In days of yore, a holiday gift fair would have been as cozily familiar, and unremarkable, as tinsel and the Chipmunks on auto-loop. This year, to the participating artists, at least, the upcoming Berkeley Holiday Gift Fair feels exceptional. Like a milestone.
“I really feel that an event like this, at this time in particular, is hugely important,” Burch said. “I feel like we need to be out, to see all the beauty. To me, it’s a reflection that we’re going to be OK.”
Burch also has a deeper, more personal reason for wanting that reconnection. She is the daughter of Laurel Burch, the 1970s artist whose vibrant, joyful designs of cats, horses, sea creatures and other fanciful scenes were a Bay Area staple on the earrings, t-shirts and totes of the era. In 2012, five years after her mother’s death, Burch opened the combined shop and community space. It was her way of keeping both her mother’s art and memory alive.
“We are a treasure trove of my mother’s designs,” she said. “We’re bringing forth the older pieces but offering them in new ways.”
The revival of older pieces has also brought forth older women, who come, earrings in hand, with their memories — of themselves, of her mother, of Berkeley. “People come in and say, ‘I’ve had these earrings for 40 years.’ Or ‘I got these from my mother and I’m giving them to my daughter.’ They cry. They share their stories. It’s very nostalgic for people.
“I feel like I’m the receiver of their history,” she continued. “It’s why I do what I do.”
While she hopes to introduce a new generation to her mother’s art at the gift fair, she would consider it equally fulfilling to just drink in the community.
Vineeta Chand, a mosaic artist, opened her business in 2019, making custom, nature-inspired glass and mixed-media mosaics for homes and gardens. Chand is a lifelong gardener, and points out the benefits of garden art: brightening dark corners, creating interesting nooks, transforming blank walls, and providing color in the winter. Her business’s name, Snoring Orange Studio, was inspired by her large orange tabby.
The forced isolation of the pandemic, including her own retreat inside, shifted her focus to new materials and gave her time to develop malleable new substrates that allow her to create any shape she wants. A whole new line took shape: relief wall hangings and 3-D concrete-poured, mosaic mushrooms.
“You could sense the excitement,” she said. “For them, it was the excitement of getting out after years of living on computers. For me, it was seeing people experiencing art.” Sometimes with intense focus.
“For some people, it’s like a cat noticing a can of tuna in the room,” she said. “They’ll walk right past me like I’m not even there — they just get captivated by a piece of art. Everything else fades into the background.”
She takes no offense. She has long become accustomed to losing out to a can of tuna by Catboy, the orange tabby.
“Yes, he does snore,” she confirmed.
Melissa Joy Manning, owner of Melissa Joy Manning jewelry studio on Fifth Street near the Fourth Street commercial district, has a more practical objective for this year’s fair. “For us, we’re trying to get more exposure. The fair is an opportunity to reach out to the community and let them know we are here.”
“Still here” would be a better way to describe it.
Unlike Burch and Chan, who are relative newcomers to the Berkeley arts scene, Manning opened her Berkeley shop/production studio 15 years ago. The first decade-plus was favorable: Fourth Street had blossomed into a shopping destination and Berkeley doted on its local artists. Manning did well enough that she was able to open two sister stores in Brooklyn.
But the pandemic, and bad luck in the form of a break-in in September, torpedoed the business. “Since then we just haven’t seen anyone in the store. Our business is 20 percent of where we used to be.”
The business also isn’t one that could readily “pivot” to a Band-Aid-style pandemic reinvention. Manning occupies a serious, purist’s niche in the jewelry-making business: everything in the store is handmade.
“We are all trained metalsmiths. We went to school for this. Handmade means we actually make each piece. We set stones using techniques that go back thousands of years. The result is completely handmade jewelry, one of a kind pieces that can’t be replicated.”
For her, the result has an almost spiritual aspect to it. “Each handmade piece carries forward the spirit and integrity of the artist who made it. And that spirit is kept alive by the person who wears it.”
It is that spirit and integrity that Manning hopes gift fair-goers experience Dec. 8. “I started my business at art fairs and I’m excited to reconnect. I hope the fair brings joy to the community, with a sense of mutual support.”
Burch is confident that the community will deliver that support — because it always has. “The other piece here, and I say that as a woman of color, and queer, is that people do really want to support us as businesses in Berkeley. Ultimately, that’s going to keep my business going. The fair offers a chance to support several businesses at the same time, just by just showing up.”
Chand also feels that her decision to leave academia for art might not have been realized in Any City, USA. “I’ve been successful as an artist because I’ve been nourished by local venues, ACCI Art Gallery, Oaktown Native Plant Nursery, Riveter . . . Having a community that appreciates and supports us is everything.”
The gift fair is sponsored by the Berkeley Office of Economic Development and organized by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. Other beloved Berkeley businesses at the fair include Fern’s Garden, Uncommon Grounds, Three Stone Hearth and Kitchen on Fire. Visit Berkeley will also be selling Berkeley Bucks gift cards to fairgoers with the special holiday BOGO offer: buy $75, get $25 free.
SUPPORT BERKELEY BUSINESSES THIS SEASON
- Purchase holiday gifts at the Dec. 8 Holiday Gift Fair or peruse the BerkeleyHolidays.com gift guide for online inspiration.
- Check out Visit Berkeley’s holiday events calendar for festivities happening across town.
- Shop at local businesses — anytime — with a Berkeley Bucks gift card that can be used at more than 100 Berkeley businesses. Laurel Burch Studios, Snoring Orange, Fern’s Garden, Kitchen on Fire, and Uncommon Grounds all accept Berkeley Bucks.
- Visit Discovered in Berkeley to find more stories about innovative local businesses.