Pittsburgh artisans nominated for American Made Awards
A select group of Pittsburghers are showing the world they have what it takes to be American Made.
The 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Awards, spotlighting local handmade wares, named finalists in early September. Nine award recipients determined by Stewart and a panel of judges will be announced Oct. 17. One finalist will be named Audience Choice award-winner.
All 10 winners will get a trip to New York for the American Made event on Nov. 7 and 8, plus $10,000 and a chance to be featured in Martha Stewart Living.
Visitors to MarthaStewart.com/AmericanMade can vote six times a day for their favorites through Oct. 13.
The following folks represent the 'Burgh:
Una Biologicals, style finalist
Jessica Graves, owner of Una Biologicals in Ross, is hoping an American Made win could help her business move into its own retail space. Right now, the company sells its organic beauty and wellness products in stores around the region.
“We really make organics very user-friendly,” she says. “We want to take the stigma out of organics.”
The company's top sellers include pink grapefruit and sweet-almond body butters, made with organic jojoba, apricot and avocado oils; beeswax; organic mango butter; non-GMO Vitamin E; organic rosemary antioxidant; pure essential oils; and citric acid.
Another hot item is Wound Wonder, which Graves calls “mom's best friend,” a fix for burns, rashes, cuts and other ailments. Made of calendula, comfrey, St. Johns Wort, chickweed along with lavender, blue chamomile and tea tree essential oils, the product is popular among chefs, gardeners, nurses and hair dressers as well.
Bones and All, design finalist
Being named an American Made finalist came as a bit of a shock for Zak Kruszynski, who has been building furniture and other home wares with his business Bones and All in Homewood for two years.
“I was really surprised,” he says. “I'm also really honored really and glad the response has been so positive both in terms being nominated as a finalist and also with the feedback I've gotten through social media. The opportunity to reach a wider audience is fantastic.”
A lifelong art lover who hails from the Ohio Rust Belt, Kruszynski relies primarily on reclaimed materials for his work. Most pieces are sturdy, yet minimalist in design.
“I'm really influenced by frontier-type furniture with heavier planks and timber,” he says. “Growing up in the Rust Belt, I was really influenced by the materials and aesthetic you see there.”
Kruszynski makes everything from cutting boards to dining sets at his studio. His wares are available in several shops around Pittsburgh, including Mid-Atlantic Mercantile and The Shop in East Liberty. Details: bonesandall.com
Plant Picket, crafts finalist
Jed Darland's business, Darland Partners, is headquartered near Seattle but the Carnegie Mellon University grad decided to make his product, a decorative garden-marker made from salvaged lumber, in Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh is very community-based,” says Darland. “The community comes together to help people succeed, and that's not the same everywhere in country. It's very unique to Pittsburgh.”
Plant Picket's manufacturing plant is based in Point Breeze, where Filip Agren oversees the process. Darland, who works in strategic branding and marketing consulting for startups, created his first Plant Picket for his own garden in 2008 from leftover pieces of redwood he was using the make furniture.
When enough people starting asking him where he'd got them, he realized there was a market for the product. He took it to gardening shows, and now sells 190 varieties in more than 75 stores across the country.
Redraven Studios, crafts finalist
Amy Hamley started Redraven Studios ceramics in 2006, then began selling on Etsy in 2008. But it was a New York Times mention of her business in April that brought national attention to her Sharpsburg shop and caught the eye of the American Made team. They invited her to begin selling on the American Made Market on eBay.
Hamley, who grew up in Irwin and graduated from Seton Hill University, hand makes every piece, with an average turnaround of one week to 10 days. She turns to nature as well as the past for inspiration. Her arrowhead pieces, used for ornaments and other decorations, came from those her father-in-law found walking the woods for his work in land conservation. A series of bowls are coated in colors meant to portray the light at different state parks.
Redraven wares currently are sold in 100 businesses worldwide.
