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December 13-19, 2006

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Hot Peppers member Sarah Solomon

Photograph by Michael Amsler
Array: Hot Peppers member Sarah Solomon displays some of the guild's many wares.

Populist Purchases

Some favorite picks for supporting the collective with the wallet

By Molly Jackel

Hot Peppers is an appropriate name for a sweet little shop in downtown Sebastopol. The name of the game at this cooperative artisan guild is variety. And variety is what? Yes, it's the spice of life. The shop opened in September 2006 on Main Street, and is a cooperative of about 20 local artisans.

The cooperative came together through the efforts of Paula Downing, the manager of the Sebastopol farmers market. The original 17 members were all vendors at the farmers market. Downing noticed when the storefront came open, saw that the rent was reasonable and quickly mobilized. She explained that craft shows, often the bread and butter for a craftsperson, are hard to get into and they've gotten so large, that the pie is divided into pieces too small to make much of a profit. She contacted the vendors she had been working with at the market over the last decade--a group she enjoys spending time with anyway--to see whether they'd be game for a regular place to show their handiwork. Almost everyone agreed to join.

The way it works is this: Everyone pays monthly dues that cover the rent and operating expenses. It's not a strict co-op in that not everyone works the store, but those who do are paid for their time out of the dues. While they mind the store, the artists have time to work on their craft. The shopkeeper might be sewing, beading or even spinning wool while you browse. The store does carry a few things that are not locally crafted, like straw baskets and hats handmade in a village in Burkina Faso. But these items are imported by someone who once lived in the village where the baskets are made and who knows that the conditions are ethical and fair. Issues of fair trade and the jurying in of new artisans are handled by a committee of members. The shop will also periodically hold free art events, like wool-spinning demonstrations.

Downing's involvement with the Sebastopol farmers market began when she grew plants to sell there. At the end of one season, about 13 years ago, the folks who were running it moved away and the market collapsed. Downing couldn't stand the idea of the market dying, so she called a meeting at her house, organized the people involved and so revitalized the market. Downing says, "I'm fond of the feeling I get when I create something vibrant with other people," and so, too, it seems are the townspeople at the beloved Sebastopol farmers market.

Here are a few of the many things you'll find in the shop: jewelry made from crystals, semiprecious stones, abalone and hand-painted pendants; handmade straw baskets ($30) and hats from West Africa; therapeutic botanical salves, oils, sprays and sachets made from organic sustainable plants and crafted by an herbalist-aromatherapist-homeopathist (starting at $5); hand knitwear, including ponchos, shawls, sweaters, shrugs, hats and scarves, made from both natural (wool, alpaca, angora, cotton, rayon) and synthetic (polyamide, nylon and acrylic) fibers (starting at $10); hand-spun and dyed wool from the spinner's own sheep (small skeins starting at $4); hand-painted, functional pottery (microwave-, dishwasher- and oven safe); simple, sturdy, colorful Waldorf dolls made from recycled wool and cotton ($25); botanical elixirs, tinctures, lotions and creams; spiral journals made from rescued children's books ($12); gorgeous hand-loomed and embroidered wool shawls ($90); and more.

If you're looking for a reasonably priced, unique, locally handcrafted gift for this holiday season, come have a poke around at Hot Peppers Artisan Guild, and you'll be supporting local art at the same time!

Hot Peppers Artisan Guild, 207 N. Main St, Sebastopol. 707.829.3082.

Doing It for Themselves

Some of our favorite North Bay collectives

Artisans' Co-Op Gallery A cooperative of over 40 artists: potters, spinners, weavers, glassblowers, quilters, felters, jewelry makers, painters, photographers and sculptors. Here you'll find zany hats, impossibly soft hats, rabbit hats, even canine-hair hats! Also, beaded jewelry, locally grown, hand-spun wool of all kinds, knitting and spinning supplies, handmade furry leather booties, sweaters, rugs, photographs and more. Full members (who work two to three days per month, pay the rent and attend monthly meetings) receive 100 percent of the tag. So when you shop here, you know where your money is going. 17135-A Bodega Hwy., Bodega. 707.876.9830.

