Arts and crafts at Vancouver’s Blim Gallery
– by Rachel Fox/photos by Jessica Bardosh
I meet owner owner Yuriko Iga at Blim in a space just off Main Street in East Vancouver that doubles as a retail store and arts and crafts workshop facility. Blim has quickly grown into a hub for the city’s booming arts and crafts scene. Effortlessly cool, Iga is sporting an ensemble of seemingly unrelated items – legwarmers, a bulky sports jersey, a handmade fringed leather necklace – any one of which I could barely pull off individually, let alone together. Yet Iga looks put-together, and she confidently, cohesively conveys an open, arty, quirky manner through personal style.
The current Blim store has evolved from several other similarly-themed ventures; after graduating from the “idyllic utopia of art school” (in her case, the Alberta College of Art and Design), Iga found herself involved in creating social and performance spaces that offered other recent grads a place to transition into “the real world.”
The steady growth of anti-eBay sites like Etsy (“buy, sell, and live handmade”) as well as the proliferation of high-profile craft fairs like Bust Magazine’s Craftaculars (London, L.A., NYC), Los Angeles’ annual Felt Club, Portland’s monthly Crafty Wonderland and Seattle’s seasonal Urban Craft Uprising speak to the zeitgeist surrounding this movement. In response to many local artisans affiliated with Blim, Iga offered the store’s space for a seasonal market, but due to its popularity – among vendors and the public – the need for a more regular, larger space became clear. The monthly Blim Markets have been held at the Cambrian Hall in Vancouver for over a year now, and when Blim moves to its new location in early 2010, so too will the market.
Explaining the successes of Blim and those entrepreneurially-minded artisans, Iga says “craft is playing with business, it can be fun and doesn’t have to be serious. It’s important to remember creative commerce and experimentation in business.” For the public, the appeal of the markets lies in its antithetical “mall” experience; in addition to offerings that are organic, sustainable, re-purposed or recycled, buyers can speak directly to a purveyor, creating a more social and personalized experience. For vendors, Iga sees the experience as being “self-empowering,” and likens the appeal to the childhood pleasures found in playing store – “Wasn’t that the best?” – or visiting an old-fashioned general store, “where everyone goes and there’s a sense of community.”
Clearly business-savvy, Iga does not just accept all crafters, noting that “content is key.” Those whose work doesn’t meet a standard are encouraged to attend Blim’s vendor workshops to hone their art and business. Some vendors (many of whom are on Etsy) appear monthly or rotate as the number of artisans wanting to sell increases, and Iga adds that “it’s important to have a range – veterans, rookies, high-end and less expensive. Having a mixture appeals to everyone.”
One of the Blim markets’ more popular artisans is Melanie Hall, who handcrafts feathered headbands and accessories. “Who doesn’t love feathers?” asks Hall when we chat at Foundation, a vegetarian restaurant on Main that often hangs work by Blim artists including Aja Rose Bond (scroll down for pics).
With a background in fashion and graphic design, the crafter has expanded the line to include edgy necklaces featuring re-purposed leather and genuine 1970s brass fittings sourced from a U.S. manufacturer using top tools like Hypertherm Powermax 65 plasma cutter. Repurposing materials when possible enhances the vintage aesthetic but can also help keep costs down – funky feathered earrings start at $14. A fair price for high quality is important to her and one of the reasons for the line’s success.
Farmer’s Daughter’s unique style has been embraced by brides, many of whom have ordered both custom accessories for their parties and veils (starting at $45) for themselves. Farmer’s Daughter can be found at many boutiques in Vancouver and across Canada, as well as through Hall’s online Etsy store.
At Blim, Iga explains her vision; she wants the space and the markets to grow and be known for its one-of-a-kind, “indie weird” appeal while maintaining exclusive relationships with artists like Hall and Aja Rose Bond (see pics below) – a smart move in a city that hosts numerous other fairs including the monthly Portobello West, the seasonal Got Craft? and the wedding-specific Indie I Do.
And, after four years at its current location, Blim is ready to move to a larger, more centrally-located space in Chinatown better able accommodate the growing demand. While still emphasizing the retail and workshops, Blim will also cater social events, like the regular evening “FLIM” screenings (curated by a rotating crop of special guests) as well as private a craft and even a soundproofed music area. Iga is obviously proud how, though totally private, Blim has still managed to operate (“survive” might be more like it) much as a grant-funded, non-profit organization might.
As she goes about setting up the market for the day, I ask her about the name. She explains that, as a child, “Blim Blim” was her imaginary kingdom, made up of stuffed animals immunized from pain, or “blimmitized.“ She continues with the banal business of tidying her grown-up, real-life-store to the strains of Steely Dan’s “Peg” playing on the stereo before adding, “it’s very personal and sort of weird that it’s out there – now I’m sharing it with the world.”