It's been two months since local artist and ceramicist Alison Fraser put her money where her mouth was, and opened what she considered was a much-needed outlet for locals artisans and makers on Bong Bong Street in Bowral.
But in the time since then, the Delta outbreak has reduced foot traffic on the usually packed main street to a trickle.
Like many local businesses, the lack of Sydney-siders is causing a little anxiety for Ms Fraser, but for lucky locals, the new store is still open and bursting with the work of some of the best artisans in the area.
Alison Fraser spoke to the Southern Highland News about the concept behind the store:
Where did the idea to open Forage come from?
I was always complaining that in a district saturated with artisans, there were no stores on the main street of the biggest town, Bowral, that offered local artisan work. And I also thought that Bong Bong Street, as the main street in a popular tourist town, needed more life and local character. So I decided that I should stop complaining and do it myself.
The name Forage comes from the fact that I have always tended to forage and find in my own locale. A kind of mindful frugality. I try to really engage in the place I am in, and I look for what has value or beauty, right in front of me whether it be from the natural environment or from a charity shop. I look for items that other people don't place value on. I then reframe, perhaps up-cycle, that item and share it with other people.
How does your personal art practice feed into that concept?
My own work is ceramics, textiles, and works on paper. The ceramics are very rough and simple, I don't work the pieces much, as I enjoy the material and the textures of them just as they are. I might mark them with whatever comes to hand, a stick, a shell, an orange net. I also often use "wild" clay, that is clay I have foraged, dug out of the ground. As all the gardeners know there is a lot of clay here! This area supplied the clay and made the bricks that built much Sydney town. So yes, next time you see some batty lady beside the road with a bucket and spade it will be me.
READ ALSO: Worst day in NSW so far: 239 new COVID cases
The textiles we work with - I'm including Deborah Aitkin, another local who works in the business, making the textile pieces too - are generally made from vintage or end of roll fabrics. This feeds into our philosophy of sustainability. What could be wasted, we turn into useful and hopefully beautiful simple things for the home to be enjoyed on a daily basis. The works on paper are mostly cyanotypes. This is an old simple form of photography. These images capture plants from my garden or vintage garments. They are being placed in the same context: this may be simple or common, or old, but it is lovely. They are being honoured.
What sort of artists are you featuring?
There are so many wonderful local artists. We have lured in just a few so far...Brooke Munro whose process and work is very much aligned with our own. She forages in the paddocks and in the bush for her materials and weaves them into the most magical of items. Hannah Cooper, is a traditional weaver in Bundanoon. She has a lovely aesthetic often using geometric patterns. Ashley Mackevicius a fantastic photographer, whose compelling night shots of street scenes we have been lucky enough to secure for our store. Kate Kinross, who is one of our very own peeps, is making the most wonderful jewelry from solid silver dessert forks and working them into the most exquisite pieces. We have Jules Van de Sande, the most fantastic stone sculptor who lives in a yurt, off-grid, past Joadja. And my sister Margot makes the cutest special occasion vintage fabric pillow slips!
Why is local and upcycled art important?
Local art and work can capture a spirit of place and its people. It can reflect the character of the community. And it gives the community a sense of self and identity. I think that sense of individuality is so lost with the internet. The ease of crossover of ideas through Pinterest, Instagram and other social media is making everything so vanilla. Individuality brings uniqueness and that is something both we as locals and our visitors can cherish.
Local art and work can capture a spirit of place and its people. It can reflect the character of the community. And it gives the community a sense of self and identity.
How's business been, given the absence of foot traffic due to covid?
It's a nightmare - we are down 90-95 per cent.
Given lockdown has just been extended a month, what will that mean for the shop? Any plans to make an online store?
Yes, madly doing it now!