That’s what you’ll hear when you give one of these unique made-right-here-in-the-neighborhood gifts
The holidays are a time of mass-manufactured items and stores galore. In Oak Cliff, we have more than enough places to shop, but is it worth the traffic and trudging through checkout lines at the mall? Gifts for friends and loved ones might be even closer — and better yet, made locally. We found a few crafty neighbors who are hard at work this holiday season.
Erik Tosten, Erik Tosten Woodworking
Gift idea: wooden spoons
Price range: $20-$50
Where to find it: Oil & Cotton, Ro2 Gallery, etsy.com/eriktosten
Oak Cliff artist Erik Tosten has two fine arts degrees in ceramics, but about three years ago, woodworking became his focus.
There’s no kiln in the shop behind Tosten’s house, but there are five or six antique hand lathes and a shave horse he made himself, among other tools for his craft.
Tosten, who teaches digital design full-time at University of Texas at Arlington, says Japanese and Scandinavian carving inspires him. He makes bowls, chopsticks and some furniture, but his favorite objects are spoons.
He likes to work in cherry, mesquite, hard maple, mahogany and, especially, black walnut. Some of his black walnut spoons have an almost iridescent tiger-eye pattern in the smoothed grain.
Tosten says he would like to use more local wood, but pecan is too hard and oak too porous for a good spoon. Sometimes he can find a big enough piece of malus, the wood from a crabapple tree, to make a spoon with mossy green and gold coloring.
Tosten says he learned woodworking from his dad.
“I was out in the garage making pinewood derby cars when I was 9,” he says.
Tosten has been making fine art for years, and when he started making spoons, some of his friends though it was a little strange. Some people don’t get why you would pay $35 for a hand-carved spoon when you can get one at Walmart for $1.
“It’s hard to compete with mass production,” Tosten says.
But the spoons Tosten makes touch people in a way that his previous artwork never had, he says.
“With my spoons, people will come find me to tell me how much they like them,” he says. “That doesn’t really happen with my other art.”
Ariel Saldivar, Olivia K
Gift idea: Edwardian-inspired memory locket
Price range: $125-$195
Where to find it: Factory Girl, St. Michael’s Woman’s Exchange, Nasher Museum Store
Late Victorian/Edwardian jewelry is one of Ariel Saldivar’s passions. The 30-year-old Oak Cliff native is a musician and art curator. But she also designs for her own jewelry line, Olivia K.
Her newest design is based on late-19th century memory lockets. She bought one at flea market in New York City in 2004, and she recently copied elements of that design to produce one of her own.
The glass lockets unscrew at the top, and you can put a lock of hair or a picture inside. She orders the bezel glass from Los Angeles, but she produces the rest of the necklaces, all made of sterling silver, in her home studio. Saldivar usually works on her jewelry from 6-11 a.m.
“People ask me, ‘How can you do all this?,’ and it’s because I sleep five hours a night,” she says.
Saldivar also curates art for a wealthy family in North Dallas, and she’s a musician who tours with Canadian rock band Broken Social Scene.
Saldivar had an opera scholarship to New York University, but she graduated with a degree in art history.
“I had a bunch of hippie friends in college,” she says, explaining how she learned to make jewelry and other artistic tasks.
Part of her skill could be genetic, though: Saldivar recounts the time she came home from school to find her mother had created a mural in their kitchen using only electrical tape on the white wall.
“It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen,” she says. “I remember being amazed that you could create something so beautiful from something so simple as black electrical tape.”
Saldivar has been making jewelry for years, but in January 2011 she became serious about it and launched Olivia K, named after her dog. She also is working on a line of three leather handbags embossed with gold and silver, plus a line of soaps, which she’ll be selling at the Wigwam pop-up shop at Oil & Cotton Dec. 6.
Nichelle Ritter, Kitchen Beautician
Gift idea: Soap, lotion, bath stuff and candles
Price range: $5-$18
Where to find it: kitchenbeautician.net, Bishop Arts District Saturday market
Nichelle Ritter says she “was a chemistry nerd in high school,” which is part of what led her to teach herself to make soap.
“I was afraid of the lye at first, but I got over that because it’s easy as long as you’re careful,” she says.
About 11 years ago, she made a big batch of soaps to give as Christmas presents, and she had a lot left over. Friends encouraged her to start selling them, so she entered her first craft show. Ritter gained loyal customers almost immediately.
She has since expanded her line of grooming products, Kitchen Beautician, to include lotions, bath bombs, salt scrubs, lip balms and hand-poured candles. She literally works out all of the recipes in her kitchen, and she offers scents including lavender, eucalyptus and peppermint, lemongrass and mint, and goat milk and honey.
Ritter moved to Oak Cliff about 13 years ago after her job as beverage director for a restaurant company relocated her from Memphis, Tenn.
“I love the Cliff,” she says. “I’ll never leave here.”
