Yes, the holidays should be about spending time with friends and family, enjoying big meals together and expressing gratitude for our many blessings. But you still gotta buy stuff. Fortunately, we in the North Bay are blessed with an abundance of creative folks who make and sell some great local things.
It’s become a cliché to bemoan the commercialization of the holidays, but you can fight back by avoiding the malls and supporting locally made goods and businesses. With that in mind, we present some of our favorite things to bring a little cheer into someone’s life—or maybe your own. You’ve been good, right?
GRIFFIN MAP DESIGN
Petaluma native Scott Lowrie has always loved maps. He studied geography at Sonoma State University, and has been a geographic information systems (GIS) pro for 10 years.
Lowrie also studied art in school, an interest that turned into a creative outlet six years ago, when he began designing and creating artful and often vintage-inspired maps on the side. That project evolved into Griffin Map Design, Lowrie’s custom cartography and large-format printing shop located in the heart of downtown Petaluma’s Putnam Plaza.
Highly detailed and convincingly old-school, Lowrie’s maps are more than throwback drawings; they look and feel authentic. Lowrie’s portfolio includes maps that recreate Civil War battles, highlight railroad lines from 1895 and offer bird’s-eye illustrations of North Bay towns, as the maps would have accurately looked at the turn of the last century.
“They tell a story,” says Lowrie. “People come in and look at, for instance, an old map of Petaluma, and they’ll tell you where their house is or the way things used to be. It creates, not an escape, but a way to look back.”
Lowrie makes original maps and repurposes historical (and public domain) maps. He takes inspiration from antiques of all kind and incorporates patterns and images that he finds in his frequent antiquing trips.
Feeling a connection to the local art scene, Lowrie opened Griffin Map Design as an art gallery and storefront two years ago. Monthly art shows hang on one wall of his shop, and many of Lowrie’s prints and works from visiting artists are available to purchase. In addition, the shop boasts a T-shirt printer and large-format printer, so he’s able to satisfy custom orders of all kinds.
December’s show will be Prohibition-themed, says Lowrie, keeping to the vintage aesthetic. Lowrie will also be selling his work at Petaluma’s Holiday Crafterino on Sunday Nov. 27, at the Petaluma Veteran’s Memorial Hall.
Griffin Map Design, 122 American Alley, Ste. A, Petaluma. Friday–Saturday, noon–5pm, and by appointment.—Charlie Swanson
DON’T TREAD ON ME, EITHER
I was headed up Highway 101 recently in the vicinity of Cotati, and the traffic was just starting to move again after an accident had been cleared. I rolled up on a hybrid SUV slow-jamming in the middle lane that was sporting all sorts of American flag and pro-veteran, pro-gun stickers and decals, including a custom “Gun Owner for Trump” decal. I suppose the driver was trying to intimidate or threaten North Bay snowflakes in their precious liberal Priuses with the Bernie stickers.
I’m not a big fan of bumper stickers as a general rule, though I do enjoy reading them on others’ cars. And I’m pretty good at resisting the urge to rear-end some mean-faced old white man on the highway for expressing his opinion, however odiously obnoxious it may be. I sat behind old cranky in traffic for a bit and thought about a bumper sticker that would reflect my view on politics, but that wasn’t posturing in opposition to anyone, or declaring an allegiance to Bernie or Hillary—but simply declaring my allegiance to an all-American ideal. Enter the Gadsden flag.
I believe the American left does itself a disservice when it allows a bilious right wing to claim ownership of the message of the famous yellow-and-snaky flag and its “Don’t Tread on Me” warning. I love the flag, I love the idea, and I live in a town filled with militant-trickster hippies who do not want to be treaded upon, either.
I say: seize the potent symbols of right-wing dissent and reclaim them as the prerogative of a cranky left with militia intentions of its own. And, hey, they make for great stocking-stuffers in the threatened jackboot moment of Bannonian horror. There are all sorts of patriotic online portals that will fit the bill for anti-government leftists eager to throw down, but it’d be better to hook yourself up with Gadsden swag locally at S.O.G. Military Surplus Collectibles in Cotati. 8581 Gravenstein Hwy., Cotati. 707.588.8438.—Tom Gogola
TAKE YOUR SKULL FOR A RIDE
Lou Barlow was the bassist for Dinosaur Jr. before he went on to indie-rock fame of his own in Sebadoh, and I found myself humming one of his tunes recently while poring over the latest issue of the Sonoma Historian.
“There is history in this place,” Barlow sings in “Skull”—and indeed there is, Sonoma County. Lots of history.
Barlow is singing his song to a woman he wants to get busy with, but he might have been singing it about a newcomer to Sonoma County, a tourist come to town for a night or two, stunned into a reverie by the beauty of the region and its many offerings of a historical, lovely and increasingly high-on-legal-weed bent: “And I don’t know who you are / But I know what I would like you to be / A one-night stand under stoned persuasion . . .”
