Hey everybody! We hope you are all having a happy and craftastic summer. Our latest featured crafter is Beth Hartman-Peters of The Bird & Elephant. This curious moniker might ring a bell to those who have coveted or purchased Beth’s handmade children’s clothing and toys, and more recently, her adult clothing. Whether it’s a teething ring, plush tee pee, bib, or tank top, the quality of Beth’s handiwork and her keen eye for striking fabrics and designs is undeniable. Beth relocated back to Lynchburg, Virginia from Nashville, Tennessee after earning a BFA in Photography. Her creative roots stretch way back, though, down a long line of people who work with their hands. It’s nice to think that the quilters and seamstresses, painters and drawers, gardeners, welders, woodworkers, and bakers in Beth’s family played a part in the formation of her creative spirit, and Beth poignantly expresses this connection in the recent interview we had with her. Read on to learn more about this neat human being.
How did you get started?
There was this little thing called ‘nesting’, combined with the birth of my first babe, Elijah, and a longing to find comfort and calm in my new role as mom, all the while being many miles from family. I found that doing handwork (sewing) reconnected me to my memories of my own childhood, and my grandma, whom I loved and missed dearly. So, I started sewing, crocheting and knitting little things for my son before he was born. I wanted to give him a few special pieces I hoped he would someday cherish. And, I was hooked! I started making appliques from the random sketches in my journals, learning what worked and what didn’t. I began making so many of these little hand-embroidered appliqued one piece bodysuits (1z’s) that I decided to try and sell a few at local art & craft fairs. I had given up my full-time position at an art college as a photo department manager, so I needed to find a way to make an income from home so I could be with my son. And things evolved from there. I’d like to say that I was/am a bit of a tomboy, so this sewing thing really caught me by surprise.
Where do you find inspiration?
The fabrics inspire me, and of course my children. I was/am very interested in human development from the beginning years. When I was about 8 (give or take), my nephew (then 11 months), had his first open-heart surgery. I remember my sister brought home this notecard that had doodles in red and black ink, made by a nurse to help comfort him. I made something similar for Elijah when he was a newborn and it did soothe him. I looked more into sensory development and human development to better understand what my little one may be experiencing, to try and understand how he may be feeling. It really helped with my parenting and I try to incorporate those concepts into my work, like visual movement & contrast in my blocks.
I’m also heavily inspired by colors found in nature and southwest folk art (hence the new sugar skull blocks)!
What’s your studio playlist?
That depends on the mood. I definitely rely on my Pandora stations to drive a feel home. I find that I work best and have less uh-ohs when I’m listening to music without lyrics and more of a meditative sound. Currently:
American Native prayer
A little reggae, DJ Shadow,
Old Crow Medicine Show, for days when I really need to get moving
I also love The Cure (Fascination Street, love the bass), Moby, The Clash, and listening to the Charlottesville College Radio Station. I do listen to NPR throughout the day, too.
Where is your studio?
My studio is one of the bedrooms in my house. It’s the perfect size, with great windows and built in shelving and dresser with a desk top for my computer. It’s so awesome to be able to work on something new, photograph it a few feet away, tether my camera to my computer and check exposures, etc. I have never been so lucky with studio/shop space! When I need to screen print, I take over the kitchen/dining area when the kids are away or late at night after everyone is asleep. But once we finish renovating the 1st floor, we’re going to do some work on the basement so I can have a really nice print shop there (and of course my husband will get his band room/recoding space, too).
How do you get yourself out of a creative rut?
I sketch, pick out new fabrics, or watch documentaries on other artists and crafters. Sometimes I start with the fabrics and a pair of scissors to see what opens up. I also rummage through my old bins full of reject prints, etc and see if anything strikes a nerve. And when I’m really anxious about coming up with new ideas, I take a drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe do some hiking or splashing in the creeks with my kids. Getting out of the studio environment is definitely great for sparking new ideas.
Favorite blog/movie/tv show/book that never fails to inspire or just clears the mind.
I love documentaries, especially about arts & crafts (Art 21, Arts & Crafts in America). I also love glass blowing, so I’m super excited to see videos about glass artists like Dale Chihuly and there was another called Degenerate Art that I really liked. And PBS is great, too. When I work, I watch Netflix. I get on kicks. I watched The Tudors and have since been very much into movies about the monarchies, social classes…period pieces. I can’t say that I’m a fan of big movies or tv shows (our tv is still in storage). I rarely have time to read, so I’m not a big blog follower and I gave up reading anything that requires my strict attention.
You have a time machine. What place in time would you choose?
This may sound boring, but honestly, I’d like to go back to the time when I was around 8, back to my grandma’s sewing room where I would find her sewing on an old pedal Singer. I loved the sound of the air pushing from the machine, the smell of the machine oil, and the way my grandmother’s hands would gently stop the metal wheel to reposition the needle. Both calming and meditative, I would just sit quietly running my hands through a large tin of buttons, dividing them by color, size, texture, and shape. I sometimes would sit and help both grandparents with hand-quilting. We would all sit around the large frame and chit chat.
Share a recipe – bonus points if there’s a story behind it.
Okay, so I have this horrible thing called Alpha-gal and I’m allergic to mammalian meat (thank you tick bite!). I’m also allergic to milk/dairy and tomatoes!!!! My in-laws are always asking me what I eat, as if the only foods to eat contain those ingredients. Luckily, a close friend is Vietnamese and she taught me all about cooking in that style. And, I love those flavors. We don’t have a real stove/oven right now and I’ve mastered cooking on a 2 burner, but I am limited to cooking styles. So lately, I’ve been trying various grilling recipes and the one here is amazing! I think I’m making a big dish of this to take to the next family gathering of in-laws.
