A Meeting of Mends:
The Mend Project teaches craft through creation and donation
Written By Tara Morgan
Nov. 5th, 2008
A pirate owl adjusts his tattered eye-patch, clears his throat and raps the floor with his tiny wooden peg leg. A sea of doll-faced whales and button-eyed, purple-legged octopi settle into their seats. The Mend School of Craft is now in session.
To Rachel Reichert and Michelle Keller, who started the nonprofit Mend Project, nothing has the possibility to inspire a child’s imagination like a handmade, one-of-a-kind toy. The two met in the metal-smithing program at Boise State but soon realized their passion for crafts extended beyond their personal creations and into educating the Boise community at large.
“We both had the idea of elevating craft, especially in our community and on the West Coast,” says Keller. “There isn’t as much knowledge on the West Coast or, I guess, appreciation of craft as there is on the East Coast.”
The Mend Project has a simple mission: to expand the awareness of craft, improve quality of life for those in need and provide an organizational opportunity to give back.
“Basically in our mission, what we hope to do, is be a bridge between the people that are creating the objects and people that are in need of those objects,” says Reichert.
Last June, Mend launched Project One as a part of the Modern Art Fair at the Modern Hotel. With a budget of only $100, the two collected and created 30 handmade stuffed animals, which were then donated to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance of Boise. Their second project, the Altered Toy Project, has a similar revamped-toy theme, but on a larger scale. Keller and Reichert put out a call to artists around the world to recycle their old toys and create durable, unique new toys for the Children’s Home Society of Idaho.
“With this project, each one of these toys was handmade by an artist somewhere in the world, and that toy will be given to one child, and there will not be another toy like it anywhere else in the world,” says Keller. “It’s a one-of-a-kind thing that someone took a lot of thought and care creating.”
With a handful of posts advertising the Altered Toy Project on craft- and metal-smithing blogs, the two quickly found their apartments overflowing with reconstructed toys from places as far away as Sweden and Canada. Some of the more than 100 toys donated include: a small anime-inspired yellow cat with fangs and pointy ears; a bunny with bloodshot eyes with a baby sling cradling a blue-haired Troll; and a drunk-looking ostrich with shimmery red wings, tie-dyed legs and pigeon-toed feet. For the foster children who will be receiving these eccentric toys, the chance to receive a toy, arduously crafted just for them, is a rarely afforded opportunity that can inspire creativity and a sense of personal ownership.
“We hope to be able to give these people who couldn’t afford these objects the opportunity to be a part of craft,” says Reichert.
To help build a more craft-aware community, Reichert and Keller have begun teaching craft workshops to kids. One of their workshops was a variation on the “exquisite corpse” theme for a class of fifth-graders at an alternative school in Ketchum. Each class member received one stuffed animal that they disassembled—removing arms, legs, heads and tails. They then traded these parts among their peers and reassembled quirky new stuffed animals that were donated to the WCA.
“There were three kids that were looking at all the toys and were like, ‘Oh, I want to keep my toy.’ And I told them, ‘Well, you know this toy is for a kid who probably doesn’t have a toy, and you made it for them.’ So I think for them to experience creating something, then actually giving it away, is great,” Reichert says.
But Reichert and Keller have plans to extend the Mend Project beyond just toy-based crafts in the future. They have a reconstructed clothing project in the works as well as a recycled eyewear project. For the eyewear project, the two will collect donated lenses with common prescriptions, then put out a call for metal-smiths, glass and resin artists to create funky new frames. They hope to donate these completed glasses to people in other countries who are unable to afford eyewear.
“We’re going to work with some optometrists for this project who have already been working with these organizations, assisting people who need eyewear,” says Keller.
But these future projects are still just a glimmer in Reichert and Keller’s eyes. The Altered Toy Project is currently taking up all of their time—and floor space. The two have finalized plans for the project’s opening event on First Thursday, Nov. 6, at the Linen Building, which will go from 6 p.m. to midnight and start with a pre-party at the Modern Hotel bar. In addition to live music and refreshments, the event will also include a silent auction featuring art pieces in a variety of mediums generously donated by the project’s participants. The show then moves to Hailey on Friday, Nov. 14, for another silent auction and live music by ATTN at Grange Hall.