Well, hey, issue No. 4 of Sonoma History is out now and it costs three bucks. The society has a gift-subscription offer that comes with a membership and a year’s worth of the journal. This quarter’s issue offers commentary and essays on Jack London (natch), pics from local photographer John LeBaron and reflections from locals on their participation in the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, when many a skull was cracked by Southern racists hell-bent on suppressing the rights and the votes of African-American citizens.
History—it has a way of repeating itself. Riffing again on the Barlow tune that has now morphed into an earworm for the ages, Sonoma History will gently take your skull for a ride through the people, places and events that have figured in the social and cultural development of Sonoma County—so sign right up and lavish the history buff in your life with a journal that highlights a county characterized, as if in song, by a “an easy flow and a strong, strong heart.”
Gift-givers can opt for the $30 yearly membership or you can throw $150 to $300 the way of the society as a supporting or lifetime membership in your giftee’s name.
Sonoma County Historical Society, PO Box 1373, Santa Rosa CA 95402.—T.G.
KITSBOW MOUNTAIN BIKE APPAREL
The North Bay is the birthplace of mountain biking, and Petaluma’s Kitsbow taps into the history and still vibrant energy of the sport with a line of high-end, made-to-last mountain biking apparel that are to fat tire enthusiastics what Gulfstream jets are to aviators. Kitsbow’s stuff isn’t cheap, but it’s made to take abuse on the trail and last. A pair of their flagship men’s biking shorts go for $265.
“There’s an ingredient-based ethos behind everything we make,” say P. K. Hart, Kitsbow’s COO, in defense of the high price tags. He points to premium materials, bullet-proof stitching and attention to detail. “We support that core mountain biking group.”
Right now, I’m coveting their Icon shirt, an item that wins for form and function. The wool flannel fabric is made by Pendleton from vintage patterns selected by Kitsbow. Kitsbow adds venting and abrasion-resistant patches to the shoulders and sleeves. Locally made clothes are a rarity, but this shirt is assembled in Oakland and the company’s Petaluma facility at the Foundry Wharf. You can hammer the trails and look good hoisting a beer at the pub afterwards in this handsome number.
Look for Kitsbow stuff at the Peddler in Santa Rosa and Studio Velo in Mill Valley or online at kitsbow.com.—Stett Holbrook
OCCIDENTAL LEATHER TOOL BAGS
As a writer and editor, I don’t have much need for a tool belt. Too bad. I’d love an excuse to wear one of Occidental Leather’s rugged but beautiful tool belts and caddies around the office.
I first spotted Occidental Leather products at Ace Hardware in Sebastopol. Turns out the company only sells its products to independent retailers, so you won’t find them at big-box stores like Home Depot. And they’re not based in Occidental, but, rather, Graton. They do all their design and production work in-house. Everything is made in the U.S.
Their carpenter bags are real beauties, but they also make a wide range of accessories for electricians, landscapers and weekend warriors like me. They now offer a line of good-looking iPad shoulder bags for you white-collar workers, too. If only they made a leather pocket protector, I could sport their stuff at work. occidentalleather.com.—S.H.
J’AMY TARR JACKETS
In other places, a jacket is a seasonal companion. You pull it out when skies turn gray and store it when it’s time to switch to tank tops. In the North Bay, a jacket is a permanent fixture, an eternal back seat passenger and a commuter’s best friend. With Karl the Fog, indian summer and other local weather phenomena, you never know when you might need an extra layer—hence, a designer focusing exclusively on outerwear makes a lot of sense.
Enter J’Amy Tarr, a Mill Valley native who has been doing just that for the last three years. Tarr was born and raised in Marin County and received an MFA in fashion design and applied textile design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. She’s no stranger to the fog.
“During my high school days at Tamalpais High School, I remembered seeing the fog silently roll over the redwood trees,” she recalls. “With it came cold, crisp weather that always called for a jacket.”
Tarr discovered her passion for outerwear while designing her first independent collection in 2012. “Not only do jackets and coats anchor an outfit quite unlike any other, but they are absolutely necessary in the Bay Area year-round,” she says. “The microclimates in San Francisco and varying temperatures throughout the Bay Area are key elements in my design inspiration.”
Tarr designs in a small studio in Mill Valley, sharing a building with the Hivery, a female-only co-working space. Her biggest influence? A type of coat, naturally. “Chiso, a traditional Japanese kimono company, is a huge inspiration of mine.” she says. “The company is said to create the essence of Japanese beauty because of its highly intricate, even laborious, designs on their kimonos. Each detail is poured over with such care that there is an artistry to it all.”
Though not as elaborate as the Chiso, Tarr’s jackets are thoughtfully made and are big on small details. The majority of them come in four shapes, repeated each season in different colors and prints: the Bomber, a zipped, slightly sporty piece; the Moto, a classic tighter fitting jacket; the Funnel Neck, an elongated zipped coat; and the Tux, an open tailored jacket. There are also heavier coats and a newer edition of the season’s hot trend, the cape, all in deep blues, shades of black and gray, with a brief appearance of camel and cream. The fabrics range from lightweight cotton blends to rich wools, and can accommodate different microclimates and nuances in the Bay Area weather patterns.
