Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Artisans of the Emirates unite at ARTE

ARTE on Facebook
I often miss events that fall on a Friday, a day of “me” time at the beach or poolside. But last week, in need of a gift, I thought what better place to go look for one than at the Artisans of the Emirates (ARTE) art and craft souk.

This fair is held every other week in Dubai, at Festival Center in Dubai Festival City and Times Square Center off Sheikh Zayed Road. Last Friday, January 14, it was at Times Square Center, almost opposite my house. I still had to get to the other side of my dreaded Sheikh Zayed Road. But I made it!

This mall is an ideal location for the artists and crafters to hold their twice a month souk. It is easily accessible, has plenty of free parking spaces and is small and cozy.

ARTE was founded in 2005 by felt maker Miriam Walsh and silversmith Paul Townsend, both experienced artisans and long-term Dubai residents, to showcase quality work produced by talented UAE residents.

From 30 artisans, ARTE now draws around 100 different sellers each month showing off their handmade pieces -- jewelry, clothing, cakes, cupcakes, fudge, pickles, glassware, dolls, crochet, silk and wool felted scarves, photography, painting, digital art... ARTE supports charities such as Feline Friends who have a popular secondhand bookstall, Ajman’s Al-Ihsan Charity Center, various others in Kenya, Turkey and Nepal, as well as The Dhaka Project. 

Miriam Walsh shows her work
Paul Townsend at his wife Claire's table
ARTE organizer and co-founder Miriam Walsh is a self-taught felt maker. Known as The Felt Lady, she says:  “I want to be an example for others to find the courage to turn their lives around by focusing on their own art and craft skills and then present their work in a friendly group of artisans. So many people find themselves lost in the UAE so far away from home, friends and family. ARTE serves to be inspiring for such creative people.” She adds, on the ARTE website, that she has two mottoes in life:  “IF I can, so can YOU” and “Just Do It.”

Debbie Steedman and Janet Small

Fudge by Suz McDonald, the Toffee Princess
On arrival I right away spotted two friendly faces and ARTE habitués – Debbie Steedman, better known as Geordie Armani, and Suzanne McDonald, the Toffee Princess. After tasting Suzanne’s excellent fudge and chatting to Debbie and House of Color representative Janet Small at their table, I went around the souk to have a look.

Rohini Nagu at Ramgatazz
Astrid Berner and her 3D paintings
First stop was a word with Miriam, while admiring her beautiful felt scarves and pictures. She introduced me to ARTE’s PR, Rohini Nagu, who takes care of the Ragmatazz colorful table of patchwork bags and Afghan tribal jewelry founded by her mother, Minakshi Ragu.

I tried to stop at as many tables as I could and was drawn to the paintings of Astrid Berner, who also teaches 3D painting and holds adult and child workshops.

ARTE co-founder Peter Townsend has his own Mr. BeauJangles table next to his wife Claire Townsend, who is an interior design consultant.

Jolly Good
Sock monkeys at Sandu Star
I loved Jolly Good’s wooden signs as well as her sand-stuffed animal doorstops and had to stop and watch the couple at Sandu Star, named after their son, sewing their sock monkeys on the spot.

Lisle Skriker and her Creations
Betty Britton at Lily Bakes
I was interested in Lisle Skriker’s Art Clay Jewelry table. Lisle uses clay silver, a medium I hadn’t heard about before. This Japanese concept mixes the silver with clay. It feels like plasticine and is malleable and easier to mold.  Once the design is torched, the clay burns off and the silver becomes fused. Lisle offers workshops too.
I tried not to linger at Lily Bakes for Betty Britton’s homemade jams and curds although I noticed from the tasting bowls that many people had. The jams, curds and chutneys looked so appetizing…

Feline Friends’ secondhand bookstalls are popular and many people were browsing and stocking up. The nonprofit organization was first founded in September 1991 by Lesley King in Abu Dhabi and then Jacquie Green in Dubai. As a member of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), it follows their advice and doctrine. Their goal is to bring relief and care to the feral and stray, domestic and abandoned feline population of the UAE.

All the tables are tempting, among them Sabina’s homemade pickles. What’s good is that she has a sample of each for tasting with different breads.

Sabrina's pickles
Hik Sweets cakes and cupcakes
The Hik cupcakes stand was next. Hik Sweets is run by a Saudi couple from home when they are not at fairs. Hiba said they take orders and deliver. From the selection at ARTE, they are well prepared for Valentine’s Day and Hik’s cupcakes and cakes looked yummy and original.

Carine Cale at the Giuliana table
Amani Baassiri
Carine Calé has named her handmade crafts Giuliana after her young daughter, who was playing at the back of the table. She has great gift items. Amani Baassiri’s (056-60 53160) handcrafts are very interesting for presents or the home and the glassware at Racha Arouni’s table too. Racha’s goods can be found at Madame Sobhiya in Mirdif (050-9555657).

Paintings by Dawn Kyra
Salwaty Gallery's Salwa Al Mulla
Iranian artist Mariam
Because I was looking for a gift for a newborn, I stopped at Dawn Kyra Art. Dawn, an artist and ceramicist had a good selection of her work to view. Picking up some beautiful scents, I got to Salwaty Gallery. Salwa Al Mulla, also participating in ARTE, sells by appointment from home. She has oil perfumes, bakhoor, oud, fabric perfumers, sweet cream perfume, beauty masks and Al Hawra hair oils.

Linzi Kan's flag cushions
Crystal angels by Laila Lambert
I had to stop at Linzi Kan’s table to admire her cushions. She does framed flags and cushions to order. Linzi said she could do any flag, “within reason,” but getting the 50 stars on the US flag was a bit of a problem.

Mariam, an Iranian artist, was there painting away and gives classes at home (055-6339347) and my last call was at Sparklefairy -- all things fairy, angel and crystals.

I couldn’t resist the crystal angel pendants at Sparklefairy. Laila Lambert, the artisan behind the jewelry, is a crystal therapist, Reiki master, life coach and Schuessler tissue salts practitioner. Her handmade crafts include crystal, gemstones, fossils and rare items. A percentage of the proceeds from angel sales go to the Cruse Bereavement Charity.

Laila says everything is made of energy and “crystals have a pure energy because of their regulatory lattice structure.” Usually, she advises, the crystal for you is the first one you pick up or the one you are drawn to. Wearing crystal jewelry is an easy way to benefit from their healing properties. “Also carrying tumble stones around in a small pouch or sleeping with it under your pillow.”

There is so much to take in at ARTE and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. It’s an excellent outing for all the family and many children seemed to be enjoying it. After having another piece of fudge from the Toffee Princess’ display (thanks Suzanne!) and saying bye to Debbie, it was time to leave ARTE, although I could have spent a couple more hours there.

And when I got home, I realized I had forgotten to get the gift I was there for in the first place!

(Pictures of my ARTE tour here)