COVER STORY: Think Outside the Gift Box

Maybe it’s the chill in the air, the splashes of crimson in the trees, or the sound of a familiar melody you haven’t heard since, oh, about a year ago.

Do hints of the impending holidays send you straight to the nearest mall, where you fight fellow frenzied shoppers for mass-produced presents?

This year, forgo the status quo. Instead, take a deep breath, peruse the following pages, and then do some shopping you can really feel good about.

Like an army of Santa’s helpers, many of your creatively gifted neighbors are busy in their workshops crafting one-of-a-kind items that are sure to garner many oohs, ahhs and heartfelt thanks from your loved ones this year.  

 

Freelisa
Paying the bills as a fine arts painter ain’t easy. Lisa Lindholm, who moved to Oak Cliff last year, sells her paintings of birds, butterflies and people for hundreds of dollars. But she needed a fallback for when sales got slow. So Julie McCullough Kim, owner of MAKE, suggested about four years ago that she learn how to screen print T-shirts.

“I quit my corporate job to become a fulltime painter,” she says. “And that’s when I picked up screen printing, at Julie’s suggestion, to pick up a little bit of money. And then I couldn’t really focus, so now I split my time between painting and screen-printing.”

Lindholm’s T-shirt line, Freelisa, includes super-soft T-shirts printed with themes that are similar to her paintings — birds, “flying things” and “objects of simplicity,” as well as slogans such as “Keep Calm and Carry On” and “Trees Hug Back”. But what makes the line remarkable is that Lindholm does everything the old way. She uses water-based inks and no harsh chemicals. Her T-shirts are made of organic cotton, and she prints each one by hand.

“I’m a big fan of the slow movement,” she says. “I do it the old-fashioned way, and I’m the only one in Dallas who’s doing that as a business right now.”

Because of that, she’s picked up corporate clients who commission T-shirts for uniforms, giveaways and events. She’s the official screen printer for Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, and she designed all the groovy posters for Cyclesomatic in October.

WEBSITE: freelisa.com
PRICE RANGE: $27 for T-shirts
CONTACT: lisa@freelisa.com

Tara to the T
Tara Tonini left Los Angeles about three years ago to work as an accessories designer in Dallas. But the corporate world wasn’t for her, so she quit last January to start up her own accessories business, Tara to the T.  Part punk rocker, part mod pin-up, the 23-year-old is all business.

“I started out as a belt manufacturer, designing belts,” she says. “That turned into wallets and bags. And then I started doing hats for  fun, and it turned into a business.”

She makes felt fedoras in shades of chocolate, plum and ochre, embellished with dramatic plumes and eye-catching brooches. There are black-and-yellow plaid and grey-flannel newsboys, as well as jewelry made from antique keys and other brass objects. Her accessories line includes interesting barrettes and fascinator headbands of perfectly placed feathers.

Her inspiration, she says, comes from reading about old Hollywood, particularly Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon”, which focuses on celebrity scandals before 1960.

“I pick out old celebrities and I design hats for them,” she says. “Like, I have a Jayne Mansfield hat because she’s from Oak Cliff.”

Tonini’s eponymous fashion line includes her “Sky Girls” collection, which is inspired by 1960s flight attendants’ uniforms.

“My great aunt was a flight attendant in the ’50s and ’60s, and her uniforms were designed by Valentino. And then I found out that Pucci designed for Braniff, and all the major European designers made stuff for airlines, so I thought, ‘What a great idea to bring back,’” she says.

WEBSITE: taratothet.com
PRICE RANGE: $12-$75
CONTACT: info@taratothet.com

Laura Davis
Laura Davis is a furniture designer, which sounds like nonstop glamour, but her job creating designs for mass production can get tedious. So she remakes old furniture for fun. And she uses vintage textiles to make new napkins, aprons and pillows.

“It’s my little, hands-on creative outlet,” she says.

