Made in Tahoe: Artisans are hard at work creating the ultimate gifts | SierraSun.com

Made in Tahoe: Artisans are hard at work creating the ultimate gifts

Jenny Goldsmith
Special to the Bonanza

TAHOE-TRUCKEE — Sprinkled throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin and Truckee, there's an extraordinary bevy of artisans handcrafting a priceless connection between the people who create art and the people who purchase it. Where you dine, what you do for recreation, and where you shop all contributes to a unique Truckee-Tahoe experience.

In addition, the regional choices for dining, recreating and shopping around the lake offer a unique and distinctive charm with their combined family-owned, community-maintained and locally-sourced vibes.

Among them are a handful of boutique shops offering Lake Tahoe-made gifts, souvenirs and artisan goods like jewelry, ceramics, paintings, photography, clothing, home décor, bath and body products, and an abundance of other Tahoe-inspired one-of-a-kind art.

There's, of course, the more obvious reason to support the conglomeration of locally-owned Lake Tahoe businesses, like putting dollars back into the local economy; reducing your carbon footprint by saving on environmental costs associated with shipping and transportation; and protecting the local character of Lake Tahoe by sustaining the work of its artists.

But there's also the benefit to the buyer, which offers something money can't buy — the memory of a personal connection. In other words, when you get the chance to know the person behind the business, product or service, a more meaningful association often continues far beyond the monetary transaction.

Customers can meet the artist, gain insight into the inspiration behind his or her work, learn about the tools, materials and methods that went into each creation, and receive the most knowledgeable and personal customer service there could possibly be.

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Experience the art of taking shopping to a whole new level of fair trade with a visit to some of Lake Tahoe's artisan boutique stores. Chances are you'll walk away with a one-of-a-kind souvenir or gift, plus a one-of-a-kind story about who, what, where, when and why that souvenir or gift came to be.

The Potlatch, Incline Village

One of the oldest retail shops in Lake Tahoe, The Potlatch opened its doors in 1970 and has been operating as an affordable, family-owned store ever since, providing handmade jewelry, luxurious bath and body products, Tahoe photography and rustic art, home décor and custom furnishings, high-quality Tahoe apparel, Italian leather bags and wallets, books on the area, plus candles, toys, and an expansive greeting card selection.

With a slew of locally-made items and a green-business certification, the owners of The Potlatch have made it their mission to give back to their community, as well as the greater Lake Tahoe area, and the planet as a whole.

"We try to support other businesses that have a similar passion for the planet. For instance, we recently picked up a clothing line that focuses on using organic, sustainable fabrics and dyes while using their designs to promote an overall message of sustainability and care for this place that so many of us love," said The Potlatch owner Lisa Nelson, whose grandparents founded The Potlatch before passing it on to Lisa's parents, who then handed it down to Lisa and her husband, Aaron.

As third-generation owners, Lisa and her husband pride themselves not only on giving back to the environment, but also on building and cultivating meaningful relationships with their customers and with community of Lake Tahoe-based artisans and craftsman.

"We are lucky to live in a place where people love and enjoy the outdoors, and in turn want to take care of it and when locals and visitors alike shop in a Tahoe boutique, they support businesses and artisans who care for Tahoe," Nelson said. "The ability to shop local supports efforts to better our community, and when our community is better, it becomes a place that people want to live and pour in to, and that tourists want to visit and return to."

Learn more: potlatchlaketahoe.com

Trunk Show, Tahoe City

True to its name, the Trunk Show evokes the feel of a jewelry and art show displayed on top of and inside stackable, old suitcases — an inventive and unique way to showcase a wide variety of local artisan talent.

Owned by a jewelry designer, Jaclyn Woznicki, the Trunk Show is located in Tahoe City's Cobblestone Center, offering a one-stop shop for Tahoe-themed gifts and souvenirs from pottery, mosaics, sculptures, photographs and paintings to bags, purses, home décor, and an eco-friendly line of aromatherapy skincare products.

"I show the works of many talented local artists, not only with the hopes of selling it, but of also inspiring other artists to begin, continue, and resume working and showing their art," Woznicki said. "Art teaches us to think outside the box and solve problems, and by bringing together so many artists under one roof, they inspire each other and collaborate on new projects together."

That sense of community among the artists naturally trickles to the Trunk Show's customer base, whether a visitor or local, making the shopping experience feel more like an intimate art show than a chain-store sales pitch.

"Since we have a personal relationship with each and every artist that we work with in Trunk Show, we can tell you about the artist's life and inspiration to make a particular piece of work, and we can customize so many of the products that we sell and can usually do so in a relatively short period of time," said Woznicki, whose handcrafted and recycled jewelry line, Bella Petunia, incorporates innovative materials like O-rings, washers, nuts and bolts, as well as bottle caps and guitar picks.

