Gifts made by Maryland craftspeople make distinctive holiday presents


November 07, 1996|By Ellen Uzelac

If you're like a lot of us, the thought of gift-buying descends this time of year like a dark cloud. The crowds! The expense! That gnawing sense of same old, same old everywhere you look! Well, have we got a gift for you.

Imagine a one-of-a-kind gift crafted in a Maryland studio, something that's functional but decorative, too. Now, imagine 10 of them. As a sampling of some of the special work that's being done across the state, we have tracked down artisans -- some long-established and a few up-and-comers -- who make everything from knives to journals to silk scarves to horns, and more. But not just any knife, journal, scarf or horn. These gifts are all made by hand, not mass produced on a factory assembly line.

* Folks usually store their journals in a private place, but the ones that 32-year-old Monique Duval makes in her Charles Village studio are so eye-catching that they are as pleasing to look at as to write in. Priced from $25 to $30, the journals are fashioned from brown paper bags, newspaper and an Oriental paper called joss. An image, usually of a woman, appears somewhere on the front cover, along with one of Duval's "vignettes." An example: "On Tuesday, Juanita woke up and realized she had forgotten the definition of the word 'Impossible.' She decided it must not have been important."

An unabashed romantic, Duval says, "The message of my work, if there is one at all, is the thing compelling me to do my art: Basically, follow your heart." Duval began selling the journals a year ago at shops such as Tomlinson's Craft Collection at the Rotunda and the American Visionary Art Museum gift shop. New this year: wearable journals that double as purses, $48 to $55.

* Picture the lighting in colonial Williamsburg, Va., or Sturbridge, Mass., and you'll get a notion of the kinds of period fixtures John Ramsey puts together at his workshop in Chestertown. A specialist when it comes to hard-to-light spaces, Ramsey makes everything himself, except for the sockets for the electric candles. Materials that go into the chandeliers, sconces and lanterns include cherry, walnut and poplar woods as well as copper, brass and antiqued tin.

Ramsey's father began making the old-style lighting more than three decades ago, turning the business over to his oldest son, John, now 48, in 1977. Even Ramsey has been surprised at the latest look in Colonial-style fixtures that some of his customers are requesting. "Faux rust, can you believe it? The older and cruddier, the better," says Ramsey. "It's very hot right now."

Ramsey's fixtures, ranging from $100 to $2,500, can be purchased at the Washington Design Center, 300 D St. S.W., Washington, D.C. Or, for a brochure, call the Deep Landing Workshop, (410) 778-4042.

* When Katherine Dilworth, 31, a Woodbine batik artist, began making clothes for kids five years ago, she called her business, Big Pig, using as her logo a tiny pig on a giant Earth. The logo didn't work so well when she expanded into her adult line ("Most women don't want to be associated with that image," she says) so she gave the business a new name, Drew Zoo Batik.

Dilworth creates playful animal, star and tree designs by painting melted wax on cotton, linen and fleece. The colorful line includes infant and children's wear and leggings and dresses for women. Prices range from $28 to $60. "It's always unique with a process like mine," says Dilworth, whose clothing will be displayed at the Out of Hand craft show behind the College of Notre Dame on Dec. 1. "You can tell someone's hand did each design, and did it slightly differently." For a catalog, call Drew Zoo, (410) 442-5568.

* After potter Del Martin built his home overlooking the Potomac River in Sharpsburg, visitors wanted him to make for them what they saw in his house: the dinnerware, the casserole dishes, even the bathroom sink. It's been 24 years now since Martin began putting his compound together with its studio, salesroom and passive solar house, and he is something of an institution among Western Maryland folk who pay attention to pottery.

His roots are in folk pottery, but at age 53 he's begun to grow in an impressionistic, conceptual direction, spending more time thinking about just what makes a form work. "I will always make things that are useful and that can be used," says Martin. "The difference is you start to question why." In addition to dinnerware, Martin makes lamps, wall pieces, fountains, planters and yes, every two weeks, he turns out a bathroom sink. Foxcross Pottery, (301) 432-6692, is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment. Most items are priced from $25 to $45. Sinks range from about $500 to $600.

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