In the past two weeks, Pittsburghers rallied to support, connect with, and even entertain each other. This spirit of support is particularly meaningful for our region’s small businesses. In good times, they employ our friends and neighbors and add character to our community. In tough times, they find creative ways to endure and do it while continuing to give back.
We’re lucky to have the best community of makers in the country. These creative businesses make objects and art that enliven our homes and create accessories that bring us joy and style. We’re proud to feature them every day on PGandH.org.
Pittsburgh’s makers are responding to the coronavirus crisis in meaningful and surprising ways. Here are 9 amazing examples:
1. Creating ways for you and your kids to make at home
In a city of talented glassblowers, Sarah Cohen has stood out for her distinctive jewelry. Through PetalVision Glass, she creates necklaces and earrings by layering and laminating leaves, feathers, and metals between glass.
Sarah is also a talented mosaic maker and instructor. She’s now offering virtual glass mosaic classes, as well as paper mosaic classes for children under nine. Students receive a supply list, and once everything has shipped to their home, they join Sarah for an online workshop. “It’s the perfect time to learn a new craft and work with your hands on a project you can do at home,” she says. “Now, more than ever, our world needs the connective and healing power of art.”
If mosaics aren’t your thing, WorkshopPGH is offering other virtual classes, including shibori dye-making.
2. Sewing critically-needed masks
Pittsburgh’s makers are stepping up to sew protective masks to combat the global mask shortage. Kntozland, Protohaven, KerfCase, Cut & Sew Studio, Firecracker Fabrics, The Iron Horse Atelier, and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse are spearheading the effort, in partnership with Radiant Hall.
“The .. mask supply is being so rapidly depleted that the CDC has suggested homemade masks as a last resort for health care providers in settings where face masks are not available,” they say. With donated furnace filters, elastic, and thread, Knotzland and other maker businesses are using inventive methods and materials to meet the demand.
3. Giving thanks to essential workers
Through Alternate Histories, local maker Matt Buchholz creates playful prints, cards, and books that aim to bring history to life. He ships to customers all over the world. “Since I run a business that depends on shipping goods,” he says, “I have been thinking a lot about mail carriers and delivery people. They’re such heroes, aren’t they.” To honor the delivery people who are risking their lives to keep his and other businesses going, Matt designed a series of “Thank You For Delivering To Our Home” signs, which can be downloaded and printed for free.
4. Creating special projects that spark joy
Ceramicist Reiko Yamamoto is known for her modern, versatile, and functional pottery. To remind herself and others to “take a deep breath and try to smile, and to keep a perspective that this too shall pass,” she’s resurrected a ceramic smiley face magnet design she first created after the 2016 election. A portion of each purchase goes to charity. While the first batch has nearly sold out, she’s hard at work creating more smiley magnets, hoping to give more us a reminder to what’s on the horizon.
5. Transforming art into publicly available coloring pages
Atiya Jones is the artist-maker behind TWELVETWENTY STUDIO, where her compelling prints question how “populations reconnect, rebuild, and are reflected within their communities.” Back in 2015, she created but never released CONTENDERS, a hand-drawn zine. After realizing that “the imagery really lends itself to coloring – which I hear folks find relaxing,” she released images from the zine that can be printed and used as coloring pages. While Jones has released these drawings as “public art,” her Venmo is @atiya_jones “if you’re inclined.”
6. Opening a digital pop-up relief store
Established in 2002 by Dan and Shannon Rugh, CommonWealth Press specializes in soft goods (shirts and other apparel), graphics, and, well, just about everything you could dream up. While their physical locations are closed, they’ve opened an online COVID-19 Relief Store, including a beautiful “We’re All In This Together” poster, which features the Pittsburgh skyline in the background. The growing store also features offerings from other local companies.
7. Offering free delivery around Pittsburgh
Out of a normally bustling storefront and production space in Lawrenceville, Una Biologicals makes beauty and wellness products without harsh chemicals, additives, or artificial fragrances. Their botanical soaps and scrubs are especially soothing in this stressful time. To keep supporting community wellness, Una is offering free (and contact-free) local delivery.
8. Customizing products just for you
Kim Fox is the visionary behind Worker Bird, a studio that produces mixed media projects ranging from home goods to custom murals. She skillfully makes tin signs and artwork from reclaimed wood and metal, and her illustrations and murals are free-form and sketched by hand. Kim has taken to Instagram to share the custom patchwork tin designs she’s been making – all of birds, including goldfinches, cardinals, and magpies. This is a rare opportunity to get a special custom tin design – you can choose the bird of your liking – from one of Pittsburgh’s most talented creatives.
Kim Fox of Worker Bird is creating custom tin designs. Photo by Julia Reynolds.
9. Forging forward to launch new collections
Typically, when the economy slows down, creative businesses stick to their existing inventory. But these bold, brave makers have all launched new collections of products in the past week – a reminder that life not only moves forward but offers new delights.
Cat Luck, the force behind Collarbone Jewelry, uses pure and mixed metals, semi-precious gems, and rough stones to create striking and eclectic jewelry. Cat has released a new collection, which incorporates charms from the Tucson Gem Faire.
Jenna Vanden Brink’s porcelain jewelry is coveted among stylish Pittsburghers. “I’ve been working on a big 2020 jewelry release,” she says, “and debated pushing it back in light of everything that’s happening, but decided to press on!” Her new collection includes porcelain flower hoops that come in white, black, and navy, and feature a hand-formed porcelain flower piece threaded onto fine gold hoops.
A metalsmithing shop located in the heart of Braddock, Studebaker Metals are known for its beautiful and durable cuffs. They’ve just launched their Lock Bracelet, which they saw “took much trial and error to get right. We must have made eight versions of this one before landing here.”
Why it’s important to support makers
These examples of endurance and creativity are inspiring, but also important for Pittsburgh’s economy. These makers operate creative businesses that hire, spend their dollars regionally, and operate out of reclaimed storefronts and buildings. All of these activities put more money back into our local economy.
As Commonwealth Press’ poster aptly points out, “We’re All in This Together.” While small creative businesses will continue to adapt to weather the storm, they rely on the support of their community to endure. You can find and support dozens of makers at PGandH.org.