By Michael Workman
Aspects of maker culture have shared roots with art and activist communitarian models which, in turn, can have as much to do with real activism as the GOP has with social services; they’re more lifestyle accoutrements than they are actual expressions of fellow-feeling, or the like. Logan Square is in that kind of demographic toss-up state right now, with the truly cosmopolitan maintaining a canny distance from the clear increase lately in the “cool tax” on overpriced rentals and etc. Out on a Situationist “dérive” around the ‘hood with artist Lesley Jenkins, awash in its current demographic mixture of artists, students and hungry buyers, Jenkins beelines me to the nine-year old Wolfbait & B-Girls shop down from her block when I ask her take on handmade in the area. “You’ve got to see this place,” she says.
Inside, it’s an open consignment store situation par excellence, almost a curated trading post/designed-environment feel, with all the handmade and local wares you could want and, one foot inside, we’re given an animated welcome from co-owner Jenny Stadler, a tall gal with a short, wavy-long pixie cut, whom we interrupt talking with her friend, Elise Robison, a local urban farmer and maker. Quick intros follow, Stadler explaining she’s just back from travel in South America, and still acclimating. Jenkins has split on me.
I ask as to the store history and, without thinking, she immediately redirects me to Robison, who walks me through her maker and DIY work for the store, including a tea she makes from Reishi mushrooms and spices branded as “Eternal Life Tea,” the packaging for which claims a list of benefits, including enhancement of the “immune system” and protection “against infectious diseases, heart disease and cancer.” We step aside, and I’m curious to learn more.
“How do you know that?” I ask her. I’m wondering because the claims seem as though they might be spiritist, or a kind of holism and I’d like to know their sources, for reference. “It’s used in traditional Chinese medicine a lot,” she explains, “I learned about it at the Radical Mycology Convergence (radicalmycologyconvergence.wordpress.com), which is learning about mushrooms, basically,” she affirms. “That took place when?” I ask, “—which took place at Nance Klehm’s,” she explains, and I feel as though I’ve hit the nail on the head, since Klehm has a well-known art and activism history in the city. “I started drinking it and I haven’t been sick since, and I’d share it with all my friends and then people started asking me for it so I started selling it. I also grew these pickles and the dill and pickled them.”
We also discuss a cone-shaped device that, she explains, you place in the pots of houseplants, and which provide a delayed self-release watering system. “It dissipates out through the clay cone, the top part is glazed and the bottom is not, and the water comes out here through the bottom, slowly through the porous clay part of the cone.”
Robison also works on a cooperative urban grow project called Chicago Patchwork Farms where she helps bottle organic vegetables (and draws the cute hotdog hugging a pickle label for the brand) in vinegar, salt, dill flower and spices. There’s no site for her work, which she only stocks with the store. Clearly with these kind of active involvements between producer and distributor, relationships still mean something in the community, and hopefully we’ll have a place to check out the fruits of the labors the likes of Robison for awhile.
Wolfbait & B-Girls, 3131 West Logan Boulevard, (312)698-8685, wolfbaitchicago.com.
Yeah, it’s cheesy. You could get a key ring made like this pretty easily. And okay, this one isn’t going into the local maker scene category, but walking through Lincoln Square’s quaint and great little handmade store Homesoul recently, these little plastic motel/hotel room key ring tags drew my eye. And they’re giftable: Overlook Hotel room 237 keys (yes, fist pump), and a variety of others that include a room at the Heartbreak Hotel, a “No-Tell Motel” and Bates Motel gag tags, and a range of other dream locations with blood-gushing hallways enough to make sure Johnny’s dull boy conversational item days are over. At least if he shops at Homesoul.
Homesoul, 4526 North Lincoln, (773)654-1583, homesoulshop.com