Ritter says running a side business is fun because she gets to “see the power of marketing.” She loves hearing clients say they saw her Facebook post or email blast, she says.
But her best selling point is that she uses the products herself.
“When I started Kitchen Beautician, I stopped buying soap and lotion, so I only use my own products,” she says.
Sean Springer, Springer Design Studio
Gift idea: wooden toys and accessories
Price range: $30-$95
Where to find it: Oil & Cotton, We Are 1976, Neighborhood
When a nasty windstorm
finally toppled a 100-year-old pecan tree in Oak Cliff this past summer, artist Sean Springer dismantled it with a chainsaw. He’s curing the wood in long sheets about 2 inches thick, separated by blocks and covered with tarps in the backyard of his home and studio just south of Interstate 30.
When the wood is cured, two or three years from now, he will use part of that tree to make signage and other amenities for the King’s Highway Neighborhood Association.
Springer is a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and New York native who moved to Dallas in 2009 after working for furniture makers in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. He likes the climate here, and he doesn’t have allergies, he says, like he does at home in New York. So he thinks he’ll stay awhile.
Springer’s minimalist handmade furniture, cabinetry and other designs are in some of our city’s chicest homes and businesses.
For a fee, Springer will take away a dead or felled tree from your yard. In return, he gives you credit toward a piece of furniture plus a token from the tree, called a molar. That’s a geometrical carved piece that could be used as a pedestal or footstool.
He also makes chopsticks, cutting boards, bowls and spoons, plus wooden jewelry and toys. Those all can be had for under $100 and make lovely gifts. His tetrahedron toy, designed especially for Oil & Cotton, teaches people of all ages about angles and design.
Springer works out of a huge prefab garage on his quarter-acre property, and he rents space to other woodworkers, including artist Erik Glissman.
Springer says creating things out of wood every day brings him happiness because it is both artistic and laborious.
“I need that physical activity,” he says. “It’s cathartic, and it gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
Lily Smith-Kirkley, Lilco
Gift idea: notebooks, gift tags, prints
Price range: $4-$60
Where to find it: lilcoletterpress.com, Bishop Arts District Saturday market
Lily Smith-Kirkley sits at a computer all day in her job as a graphic designer. But on nights and weekends, she is in her letterpress shop, making hand-carved linoleum prints and turning analog designs out of her letterpress machine.
She produces posters, stationery, post cards, gift tags and more as Lilco, a “little letterpress co.,” as her tagline goes.
Smith-Kirkley shares a studio inside a former West Dallas machine shop with her partner, artist Kim Cadmus Owens. Smith-Kirkley hand letters designs such as the 3-by-5 postcard, “Hola,” inside a carved papel picado banner. She usually draws her designs on transfer paper first and then carves them into linoleum.
It can be a mind-bender to carve everything backward into the blocks, she says.
Sometimes she and Cadmus Owens collaborate on projects. During a recent studio visit, they were working on a cactus print. Cadmus Owens, who teaches painting at the University of Dallas, had worked out the shadowing on paper, and Smith-Kirkley was making the carvings.
Lilco’s sets of five gift tags cost $4. A set of four notebooks featuring letterpress prints of office supplies and phones costs $18. The large prints cost $60.
The Live Local cornucopia
All of these products are the work of neighborhood-based entrepreneurs. Give them as hostess gifts, stocking stuffers or prezzies for the office. Better yet, buy one of each and make a Live Local gift basket for your favorite neighbor.
Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters
Oak Cliff Coffee is roasted and packaged right here in the ’hood. Plus, the company has a commitment to fair trade and a quality cup of coffee. One-pound bags of single-origin or direct-trade coffee cost $16-$17. Custom blends cost about $15. Monthly subscriptions also are available starting at $16 a month. 214.929.6752
Oak Cliff Cellars
OK, so Oak Cliff Cellars wines are not made in Oak Cliff. They’re produced in Napa Valley, but owner J.R. Richardson lives in Oak Cliff, and he named his label after our neighborhood. Oak Cliff Cellars offers several varietals and is available at Bolsa Mercado, where bottles sell for $20-$44. 877.821.5304
Chocolatier Andrea Pedraza makes hand-rolled truffles in flavors including strawberry passion fruit, raspberry lavender, café con leche and spicy chile. They cost $14 for a box of eight and $27 for a half-pound box. Cocoandré’s molded chocolates and chocolate-covered marshmallows on a stick make excellent stocking stuffers for under $5. 831 W. Davis, 214.941.3030
Kessler Cookie Co.
This neighborhood-based bakery offers made-to-order cookies and brownies. Cookies include chocolate chip, oatmeal cranberry walnut, honey roasted peanut butter and vanilla sugar. Eighteen cookies cost $27, and 36 cookies cost $50. The Kessler Club cookie-of-the-month club offers four months of cookies and an apron for $100. 214.948.7412