“We have a bunch of silent auction items that people have donated from all over the world, too,” notes Keller. “A lot of people sent a toy and an auction item, which was kind of a pleasant surprise.”
In a state that is for the most part still finding its crafty legs, The Mend Project hopes to become the go-to nonprofit space dedicated to promoting the knowledge of crafts. The two are looking for a permanent home for Mend, where they will offer a variety of classes to the community and, hopefully, turn the fictional Mend School of Craft from child’s play to a creative reality.
“The thing about craft, for me—unlike art where art is very much either something beautiful or something conceptual—craft is something that you can actually turn into a functional object and reach a broader audience,” explains Keller. “I really hope that all of our projects can do that.”
Thursday, Nov. 6, pre-party, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Modern Hotel, 1314 W. Grove St., 208-424-8244. Main event, 6 p.m. to midnight The Linen Building, 1402 W. Grove St., 208-385-0111. Hailey event on Friday, Nov. 14, 6 p.m. to midnight, Grange Hall, 609 Third Ave., Hailey. For more information, visit themendproject.com.
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Mending the Misfit Toys: Boise Artists Redefine Recycling
Written by Emily Ryan
Boise Journal Fall 2008
Idaho Media Publishing
Those of us who frequent thrift stores realize that there is an abundant of secondhand toys, some well-loved and some in their original packaging, waiting to be… transformed? Giving new life to these childhood treasures is the premise of The Altered Toy Project, the most recent scheme hatched by altruistic masterminds Rachel Reichert and Michelle Keller.
The Altered Toy Project is about taking those old, forgotten toys, cutting them up, splicing together, embellishing them or performing any other modification the artists can imagine. The altered toys will be gathered for an art show and silent auction on November sixth, and then donated to the Children’s Home Society of Idaho, a nonprofit group that offers counseling and other services.
Reichert and Keller are co-founders of The Mend Project, a nonprofit on the forefront of the handmade revolution. Their shared attitude and mission is full of the most passionate idealism. While the beneficiaries of their projects thus far have been local, the duo have international ambitions and a variety of objectives to keep them busy. “Right now what we are focusing on is educating our community about craft, and also doing different outreach programs with a variety of different organizations, “ says Keller.
“It’s kind of a grand scheme,” Reichert adds, noting their mission statement also involves promoting the use of handmade objects in everyday life, and giving to people in need. Humanitarian and environmental implements abound.
When asked about the inspiration behind The Altered Toys Project in particular, Reichert explains that there has been a fierce demand for quality playthings after the recent and ongoing uproar over trusted toymakers recalling toys made with lead paint. Parents had begun to fear the substandard and downright hazardous materials with which today’s toys are sometimes made. “It’s inappropriate as an aware society,” she urges, “a society that should be thinking and taking care of each other, and doing better for our self’s and the world.”
Reichert and Keller’s goal for this project was to collect more than one hundred toys for donation. “We’re actually going to end up with more like two or three hundred,” Keller beams. Entries came from across the world: Sweden, Germany, Canada, and England, to name a few.
Aside from charitable projects, such as a previous handmade toy donation to the Women’s’ and Children’s Alliance and an upcoming garment project with Dress for Success, Reichert and Keller have instituted an outreach program to teach art in schools, where lack of funding has caused a decline in art education. They endeavor to show children that there is a different path: a necessary reminder that math and science are not the only important subjects
The Mend Project is about giving back to the community; it’s art with a heart, delivered to the doorstep of organizations in need of something beyond monetary donations. And it’s keeping its cofounders rather occupied.
“We don’t sleep anymore,” laughs Reichert.
To see what projects are currently in the works and how to get involved, please visit http://www.themendporject.com.