For the upcoming winter, Tarr plans to introduce a few more hues to her palette: crimson, bronze and frost. Capes are a strong collection leader, and so is the brand-new embellished Take Flight Moto jacket.
“These jackets are embellished with hand-cut leather and suede bird shapes inspired by the birds of the Marin Headlands,” Tarr says. “For me, the name represents the freedom that is associated with launching into new adventures in one’s life.”
For someone who creates such homey, cozy items, Whitney Lenox’s life has been very nomadic. She was born in Alabama and spent the majority of her adult life in the greater Nashville area.
“In my late 20s, I reconnected with an old friend from college,” she recalls, “and after dating for a few short weeks, he asked me to quit my job, sell all my stuff, and move to South Korea with him to teach English. And I did it! It was one of the best big decisions of my life.”
Upon returning to the States, after completing their teaching contracts and backpacking through Asia, the couple embarked on a 9,000-mile, cross-country road trip in an old pickup truck.
“We visited the Grand Canyon on this trip and decided then and there that it would be our next home” Lenox says. “We spent two great years living and working in the park, and then set our sights on California. We’re attracted to beautifully unique places, so it comes as no surprise that the Bay Area has been such a great fit for us.”
Settling in Mill Valley, with an apartment reserved by the future landlord without actually meeting (“He loved our story,” Lenox comments), and a new job in hand, Lenox was suddenly laid off six weeks after the move. Shocked to have so much free time, she remembered the idea of picking up fiber art skills she once had, and decided to give it a go.
“One week later, I found myself digging through boxes and boxes of beautiful vintage yarn at the Muir Beach community sale and it felt like a wink and a nod from the universe that I was on the right path.” she says. “I’m mostly self-taught and have been weaving since that day.”
For her brand, Tam Weavery, Lenox creates atmospheric, pretty and voluminous hangings incorporating wood, fiber and occasionally rocks. She uses jute, baby alpaca, wool blend, and cotton and favors earthy tones, deep blues and pastels. Each creation has a name: Elma, Ralston, Carrera, giving them a personal, animated appeal. As of now, the hangings, which are also sold at Lenox’s Etsy store, can be purchased at Beach House Style boutique in Fairfax.
“I believe weaving is having a resurgence because of a deep need to connect.” Lenox says. “What surprised me most is the sense of community I’ve found since picking up the craft. It has given me a new reason to connect with people in person, whether it be with a local shop owner or with a group of women at a weaver’s gathering or class. I love that it encourages me to step away from my digital life to use my hands and connect with the community around me.”
DYLAN FLYNN: BLACKSMITH
Blacksmith-artist Dylan Flynn works out of an old horse paddock up on the Big Mesa in Bolinas that provides a view of the Bolinas Ridge that’s as spectacular as it gets. On a recent dew-drenched morning, the young artist-blacksmith was hand-forging coat hooks and talking shop from an open-face horse stall he converted to his shop.
His anvil, the centerpiece of a small, open-face working space, is more than a hundred years old and was purchased at a Santa Rosa barn sale some 10 years ago. Flynn’s forge is an old electric transformer box that he rigged up to a propane gas tank. There’s no electricity, but Flynn installed a gas generator and built a box around it to keep the noise down. He saves up his jobs that require electricity and does them all at once.
It’s mighty quiet up here, other than the banging of Flynn’s hammer as he creates wrought-iron hooks in pastoral splendor. To put the finest of points on this uniquely Bolinas mixed-used commercial zone, there’s a young calf in a neighboring stall.
Flynn is 30 years old and studied blacksmithing at Warren Wilson College, a small liberal arts school near Asheville, N.C., that has historically been for rural kids to get an education, tuition-free, while also gaining real-life training in the school’s various work programs. The San Anselmo native heard about Warren Wilson U from a high school counselor at the Marin Academy after the young man expressed a certain disinterest in going to college at all.
Most of Flynn’s pay-the-bills work is done on commission, and his functional creations can cost thousands of dollars. A custom gate for a Berkeley homeowner falls into that category, but Flynn also creates custom pieces of hardware, giant hinges, door handles—and a four-piece fireplace set available at the Shop in Olema for $425.
The hooks retail for between $15 and $20 and the bottle openers go for $30, but it’s the last bottle opener you’ll ever need (makes a great, heavyweight stocking stuffer.) “Lifetime guarantee,” says Flynn as he gets back to the business of the day, hammering hooks and twisting them into fine filigree in preparation for upcoming holiday craft fairs in Point Reyes Station and Bolinas.
The only sound is the sound of his hammer and the wind. And the braying calf.
Check faultlineforge.comf or more info or contact Flynn directly at [email protected].—T.G.