Designers at the MFA Artisan Market bring more to the table than meets the eye

Customers look at the jewelry by Sylca Designs as Sylvia Echavarria looks on. The pieces by Sylca Designs are made with natural materials by women in Philippines. Boston, Mass., Nov. 9, 2019. Photo by Mita Kataria/ BU News Service.

By Mita Kataria
BU News Service

The Museum of Fine Arts Artisan Market created a personalized atmosphere, unlike buying presents online or in brick and mortar stores, here shoppers could interact and consult with the designers. Other than their purchases, customers could also bring home the story of how their gift was made or the life story of the designers themselves.

The Artisan Market brought 19 vendors from in and around Boston to showcase their hand-crafted jewelry, fashion and accessories on Nov. 9. The market, set up in the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Courtyard, was bustling with people looking for things to buy for their loved ones this holiday season.

From gold bracelets by ABW Designs to metallic-print scarves designed by one of the many artists at Printed Village and colorful glass stars from Luke Adams Glass Blowing Studio, shoppers had a range of hand-crafted gifts to buy.

Chris Donovan was a telephone repairman before he pursued his Masters in Footwear from Polimoda Fashion Institute in Italy, one of the top fashion schools in the world, at the age of 55. Later, he was selected by the reality TV show, Project Runway, to meet Tim Gunn, a fashion consultant and on-air mentor of the designers in the show. He then started his own company, Chris Donovan Footwear and launched its website this year.

“I was about 50 years old and I got diagnosed with cancer. Everything turned out fine and they caught it very early, but that’s when I realized – why don’t I do something that I love, why am I wasting my time doing this?” Donovan, the former repairman, said.

Chris Donovan, the founder of Chris Donovan Footwear, talks about the exact moment he fell in love with and started designing shoes at the MFA Artisan’s Market in Boston on Nov. 9, 2019.

While some vendors work entirely by themselves, some collaborate with artisans and factories both locally and internationally. Donovan creates prototypes of his designs and works with a factory in Italy to convert them into unique shoes.

Sylca Designs, run by the mother-daughter duo of Sylvia and Camilla Echavarria, works with jewelry artisans in the Philippines and have their designs in their collections as well.

One of the objectives of Sylca Designs is to make women feel more confident about their designs. Their motto of empowering women with their jewelry is not limited to their customers. They also work with Kiva, an international organization that makes loans across the globe, including the women in the Philippines who make the jewelry in their collection.

Like Sylca Designs, other artists featured at the event have a long history with their creations and what impact they might have beyond their products. 

“I had this sea glass collection that I was growing almost 20-25 years ago and I kept thinking that I have to do something with these,” said Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco, the artist behind Cape Ann Designs. She converts sea into wearable hair accessories and jewelry.

“It’s so beautiful and has so much history, so I started making barrettes exclusively and then added other hair accessories,” Ganim-DeFalco explained.

Cape Ann is a special place for her and has served as inspiration when she started her business 15 years ago. For her, giving people her designs meant sharing a part of Cape Ann with them.

For Ganim-DeFalco, designing jewelry and other accessories has a cultural significance as well.

“We as a culture, here in the United States, are a culture of artists,” she said. “We have to preserve our handmade, one-of-a-kind jewelry as best we can because that’s one of the things that we can hold on to.” 

Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco, the founder and the artist of Cape Ann Designs interacting with a customer at the MFA Artisans’ Market on Nov. 9, Boston, Mass. Photo by Mita Kataria/BU News Service

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