Here’s to another edition of Textile Tuesday! And the inspiration behind today’s post is the art of woodblock printing. It’s an homage to the wonderful tradition of block printing but also to the spirit of the creative entrepreneur. Enjoy!
Woodblock prints. I must have written hundreds of posts on them. You see them on all kinds of clothing and accessories, from traditional saris to shirts, skirts, scarves, and stoles. They are also on pillows, bedding and other fabrics for the home. Because they are everywhere, they tend to be overlooked and the craftsmanship that goes into creating them is often taken for granted. Enter Auria Bohn, an American artist living in Florence, Italy. Indian block-printed fabrics from the 60’s fascinated her so much that she scanned the entire stock of vintage block printed fabrics from her online store and created digital files so that she would never be parted from the prints. It was the beginning of an enduring love for these gorgeous fabrics and a creative business. Auria shares some (block-printed, of course) postcards from her life in Florence.
“My name is Auria Bohn and I am an American artist and jewelry designer living in Florence, Italy. I currently run an Etsy shop called Vintage Fables where I sell handmade cards, jewelry, and vintage clothing. I am also a full-time, stay – at – home mom of two spirited toddlers and a hoarder of 60’s Indian block print fabrics. I was always drawn to Italy. When I was in my mid-20s, I saved up money with my boyfriend at the time and traveled across the country from Florence to Sicily. It was an amazing trip and I remember vividly our last day when were in the Rome train station, boarding the train that would take us to the airport. I looked around and made a promise to myself that I was going to come back and live there one day. And I did. It took me almost five years to get back again, but I kept that promise to myself. I have been living abroad for thirteen years now; my husband is Italian and our two children were born here. Now I live just blocks from where I stayed on that first visit to Florence years ago.”
“…My background is a bit all over the place. I have a degree in Anthropology but also studied fashion design and metal-smithing. I have worked as a florist, merchandiser and spearheaded converting part of my family’s wheat fields into a lavender farm in Washington State. I was even known as a “Country Manager” at one point in my life when I lived in Dublin, Ireland for a few years and headed a Swedish based publishing company. That was a bit nuts. Closing deals and sales negotiations were part of my daily vocabulary. I had no idea what I was doing, but I did it really well. I’m pretty happy to be back to creating, It keeps me challenged, but I feel more confident in these waters than the others. My artistic path was strongly influenced by two factors; having artists for parents and growing up in a haunted house. It was an old Victorian house where my family had lived for three generations. And for a short period, at the turn of the century, it was also the town’s hospital. I moved in with my parents when I was around eight years old and we were truly an 80’s version of the Addams family. For me, it was like living in a castle with its old creaky floors, hidden passageways, paint chipped covered porches and stained-glass windows. In that house, nestled up on a hill overlooking a small wheat farming community in eastern Washington, my curiosity for old and weathered objects bloomed. I remember one day my mother dug out a rusty table from the basement and proudly placed it near the dining room window; a new spot for some struggling house plants. When she explained to me it was the hospital’s old operating table, I was both terrified and wonderstruck. I didn’t even want to look at it. I wouldn’t eat in the dining room for weeks. I think that is when I started to understand that objects are powerful. That they can make us feel something, even against our will or permission. That objects both new and old can evoke a deep and complicated spectrum of emotion. And I think that is why I love creating art, love vintage clothing and textiles and just making things in general. I want to make objects that take you to another place if only for a second. Pieces that make you or your home feel more beautiful and feminine.”
