Women of the World: Transcending Borders With Art

by Jane Stringham //

As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, the notion of “home” is just not a fixed one.  Whether by necessity, force, or choice, sometimes our homes — both conceptually and physically — become uprooted. 

And rebuilding them doesn’t happen overnight.

Women of the World (WoW) recognizes this truth through their support of local refugee women— our neighbors — working hard to make Utah their home.  Much of WoW’s mission, called the “Self-Sufficiency Program,” includes harnessing and honing pre-existing skills, like creativity.  As we learned by hosting WoW for a workshop, there is great restorative power in creating something by hand.  It is a way to re-root ourselves and take ownership of our homes — especially when that creative something is also decorative.

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On September 20, the women of Hip & Humble partnered with WoW and Craft Lake City to host an art workshop for WoW’s close-knit group of refugee women.  If you caught our pendant embroidery workshop in August you’ll know that this wasn’t our first CLC collab, but it was one very close to our hearts — and around a year in the making. 

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Throughout our planning process, we found that WoW’s community-centric values resonate with those of Hip & Humble.  In fact, the workshop was a delightfully unexpected departure from a traditional “collect-and-donate” service model.  “This is the first time we’ve done an event like this, the first time we’ve done a craft together,” said WoW case manager Mckenzie Cantlon (below) and, with the event's focus on process and self-reliance, it truly reflected the non-profit’s values. 

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“We want all women to feel safe, here,” H&H owner Sheridan said to workshop attendees by way of welcome.  “This shop is always open to everyone, particularly women, even if you just need to get out of the house!  Our gift to the community is providing a safe space for women to be.”  As Sheridan’s last word hung in the air, so too did all the implications of “being”: existing, fighting, recovering, being strong, being ourselves.

Given our timeline leading up to the workshop, it’s no surprise that Sheridan (and managers Ash and Jolene) gravitated toward the idea of supporting refugees, what with the charged political climate surrounding the fraught border crossings over the last year.  “We own the shop building, so we’re lucky that we can do an event like this," said Sheridan.

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Those who do uproot, who resettle amidst a new language, geography and culture, often crave community soon after that resettlement.  Along with Sheridan, Craft Lake City’s Angela H. Brown welcomed workshop attendees before Lisa Lewis of Light and Ink began her class.  Angela reiterated the CLC mission, “to elevate Utah’s creative culture through science, technology and art,” a community-building gesture that so often begins with self-expression. 

Many women from WoW hail from Iraq and know each other from biweekly English classes.  Even when mastering self-expression in a second language, art has the power to transcend linguistic barriers.  How fitting, then that our new neighbors express themselves, find connections and share their stories at an art class.

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Before gold-leafing terra cotta pots with Lisa (above) H&H staff and women from WoW introduced themselves.  No matter who was speaking, these commonalities stood out: we are mothers, many of us single mothers; we are career-women; we are students; and, finally, we are here to learn new skills together —courtesy of Lisa Lewis’ expertise.

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Lisa Lewis has hosted similar gold-leafing workshops with Craft Lake City in the past, so she was old-hat when it came to explaining the design process.  Gold-leafing is an accessible craft; it served as a fine focal point for continued conversation among H&H staff and women from WoW.  “This was a chance for all of us to make connections, yes, but also to provide a space for women from WoW who are very much alike to find connections with each other,” said Sheridan.  

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If they weren’t gold-leafing and making new connections, H&H staff were drawing on McLelland Street’s sidewalks with the kids that came along — remember, so many women supported by WoW are single mothers.  When the appeal of sidewalk chalk wore off, SLC manager Ashley broke out local cookies and temporary tattoos. 

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(Bountiful manager Jo, a working mother herself, finished up her gold-leafing out back.)  Finally, Cactus & Tropicals provided workshop attendees with flowers to fill their newly-embellished pots — which we finished up just before sunset.

Want to get involved with WoW?  They are always looking for volunteers and mentors, mostly in the South Salt Lake and West Valley regions.  Check out upcoming volunteer opportunities here; we know we will be.  Thank you again, to WoW and Craft Lake City, for making this collaboration possible!

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