Joel Kelly is always on the lookout for unique handmade things. Today, he’s admiring a dramatic seascape painting by New Brunswick artist Natasha Miller. “She actually takes charcoal from her wood-fired pizza oven and incorporates it into the background, and then she paints in acrylics,” he says.
Kelly and his partner Mark Smith co-own Made in the Maritimes, a new artisan boutique in Sunnyside Mall that offers artwork, furniture, décor, jewellery and skin care from artisans and small suppliers across the Maritimes.
The duo launched the store on April 30, after months of digging to find the best artisans. “We spent about a year looking around to get the good stuff,” Kelly says. “We were aiming for unique, high-quality items that were in a more contemporary style.”
They put out a call looking for artists and suppliers on social media last December and had about 500 comments from people wanting to apply. “We spent all of January and February weeding through the list,” Kelly recalls.
They narrowed it down to 90 artisans/suppliers. They sell the artwork on consignment and the other items wholesale. “As we sell pieces, new stuff will be coming in,” Kelly says. “It’s nice that we get to switch things up.”
Kelly is enjoying the store’s Sunnyside Mall location. “It’s an awesome spot,” he says. “There is nothing else like us here or elsewhere in Bedford. They are starting to get the mall back to being a boutique-shopping destination with shops that focus on high-quality, unique and local products, which is exactly what Made in the Maritimes celebrates.” For them, there is a personal connection with handmade items. “It creates a connection between the creator and the purchaser,” says Kelly.
“Customers like to know the backstory on things. Everything in here has a story that goes along with it.” They also enjoy carrying items from artists who are not represented by galleries or stores, such as pottery by Ginette Arsenault of Shediac, New Brunswick and handcrafted furniture by Halifax’s Bobby Grace.
The store’s recent sponsorship of the Halifax Crafters Market led to some exciting discoveries of new and emerging artists. “We sponsored the Fresh Catch group of emerging designers,” Kelly says. “Now we are carrying these incredible woven rugs by Isabelle Gosselin. She is based in Halifax but is currently tree planting out West for the summer.” The chunky, macramé-like rugs are an exclusive offering at the store.
They also discovered the whimsical furniture and décor made from recycled materials by Birdmouse, a furniture store and gallery in Prince Edward Island owned by Lenny and Heather Gallant; they craft furniture and décor from salvaged materials. “We have some up-cycled birdhouses from them right now that are made from an old pump organ,” Kelly says.
He has been surprised by the demand for certain items, in particular the custom pillows featuring the store’s logo by Girliture; Tanya Owen runs the Kentville-based business and creates custom handpainted pillows. “Today, I’m unpacking our second order of 20 pillows,” he says. “They are really popular.”
Kelly has been using social media to get the word out about the store and its unique products. The company’s Facebook page had about 5,000 likes at press time. “Some of our artists don’t have these skills,” he says.
“Facebook and Instagram have been huge for us. We photograph the products when new things come in and we get a lot of customer inquiries that way. Recently, a woman from Regina was here visiting family. She had seen our Facebook page and popped into the store. That kind of exposure really gives us an edge.”