Grilled Thai Shrimp (Emeril lagasse)
24 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deviened
2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
4 tablespoons sriracha sauce (I used a garlic chili paste instead)
1 tablespoon tamarind paste (omitted it as I can’t find any here)
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 (6 or 8-inch) bamboo skewers
Vegetable oil, for oiling grill
Place the shrimp in a large, 1-gallon re-sealable food storage plastic bag. Place the rest of the ingredients (coconut milk through salt) in a non-reactive medium bowl and whisk to combine. Pour the marinade over the shrimp and seal in the bag. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, turning the bag occasionally to ensure even marinating. Soak bamboo skewers in warm water while you marinade the shrimp.
Preheat the grill to medium-high. Remove the shrimp from the marinade and skewer 4 per skewer and set aside. Brush the grill lightly with a bit of vegetable oil and place the shrimp on the grill. Cook the shrimp for 3 minutes, basting with the marinade as it cooks, then turn and cook for an additional 3 minutes, while basting, on the second side. Serve while hot.
What’s your dream project – if you had all the time and materials in the world?
I want to eventually design my own fabrics so I can fully brand my work and eventually have it manufactured in the US so I can do more creative planning, hand over the patterns and explore new things (pottery, glass blowing, travel, woodworking, anything to do with metals, jewelry…..) I love doing large scale pinhole photographs, and at some point, I hope to pick up on a project I started a while ago and maybe get back into some gallery shows. I loved organizing pop-up secret shows and would love to do some here.
What artists influence your work – who are your creative idols?
I have two creative sides: the fine artist/photographer/installation conceptual artist and the one who creates for the B+E, so my influences are vastly different. For the B+E side, I think Andy Goldsworthy is a big influence. His dedication to the process of the making is amazing and as zen-like as the final photograph. And of course I love the makers of the past: quilters, wood turners, furniture makers, seamstresses, potters. They created such amazing pieces. My first (and only) graphic design instructor was big on the KISS: keep it simple stupid. KISS is the one thing that I remind myself when creating new things, and I think that has been a huge influence in my work.
Describe yourself in 5 words.
Tell us something funny that happened recently.
Everyday there’s something funny, but I don’t know if others would get the humor. One of the funniest things that is recurring is the change in my 3 yo daughter’s voice when she’s trying to get our attention. She has a tiny little voice with the lispy, rolly letters, but when she’s trying to get our attention, her voice turns into this loud, very clear, Bostonian sounding manly voice: “Hey guys!” Wish I could attach sound to this.
How do you find balance?
Crow pose? Yoga is a huge help, both physically and mentally, like remembering to breathe deeply when things get hectic. But balance? My husband and I are blazing a trail as we go. We are learning what works and doesn’t. We remind each other daily to take time with our kids, because our kids are growing fast and we want good, solid, love-filled memories for them. It’s hard, but it’s getting better. We do eat really good, healthy foods, and when we fall off that wagon, we do notice a drop in our organization and a serious loss of balance. We’re getting ready to do a basic detox, so I hope to get things recharged really soon (I have a big project with new ideas I hope to release in time for Fall and my husband will be a big part of the production….fingers crossed!)
Is there a story behind your blog/shop name?
The Bird + Elephant evolved from a PBS Nature show on elephants. Aside from the baby ele cuteness, I became fixated on the birds perched on the ele’s backs. Not just the birds, but the relationship between the bird and the ele, I guess it’s the conceptual artist in me. The sight was very calming and just beautiful (I was pregnant and overly weepy at this time). To me, the elephant provided safety for the bird and perhaps a new way of seeing the world, in much the same way that my Elijah opened my eyes to a new way of feeling. The Bird and Elephant just seemed perfect as it represented my love and affection for Elijah and the new relationship we created. I would have never started this business if it had not been for him. Actually, I don’t think I had a direction in my life until I became a mom. (Sidenote: Elijah pointed out the other day that B = Beth Bird and E = Elijah Elephant….preschoolers!)
What’s your typical day?
Wake with 2 kiddos snuggling. COFFEE, feed kids, kid crafts while I fix their breakfast or while I eat and fix my coffee and check esty for sales/convos/emails. Outside time (weather permitting), they play in the pool (2 foot tiny inflatable) and I tend to my little garden. Lunchtime, then kids have quiet time (reading, learning games, free play), naptime, maybe for 3 yr old. Afternoon they get to watch a show or 2, or play pbskids.org or something. Dinner. Bathtime. Storytime. 9 pm might be the 1st time I really get to sew. (these are summer hours, btw).
We’re handing you plane tickets to anywhere. Where are you going?
Vietnam &/or Thailand
What’s your favorite local haunt?
What advice to do you have for other crafty businessfolk?
Embrace downtime! Use that time to tidy up, start new ideas, etc.
Love what you do! (golden rule?) Because making something you don’t like over and over again is the biggest drive killer.
This business takes heart. When I first began in this, I was a bit uncertain what I wanted to do, how to do it, and I experimented a lot.
The bulk/case price might look tempting, but don’t take the plunge when you’re first trying new things out. Do a couple samples, get feedback, then take the plunge if the demand says go. I know a lot of people who went over their heads because the case price was cheap, but they ended up with boxes of unwanted stuff.