Ingenuity and passion sustain East Bay makers and purveyors
It doesn’t take much digging to uncover the astonishing number of creators, makers and purveyors creating, making and purveying all sorts of fun and useful items all over the East Bay. From beer to boats, from jewelry to giant scorpions, artists and craftspeople with the drive to build businesses from their passion have survived the pandemic and are looking to thrive. Take a look at a few from the Pinole-Richmond-Kensington swath and see what floats your boat or fuels your jewels.
Don’t Miss the Boat
Boatsmith Art Kleiner spent years floating in wooden boats on lakes in his native Switzerland. Now he creates handcrafted canoes, both functional and decorative, and makes tables and bookshelves based on canoes, as part of his Pinole-based business The Boat Smith. The “ArtCanoes” items are in addition to his custom marine woodwork for boats ranging from 10 to 45 feet in length. A custom-designed and built ArtCanoe will run you $3,850; a 5-foot boat bookcase, $565; and a cedar canoe table, $1,695. The meticulous craftsman might require six months to complete an order, depending on backlog, but what you’ll get could well become a family heirloom. Speaking of those, Kleiner can take sections of a beloved—but no longer seaworthy—boat, and incorporate them into a furniture piece.
If the job description “clockmaker” conjures up images of gnarled, white-haired Black Forest cuckoo clock crafters, you’ve never met Richmond’s Steve Hurst. His one-of-a-kind art clocks are made from found objects, recycled materials, glass, old CDs and just about anything he can find and recombine. Each clock has a name and a story, such as “Three Generations of Music,” made from vintage, as well as not-so-vintage audio gear and pieces of glass. Hurst has shown in multiple galleries and shows, and has been juried into the prestigious Sausalito Art Festival several times. Commissions are welcome, using pieces provided by the client, and Hurst also creates mantel, table and very large clocks, suitable for hotel and office lobbies and other big spaces. Prices vary from several hundreds to several thousands. The personable artist welcomes potential buyers by appointment in his Point Richmond studio.
Beer With Her
In a male-dominated occupation, Michelle Baker stands out. Her Richmond-based Origin Brewer residential brewery germinated while she hung out with friends and brewed beer in their backyards, and then took root when she began brewing beer in her own backyard. After years of filing paperwork with three different agencies, the 200-sq.-ft brewery, designed by Berkeley architects, now delivers beer to consumers in Richmond and El Cerrito and is also available at El Cerrito’s Elevation 66 and Richmond’s Factory Bar. Baker’s focus is on sustainably produced beers which use locally sourced ingredients—including grain from an Alameda farm—and stored rainwater. Staying small is fine with her. “I believe in enoughness,” she said. Current offerings include the mildly hopped-and-bitter Backyard IPA, crisp wheat Gardener’s Gose, 12-malt Mannered (English) Mild, refreshing Unconventional Kolsch, medium-bodied and roasty American Stout, and malt-focused, toffee-and-caramel notes Scotch Ale. Baker welcomes commercial inquiries as pubs and restaurants ramp back up.
Ride of His Life
Since 1976, Ed Litton has messed about building bikes in one way or another. He got his first racing bicycle “about 1965” and was a road racer for years, before slowly evolving into custom-building bike frames and the occasional complete bike. Litton Cycles designs, builds and paints frames for road, track, cycle-cross and other types of bicycles. Litton describes the process as similar to crafting a bespoke suit—using precise individual measurements is vital, and making it right takes time, sometimes as much as six months. “I like to talk to a customer about what they like and don’t like about their current bike,” he said. “It’s all about the experience of riding.” A custom frame costs somewhere around $2,600, depending on the complexity of the components. His Richmond shop also does restoration work.
Herbs That Heal
Four friends with the mission of “creating unity through wellness” are behind Natrully Herbs & More LLC. The shop is part of the ongoing push to renovate Richmond’s Main Street. Inside, you’ll find many organic herb powders, such as Irish sea moss and blue cohosh root, herbal tea blends like “Arthritis Support”—milk thistle, devil’s claw root, lemon verbena and holy basil, among other herbs—and herb-based bath, body and hair care products. Smudge sticks, used to cleanse rooms and building environments, are also available. Of special interest is the range of “Yoni” products. The Sanskrit word yoni is now popularly used to describe products created for women’s reproductive and sexual systems. Natrully Herbs’ Yoni Care items include a postpartum herbal bath blend, “Goddess Yoni Oil,” a fertility support tea blend and other products.
Glitter Like the Stars
Kensington jeweler Lisa Ihnken describes customers for her Heavenly Fragments line as “equal parts Holly Golightly and Carrie Bradshaw … pioneers of trendsetting styles all their own.” Since the mid-’90s, she’s handcrafted pieces from vintage costume jewelry sourced from thrift stores, garage sales and anywhere else she can find it. Her necklaces and earrings reflect the original history of the jewelry they’re made from. “You can see they aren’t mass produced in Hong Kong,” she said. Her line’s name, Heavenly Fragments, was inspired by the “fragments” she uses to create her pieces, and by the gleam they share with the stars. Prices range from $22–$120. Custom pieces for special occasions are available. Ihnken also sells intact vintage pieces from her own collection. Currently, her line is available only on her Etsy shop, https://tinyurl.com/ub44ztxx, but contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
You Dream It, They’ll Make It
From the giant baseball mitt at Oracle Stadium to the enormous scorpion in the Oakland Zoo’s California Wilds! playground, odds are you’ve seen something designed by the scientific-but-playful makers at Richmond’s Scientific Art Studio. Founder Ron Holthuysen began fusing science with whimsy in Amsterdam in 1980, moved to Berkeley in 1993 and then to the 2-acre warehouse facility in Richmond in 2005. Now, Holthuysen and “around 10” artists, designers and engineers—one is tempted to call them co-conspirators—“are always making beautiful things that are just beyond our current capabilities,” he said, including a huge baobab tree destined for the San Francisco Zoo. Almost all of the studio’s projects come by referral from delighted clients. They’re currently working with Richmond nonprofit Pogo Park on a complete reimagining of several inner-city blocks, with the launch of the “Yellow Brick Road” project in Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood happening this week. “Coming soon,” according to the website, is an online store for merchandise, limited-edition prints and collectables. And they are always ready for the next dream project.