Learn more: tahoetrunkshow.com

North Tahoe Arts Artisan Shop, Tahoe City

Perhaps the most altruistic shopping endeavor on the list is the ARTisan Shop, a co-op store operating under the North Tahoe Arts nonprofit organization, whose mission is to support the arts in the North Tahoe-Truckee communities through exposure, education and participation. Located in the heart of Tahoe City, by the Commons Beach driveway next to the old fire station, the ARTisan Shop features a treasure trove of locally-made ceramics, jewelry, glassware, fiber art, photography and more.

Operating under the co-op model, ARTisan Shop artists work at the store on various days throughout the month, taking the shopping experience to a whole new level of consumer-meets-creator. At the ARTisan shop, not only can shoppers find out exactly where the product was made, by whom, with what materials and how it was inspired, but they also have the unique opportunity to shake hands with the artist behind that handmade good.

"Entering a store with an actual artist behind the desk creates more opportunity for insight and education relating to how the products are made and ultimately a more unique shopping experience," said North Tahoe Arts executive director Kellie Cutler. "A locally handmade piece of art is a unique reminder of the beauty of or experience had by the visitor and can be more impactful than purchasing something mass produced that can be found anywhere."

Learn more: northtahoearts.com

Wildwood Makers Market, South Lake Tahoe

An afternoon at Wildwood Makers Market, located a few blocks from the shoreline in South Lake Tahoe, offers a hands-on, customized experience unlike your average shopping trip. In addition to the variety of gifts and treasures made by local, independent artists, Wildwood also offers do-it-yourself art and craft kits, how-to-books, and other miscellaneous paper goods and supplies.

Owned by a South Lake Tahoe born-and-bred artist, Lisa Utzig Schafer, Wildwood kicks the do-it-yourself concept up a notch by collaborating with local artists to provide a variety of workshops from jewelry making to book binding. It's part of the overall Wildwood shopping experience, which also includes First Fridays, a monthly event chalk-full of live music, wine, coffee and a featured artist in partnership with neighboring businesses like Knits & Knots Yarn Shop and Gaialicious Global Boutique.

Best of all, the experience doesn't stop when you walk out the door of Wildwood, assuming you've decided to take a gift or souvenir with you when you go. Not only did you score a Lake Tahoe-inspired treasure, but chances are you're taking a piece of the natural beauty with you in a sustainable, mindful way.

"Most of the items featured in our shop are not only made by local artists, but many are crafted with local materials," said Schafer. "Because many of the artists are local we are able to offer customized products such as having Daniel Park's reclaimed wooden Tahoe wall art made with custom paint choices, or jewelry created with custom stones that are made to length."

Learn more: wildwooddiy.com

Lake Tahoe artists at work

Life as a local artist also means wearing one or two other hats, like restaurant server or massage therapist. Busy work schedules combined with tight living spaces makes it hard for artists to produce as much work as they otherwise could.

That is until a North Lake Tahoe-based ceramics potter, Brian Watson, decided to amplify his work space and time spent producing his Made N’ Tahoe collection of coffee mugs, planters, bowls and other housewares.

He’s not just molding a new space for his own clay; he’s opening the doors of Tahoe Works — located at 3020 North Lake Blvd. — to other artists in multiple mediums as a cooperative studio work space.

“Whether someone is an experienced or novice artist, or new to the sales world of their craft, the hope is that there will be many opportunities to collaborate and inspire one another and share knowledge,” said Watson, who’s a boat captain by summer and clay thrower by winter.

Born and raised in Maine, Watson relocated to North Lake Tahoe by way of Martha’s Vineyard — three places that have shaped the production and inspiration behind his work since he first sat down at a pottery wheel nearly two decades ago.

Having mentors in each location along the way helped iron out Watson’s craft, and now his vision is to give that opportunity back to other young, aspiring artisans so they can pursue whatever it is that brings them the kind of self-preservation his art has brought to him.

“Throwing clay is like a meditation process for me where the wheel quiets all the noise of the outside world, and for other artists it’s other things that do that for them; but there’s something about sitting at the wheel that has always allowed me to put the static on mute,” said Watson, his subtle Maine accent ingrained into select words.

Launching this summer, Tahoe Works will provide a home base for other potters, painters and glass blowers, with the vision of reaching out to other artists looking for a collective space to create.

The co-op work space will be open to the public, and visitors are welcome to stop by and check out the working artists, tour the space, and find out where they may support the artists through purchases on Etsy and in local shops like the Trunk Show and The Potlatch, or directly through the artist themselves.

“Places like this can create the space and time artists need to see a profit from their work because it cuts out the middle man, it cuts out the commute to work, it cuts out the bosses paycheck, it cuts out the profit, it cuts out the markup from the department store, it cuts out the unfair minimum wage of the foreign worker,” Watson said. “All of that makes it more than worth it to support these artists because you’re not just helping somebody do what they love, you’re helping them survive on their fair effort.”

— Jenny Goldsmith