this rabbit as part of our decorative box collection.

This keepsake box is handcrafted out of papier-mâché, a craft that has been part of Kashmiri culture since the 15th century.  The process of shaping the box is called sakhtazi, and starts with recycled paper pulp that is soaked, molded, then dried.  The surface is then coated with glue, burnished smooth, and layered with tissue paper.  
 Rabbit Box from Dogwood Hill Gifts, paper mache open box
Rabbit Trinket Box, Open
Then the box is entirely hand painted, a process called naqashi.  Finally, lacquer is applied to seal the box, giving durability to these little bunnies. 

This trinket box is an obvious choice for a great little springtime offering.  We've also seen him bring smiles to a few faces when presented at other times throughout the year.  His lovely color and cheery flowers really do make you smile.  He settles easily onto any desk or dresser, ready to help.  

Find him here at  Dogwood Hill Gifts

-Dogwood Hill Gifts