Arts Guild of Sonoma A collective of over 35 local artists and craftspeople who support and maintain the gallery. Monthly exhibits are kicked off the first Friday of every month with an artists' reception from 6pm to 8pm. For the holiday, the gallery exhibits their "Holiday Invitational," featuring local guest artists specially invited by Guild members and includes holiday-themed and festive jewelry, ornaments, wearable textiles like hand-painted silk scarves, and more. Come the new year, the Guild will be celebrating its 30th year. 140 East Napa St., Sonoma. 707.996.3115.

ArtWorks Downtown While not a traditional collective, ArtWorks does collect artists together, providing affordable studios, gallery space and a professional rotation to show artists' work, art classes for the community and housing to qualified artists. They are supported by the public, including individuals, businesses and foundations. Look for high-end fine art, including paintings and sculpture, as well as jewelry, fiber arts, costumes and photography. 1331 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.2711.

Blue Heron Gallery This storefront specializes in the art of Northern California artists, including painting in watercolor and oil as well as metal and wire art, Raku and photography by award-winning local artists. We particularly like the whimsical found-object creations of sculptor Phillip Glashoff. 6525 Washington St., Yountville. 707.944.2044.

Gallery Route One This is an artist-run collective with more than 20 members. The exhibits of painting, photography and sculpture change monthly, with an opening reception the first Sunday afternoon of each month. Artists work in a wide range of media, including hand-cast paper, monoprints and three-dimensional textiles. While tiny--it's actually just an open spot by a front window--the craft gallery area is full of lovely surprises, such as unusual earrings, clocks, wall plaques and other humorous and cunning items perfect for gift-giving. Currently on show is "The Blue Paint Murder," an interactive murder-mystery art show that dares viewers to guess whodunnit. 11101 Hwy. 1, Point Reyes Station. 415.663.1347.

Graton Gallery A collective of eight full-time artist-members and 50-plus guest artists who leave works on consignment that showcases fine art and crafts created by Sonoma County artists, including beautifully framed regional photographs and oil painting, outdoor sculpture, ceramics, textiles, jewelry and glass. Matted oils and watercolors in standard frame sizes make a great gift for only $30. From handmade cards for $5 to framed fine art works ranging in price from $100 to $10,000, you just might find all of your holiday gifts here. Artist shows rotate every six weeks. Current exhibit is "Hot Chocolate Art Show," a holiday group show that runs from Dec. 12 to Jan. 21 with an opening reception on Sunday, Dec. 17, from 2pm to 6pm. 9048 Graton Road, Graton. 707.829.8912.

Hand Goods Featuring handcrafts created predominantly by local artists and craftspeople, this store offers many inexpensive gift items, including beaded jewelry, bags, clothing, cute felted wool change purses, handmade holiday cards, wooden chopsticks and bowls, and much more. This place is huge, like a hippie artisan mall. 3627 Main St., Occidental. 707.874.2161.

Renga Arts Renga Arts produces and sells funky, fabulous gift items all made from reclaimed, recycled and salvaged materials. OK, so it's not an artisan guild, but this shop is too cool! Gifts abound, ranging from pop-top purses, bicycle-spoke bracelets and shotgun-shell bud vases to billboard totes with seatbelt handles, vintage vinyl coasters, clocks and bowls made from original vinyl records. And don't miss co-owner Joe Szuecs' beautiful birdhouses, which he says are "intended to promote a positive deterioration over time." 3605 Main St., Occidental. 707.874.9407. Note: Open Friday-Monday, or by appointment only.

Upstairs Art Gallery Comprised entirely of members of the Santa Rosa Art Guild, more than 30 members regularly show works in ceramic, wood, oils and glass. Check out the ceramic bird baths, detailed wood carvings of wild birds, oil paintings, functional glass works and much more. 306 Center St., Healdsburg. 707.431.4214.

Molly Jackel

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