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Enlighten Me: Local artisans offer unique holiday gift options

Nicole Kristiana Studio
Nicole Kristiana Studio art work

If you have a friend or family member who likes to flip their lid, sip some snark, engage in some alphabetic animalistic whimsy or just absorb the sweet scents of nature, Delaware’s artists and crafters have holiday gifts that might be ideal for some of the names on your shopping list.

“I am extremely disciplined. I spend at least two hours each night and dedicate four hours a day on weekends,” says Nicole Kristiana Logan of Bellefonte, explaining how she has created a thriving business for her Nicole Kristiana Studio while holding down a fulltime job as an advertising account executive for Bank of America.

For natural fragrance maker Robin Kielkowski of Wilmington, personal service is the key. “Everything I sell is local,” she says. “Sometimes it’s easier to drop it off” at the customer’s home than pack it up and put it in the mail.

Here’s a sampling of the offerings of four local artisans whose creations might help you spread some holiday cheer. All of them exhibited in September at the Brandywine Festival of the Arts in Wilmington, but you don’t have to wait ’til next year to check them out. Their items can be ordered online (and some are in retail outlets), and the artists/crafters say they usually ship a day or two after an order is received.

First State Caps

In April or May, teacher Eric Lewis of north Wilmington was brainstorming for ideas to generate some extra income and he settled on an item that’s a natural for spring and wearable for most of the year – a baseball cap.

Not an ordinary cap, mind you, but one that marks its wearer as a fan of all things Delaware. He went online and found five images symbolic of the First State – a horseshoe crab, a blue hen, a peach blossom, a ladybug and a blue crab – and enlisted a graphic designer friend to tweak the images and another friend to sew the embroidered designs onto the caps. By the end of June he was ready to start selling.

Credit First State Caps
First State Caps
An example of one product from First State Caps.

The caps come in a variety of colors, and sell for $25 (adult size with an adjustable leather strap) or $20 (youth size, with a velcro strap).

Most of the sales so far have come through a Facebook page and the etsy crafters’ portal. “We’re not in any retail stores at this point,” says Lewis, explaining that he’s working on scaling up the business enough to create a price point that’s reasonable both for him and any retail outlet.

He made his first big splash in September at the Brandywine Festival of the Arts, easily selling more than enough caps to cover his vendor fee.

Lewis, who teaches kids with mental and emotional health issues at Concord High School, says his caps are ideal for Delaware residents, or for anyone who enjoys spending time in the state. “We’re all things Delaware,” he says.

Nicole Kristiana Studios

There’s a little bit of everything in Nicole Kristiana Logan’s artwork – whimsical, bohemian originals and prints that start with gouache and inks and end with a blend of wild patterns and intricate detail. Her specialty is animal art –from armadillos to zebras with plenty of surprises in between.

“It’s great for kids and it’s sophisticated enough for adults,” she says.

Credit Nicole Kristiana Studio
Work from Nicole Kristiana Studio

A print from her animal alphabet collection could literally become the initial piece of artwork in a child’s bedroom, and a grouping could easily spell out a child’s name.

And her patterned animals – the ones not configured like letters – merge imagination with a sense of detail that is equally appealing to the adult eye.

As confirmation, she points to her success with a current show at a retirement home in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. “I’ve got 23 originals there, and they’re selling like gangbusters,” she says.

Logan’s work appeals not only to every age group, but also to every price range, with open edition 5- by 7-inch prints starting at $19 and originals going for $1,800 or more.

Logan’s prints and originals are available at the Nicole Kristiana Studio website and at the Delaware Art Museum store, the Delaware Contemporary and Bellefonte Arts. In addition, she will be featured in December as the artist of the month at the Main Stage Gallery of the Grand Opera House. An opening reception will be held Friday, Dec. 1, as part of the monthly Wilmington Art Loop.

What She Said Pottery

Lindsey Ostafy’s mugs are not for everyone.

Well, the matching Mom and Dad set might be, and the ones that read “nasty woman” and “nevertheless she persisted” would likely draw props from friends of the Clinton clan, but she characterizes most of the pithy phrases hand-painted onto her mugs with a single word: “snarky.”

Credit Larry Nagengast
Lindsey Ostafy of What She Said Pottery shows off and example of her work.

“It’s a little bit of everything – from pop culture, funny things my friends say, get a bunch of friends together with a bottle of wine,” she explains.

How better to explain lines like “not my circus, not my monkeys,” “bitches get stuff done,” “calm your tits” and a few others we won’t mention here.

Buyers can custom-order mugs with whatever phrasing they choose – and the price is the same as the ones Ostafy has in stock, $25.

Ostafy, who teaches fine arts at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, started making mugs seven years ago as wedding gifts for her friends. When the “Mr. & Mrs.” And “Happily Married” versions proved popular, she began adding some variety to her phrasing and started selling on Etsy.

Making the mugs is a time-consuming process, but she prepares them in batches. First she throws the mugs on a pottery wheel, and then she throws the handle separately. After the mug dries for four or five days, she fires it in the kiln, then hand-paints the phrasing and fires it again. “It’s a lot of little bits of time,” spread over about two weeks, she says.

Ostafy, whose studio is in her Newark home, exhibited at the Brandywine Festival of the Arts for the first time this year and sold out her entire stock – more than 200 mugs – at the two-day event.

She says she loves the reaction when people see her pottery for the first time. “Some laugh so hard, and others are appalled,” she says. “Sometimes I see couples arguing over them. They’re definitely a conversation starter.”

To see or order mugs from What She Said Pottery, visit its pages on Facebook or etsy.

Brandywine Botanicals

Robin Kielkowski had been “playing with blending perfumes for a couple of years” before deciding it was worth trying as a home-based business.

She revved up her production in the spring, launched a website for Brandywine Botanicals in June and, like First State Caps, made her sales debut at the Brandywine Festival of the Arts.

Credit Larry Nagengast
Robin Kielkowski is the artisan behind Brandywine Botanicals.

Making perfume isn’t complex, but it’s time-consuming and requires a steady hand, precise measuring and a good sense for scents. Kielkowski, who has a day job with Bank of New York Mellon, creates natural fragrances, using essential oils provided by suppliers who emphasize ethical harvesting and do not use sprays on any of their crops.

“I do a lot of research, reading about fragrances, and I come up with a concept,” she says. She starts by making a small sample, about 15 milliliters, then puts it aside to age for three or four weeks. If she likes the fragrance, she will make more. If not, she will tweak the mixture or scrap it altogether.

When she created her lime sage fragrance, Kielkowski said she didn’t like it at first. She let it age for another month and found it was “really nice.” Now, she says, “it’s my best seller.”

Kielkowski doesn’t manufacture large batches, saying “200 milliliters (less than 7 ounces) is big for me.” A one-ounce bottle is the largest she sells.

Most of her fragrances are sold in quarter-ounce bottles for $45. A one-ounce bottle costs $145.

“We’re not inexpensive,” she says. “We use very high-grade materials.”

But, as she points out, if it’s convenient, she will also make deliveries in person.

It’s admittedly hard to get a sense of a fragrance from the website, so Kielkowski urges customers to buy one of Brandywine Botanicals’ sample kits to discover what they like best. Brandywine Botanicals products are also available at the Winterthur gift shop and at Arden & James on Route 1 in Chadds Ford, Pa.

Brandywine Botanicals will also have a table at the Delaware Contemporary on Friday, Dec. 1, for the annual Holiday Craft Show/Taste of the Holidays event that is also part of the monthly Wilmington Art Loop.