“The objects usually have something to do with our family and the area around where they live,” says Hamley. “It really inspires me.”
Depression Couture, style finalist
It makes perfect sense that Kathleen DeMartino's daughter, Claudia, 12, was the one who hit “send” on her American Made entry. The girl was, after all, inspiration for her mother's business in the first place.
Depression Couture, the clothing line DeMartino started five years ago, is sold in four Pittsburgh-area stores, with parents and their children loving the pieces made from reused materials.
“I'm following my passion and my dream of creating something that will teach my kids you don't just throw stuff away all the time,” says DeMartino, of O'Hara, also mom of Joey, 7.
The first piece she ever sold was a skirt she made for Claudia, who couldn't bear to part with her chocolate milk-stained T-shirts. DeMartino sewed them into a skirt, which caught the eye of the owner of The Picket Fence in Shadyside, which now sells her clothes.
DeMartino gets her materials from friends, donations and thrift shops. High-end fabrics and silks are discontinued textile-industry samples donated by a local design firm.
“It's busy but fun,” she says of her work. “The nice thing about my business is it's not like a production line. Every piece is different and dictated by what's available at the time.”
The Milk Shake Factory, Edward Marc, food finalist
The Milk Shake Factory on South Side's Carson Street earned the attention of American Made for its new spin on shakes and nod to nostalgia. The business, part of Edward Marc Chocolatier, offers 55 flavors of milkshakes, as well as a slew of specialty flavors, including the current seasonal favorite, pumpkin. Each is made in the old-school fashion with a hand-blender with “the same commitment to tradition you might expect from a soda jerk in 1914,” the year the company was created. The business is owned and operated by fourth-generation confectioners, siblings Chris, Dana and Mark Edwards.
“People would be surprised how much goes into making a milkshake,” Chris Edwards says with a laugh. “It can be very artisan.”
Seeing so many Pittsburgh businesses in the American Made contest just reaffirms Chris Edwards' belief that the city is in the middle of an important growth period. “The change we've seen in Pittsburgh over last few years incredible,” he says. “It's been really exciting to see it transform.”
Brad Bianchi, wildcard finalist
Brad Bianchi of Brentwood, has always loved building, whether as a child with Legos and Tinker Toys or now with the repurposed materials he uses to create his distinct art.
“I like using objects that are out of the ordinary, things that you can't recognize what they are immediately, then flipping them and giving them a whole new look,” he says.
In his bio for the contest, Bianchi writes that Pittsburgh's city and steel history have impacted him as an artist.
“Nature and its organic forms are another area that I gain inspiration from,” he writes. “I love imagining the journey of every small piece of rusty metal that I find on the ground. I enjoy taking a random object and figuring out how to give it a completely different use than originally intended. Animals and insects definitely play a subliminal role in shaping my work.”
Bianchi's work is currently on display at Pittsburgh Winery in the Strip District.
Worker Bird, wildcard finalist
Kim Fox's workshop houses a mountain of colorful tins, some with logos, some with funky patterns, all empty.
Fox, of Worker Bird in Mt. Lebanon, uses vintage tin and salvaged wood to create collages of everything from elaborate maps to custom type. She scours flea markets and estate sales for her tins, which she disassembles and stores in a filing cabinet according to color or theme. She starts with an outline of the design on the wood canvas, cuts the pieces into the corresponding size and tacks it in place.
“It combines so many things that I love,” she says. “I love collage, but I don't just make collages and try to sell them. I love using tools, but I'm not a professional woodworker. This kind of combines all the things I love into one product.”
Fox sells primarily on Etsy and attends regional craft fairs. She also is creating all collateral materials for this year's Handmade Arcade independent craft fair in December.
Just being a finalist has already helped Fox find some new business via social media. She's happy to help draw attention to the city she calls home along with so many others in the competition.
“I think it's so cool that Pittsburgh has so much representation,” she says.
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or email@example.com.