Craft fair benefits international artists, local charities
Nov 07, 2011 (Menafn - Moscow-Pullman Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Colorful scarves, baskets, toys, artwork and other crafts set the stage this weekend for an ethical start to the holiday shopping season in Pullman.
The Community Congregational United Church of Christ hosted its 12th annual fair trade craft sale on Saturday and Sunday with goods sold by Roger Gee and Nancy Spada of Singing Shaman Traders, a fair trade import business based in Hauser, Idaho, northwest of Post Falls.
Gee -- former editor of the now-defunct Pullman Herald newspaper -- said he and Spada took over the craft sale four years ago after the church reported stagnating sales of the same types of items year after year from its previous supplier.
"We give (the church) back a percentage of our sales, and they distribute that among local Pullman charities," he said.
He said the Pullman UCC sale is their biggest one of the year, with others taking place in Spokane, Sandpoint and Seattle. But by the end of December, he and Spada plan to close up shop and head to Guatemala for three months, as they do each winter.
"It's a 31-foot sailboat we live in on Guatemala's largest lake, Izabal," he said.
He said the lake is bordered by several small communities where they go looking for new crafts to purchase and bring home to the Northwest to sell. He said they also use the area as a base to search for artisans in the mountain communities.
In addition to the crafts they purchase directly from artisans, Gee and Spada sell items collected by fellow businesses in the Northwest Fair Trade Network, which offers goods from Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Nepal, Kenya, Cambodia, Vietnam and "probably ... half a dozen other countries," Gee said.
He said fair trade is important to him because it enables artisans in other countries to be self-reliant and earn income to pay for daily needs.
He recalled that when he and Spada began selling fair trade items, they started out with Mata Ortiz pottery from Mexico. He said the pottery is very collectible and considered fine art, and the pair brought back trailers full of it several times a year.
"Every individual we bought it from, we knew them personally," he said of why he likes fair trade. "We were the only people between (the customer) and the person who made it."
He said he remembers buying some pottery from a man who they later saw using his profit to buy groceries.
Gee said he and Spada don't barter with artists -- they either pay the full price that's requested or they pass in favor of something else.
Now, rather than focusing on one type of product, the partners collect and sell a variety of fair trade goods, such as bead and yarn art, Haitian metal art, Mexican silver jewelry, Vietnamese silk slippers, scarves made by Pakistani gypsies, recycled rice bags from Cambodia and more.
"Most of these have some kind of (social charity or awarness) project behind them that inspires us," he said as he walked through the rows of goods Saturday afternoon.
Gee, showing off sculptures carved into camel bones, said he likes how many of the artists use whatever natural resources are available when they make their wares.
The principles of fair trade hit close to home for some people in the community, like Emmanuel Sitaki of Pullman. Sitaki is a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and volunteered at the church this weekend to showcase goods made by widows and orphans of that tragedy.
"I'm trying to help them," he said. "I don't want them to be eternal beggars on the street."
Sitaki showed off several types of Rwandan crafts like peace baskets, wooden bracelets and banana leaf art, all made from local Rwandan materials.
He said selling the widows' and orphans' crafts in the United States is a way to bring back some of the dignity and income that they've lost since the genocide.
Holly Bowen can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by email to email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @Daily NewsHolly
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