Davis, who is from St. Louis, moved to Oak Cliff last year. She started her part-time business, Laura Davis Design Lab, making throw pillows out of vintage bedding she bought in thrift stores and at garage sales. She embroiders them with cute phrases like, “cheer up, buttercup,” and they sell for about $40.  Lately she’s been taking orders for large pillows embroidered with monograms and people’s names.

“That’s my big thing for fall,” she says.

For Davis, inspiration comes from dumpsters and roadside castoffs. She sands, repaints, reupholsters, and creates funky new furniture from things no one else wants.

“For example, I found an old broken-down chair that someone was throwing away, and so that’s my project for the weekend,” she says. “It’s like the ultimate sustainability for me is finding something and turning it into something else.”

Davis says she doesn’t expect to give up her day job — which she loves, by the way — anytime soon. She’s focusing more on remaking furniture, and expects the business to move more toward that. But she doesn’t want it to get too big.

“If it grows too much, it will lose that handmade aspect,” she says. “So I’m happy with the way it is.”

WEBSITE: lbd340.etsy.com
IN STORE: MAKE, 313 N. Bishop;
The Gypsy Wagon, 5211 Bonita
PRICE RANGE: $10-$50

F Is For Frank
Have a dreamer on your gift list? Pewter doorknobs sculpted into whimsical shapes — a sleepy-faced owl, a cartoonish mushroom, and a red-eyed lady bug resembling a Tim Burton design — are among the clever creations crafted by the brilliant ladies at F is for Frank.

Shannah Frank of Oak Cliff, who once worked with a restoration company, founded F is for Frank a few years ago. Casey Melton, a student of sculpture and marketing, became a partner last summer.

“I knew I wanted to do functional art,” Melton says. "This was a good fit."

The twosome’s talents meld beautifully to produce pieces of form and function. In addition to trendsetting hardware, the designers have a line of nature-inspired jewelry — one of Melton’s favorite is the Sea Sponge Ring in gold-plated pewter. Men’s cufflinks look like tiny cave drawings on gold and pewter.

“We are constantly coming out with more jewelry — each piece is sculptural and architectural,” Melton says.

And each looks like it was plucked from some mystical place on planet Earth. The women’s passion outside their craft? Their pups.

“Our dogs come to work with us,” Melton says.
 
In honor of the furry muses, F is for Frank launched a line of dog tags (they are “crazy cute,” Melton says) just in time to stuff in doggie stockings.

WEBSITE: fisforfrank.com
STOREFRONT: 1216 Manufacturing
PRICE RANGE: $16-$85
CONTACT: 214.749.0709

Kessler Craftsman

When Larry Pile bought his Kessler Park home 10 years ago, several stained glass windows needed repairs. So the self-taught furniture maker took a glass class.
 
“After that, I was off and running,” he says. “Although, it took about five years to get to my own windows.”

Once he started learning about glass, Pile shifted his business to focus on art glass, and now he makes furniture only occasionally. As the Kessler Craftsman, his hottest sellers are fused-glass pendants painted with Japanese kanji characters for words like “friend” and “beautiful.” They sell for $32.
 
Pile also makes plates, platters and coasters. He showed us a jade green platter with squares of colored glass fused on it to form a design — perfect for sushi — which sells for around $70. And he makes elaborate art pieces, including a “Yellow Submarine” themed fused-glass piece that sells for $500.

“I like color and form,” he says. “If I was doing nothing but making $1,000 tables, that’s very limiting.”

Pile also can transform everyday glass objects into wearable art. For example, he crafts pendants from the lips of wine bottles using sterling silver ornamentation. “People bring me wine bottles that they’ve saved from a special toast, or like if their boyfriend proposed to them, and I can make it into something,” Pile says.

Pile hosts a bimonthly artists circle in his garage studio. Artists can bring a bottle of wine or some snacks, work on projects and socialize. And he offers several glass-making classes each month. Students pay $75 to make seven glass pendants.

“It’s a great deal,” he says. “You pay $75, and you walk away with these personal, handmade gifts.”

WEBSITE: kesslercrafstman.com
PRICE: $28-$1,200
CONTACT: larry@kesslercraftsman.com or 214.942.7322


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