Inspiration from Indian block printed fabrics…
“ I think a little-researched disorder known as “hoarding” is what really drew me to them and to amassing such a collection. It’s a genetic illness that both my parents share. I think I have been a closet hoarder for decades actually. But more seriously, my love for vintage Indian block prints could be traced to my mother’s fabric closet and her bohemian tastes in clothing and décor. My parents also ran a small boutique when I was a child called the Hand of Man. It was an amazing shop curated with their love for the ancient and artisanal. They would sell their raku pottery and sculpture alongside ancient bracelets from Afghanistan and India, Chinese cloisonné vases, turquoise rings, and Art Deco necklaces. It was a paradise for me as a child, it was like stepping into another world. More recently, I rediscovered vintage Indian block print fabric when I was looking to start a line of 40’s inspired house robes. I had a very old robe from the 30’s that was the softest, dreamiest seersucker cotton ever and I wanted to find something similar in weight and texture to recreate a more updated loungewear line. I would spend hours searching Ebay and Etsy for old lightweight cotton yardage and that is when I started to come across the old Indian block print fabrics from the 60’s and fell in love. I fell deeply in love, so much so, that I knew I would never have the heart to cut them up, even if it was to turn them into something as cozy as a robe. So my dream of turning the house coat into something vogue ended there. But my passion for the fabrics and for sharing their beauty did not. At the same time, I started collecting vintage 60’s Indian block print dresses and skirts and selling them on Etsy. One day, I sold a particularly beautiful block print dress and was pretty sad to mail it off. Looking over at my scanner I thought, well, I am not keeping the dress…but I can keep the print! That’s when I decided to go for it and just started scanning all my textiles, anything I owned with a vintage block print. My husband thought I had lost my mind. He gets it now, but when you see your wife up at midnight scanning old clothes and bedspreads…well, you can imagine! After fumbling with the images on Photoshop and playing around with ideas, I came up with a yearly calendar, the postcards, stickers and small enclosure cards; and I think they are really special. Every time, I go to fill an order for the cards, the bright colors, and even their dainty size makes me happy. They are each little jewels and I am pretty excited I have found a way to share them with the world and to keep hoarding my precious block prints at the same time.
Vintage Fables began as a shop where I would sell vintage clothing and sewing elements and has evolved into the backbone of my creative path. It has been a slow but gratifying process and has given me a platform to play with my instincts as a designer. And living in Florence, a city full of artisans and crafts people has been pretty inspiring as well. It’s amazing how many artists and crafts people are just under my doorstep. I walk my son to school and on the way, I pass the foundry that helps me cast my bronze pendants, the man who prints my cards, the metal smith who makes the copper blanks for my bracelets…they are all there lined up in little shops, one next to the other. Running my little shop and selling my pieces has given me the courage to reach out to these people and ask for their assistance on projects and so the possibilities for what I feel I can do has become endless. When you find you have the confidence to approach people and say “Hey, I’m a designer and I have an idea. Do you think you can help me make it a reality?”, it’s pretty exciting. There is also a woodworker and pastry shop on the street…who knows what I could come up with next. “
“..I have so much to share about my experiences here in Florence especially in the area of vintage haunts and hang outs as well as my perspective as an expat and stay – at – home mom. I just have this need to write it all out now and to connect with people. As for my shop, I plan to make larger prints available of the block print images and possibly experiment with printing on canvas. I am also really focused on streamlining the line for wholesale accounts and retailers. I would love to get them out to a wider audience. I also create bronze and sterling pendants based on natural elements found here in Italy: succulents, shells etc. I have plans to expand the line and I am working on some new wax pieces as I write this. And of course, I hope to continue experimenting with hand dyeing the silk tassels I use for my designs and will be playing around with bolder colors and styles for summer and fall. I have my hands all over the place but it is what keeps me going.”
Challenges, Triumphs and Words of Wisdom
Without a doubt, my biggest challenge has been trying to run a creative business while raising two toddlers. It’s tough and I had no idea how tough it would be, until my first child was born. And it boils down to having little to no time, in this period of my life, to pursue all the projects and ideas I have swirling around in my head. Projects that would have taken me hours or days to finish before I had kids, now take me weeks and even, months. But it has been also, without a doubt, my biggest blessing. It has made me really appreciate the small gains in making my pieces and I think that is how quality products and good businesses are made in the end. Being present in the process and appreciating it. From designing the piece to listing it, to selling it and shipping it off, those are all important stages in a business and having limited time has helped me to slow down and appreciate every time I make it to the next step. I would like to say from the deepest most hopeful part of my being, hang in there and do not give up! And I am kind of saying that to myself at the same time. Yes, hang in there! I wish I could say something certain like “it gets better” but I cannot, because I have no idea. Just keep moving forward on your project and artistic dreams every day or as much as you can. And if you can’t finish a project, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just start a new one because it is an important part of the one you just gave up on or can’t get to, you just don’t know it yet. Summon that multitasking witch and have her stir the cauldron, you have magic boiling girl, don’t let it sit or it will burn!”
For the most beautiful block printed stationery, visit Auria at her Etsy store, Vintage Fables.
All images courtesy of/copyright: Auria Bohn
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