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VOL. 37 | NO. 48 | Friday, November 29, 2013

Variety the key to Porter Flea success

By Jennifer Justus

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Meagan Hall, 31, grew up in Rockvale and Murfreesboro before heading to the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville for a degree in textiles and fiber design.

She then moved out to the Pacific Northwest to live for about seven years and returned to Tennessee about a year and half ago.

Hall splits her time between work at Murfreesboro Center for the Arts and making her own art – hand-drawn and screen printed bags, tea towels, woodworking and wood jewelry, among other crafts, which can be found at www.wonder-thunder.com.

Hall made her first bags in 2008, which were featured in the Better Homes & Garden Holiday Gift Guide in 2010.

Q: What inspired you to start this business?

A: “When I lived out in Portland – I lived in Seattle and Portland – I had my degree in textile design, and I was trying to make a living. I guess I saw a need for myself for one [of the bags]. When I would go to the grocery store, I didn’t like having a bunch of plastic bags. Mostly when you go to the vegetable aisle…you’re just reeling off all these plastic bags.

“So I made a couple for myself just to take to the grocery store. And people commented on them there, so I started coming up with designs and screen printing them in my basement, and then pitching them to a number of stores, and people started buying them, and it started snowballing from there.

“It started with a lot of little different things – little screen-printed clothing items, T-shirts, scarves, all kinds of stuff. But the vegetable bags are what first took off pretty big, which allowed me to expand to other things. I started doing tea towels and sort-of kitchen items and focused on that while I was in Seattle.’’

Q: So what are you focusing on right now?

A: “I’ve done the vegetable bags for about six years. So I still love them. I still think they’re useful, and I enjoy making them. But my house that I moved into is my grandparents’ old house. They had a woodshop in the garage, so I started going up there and messing around.

“I’ve been making some collage wood pieces, and I’m going to have some jewelry at Porter Flea. So it’s a pretty big turn from what I was doing before, but I think it’s good to keep exploring different methods and trying new things. I never like to get stuck on one process.’’

Q: You’ve participated in Porter Flea in the past?

A: “This will be my third one. I did the holiday market last year, and the summer (market) this year…I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I’d been gone from Middle Tennessee for so long.

“I was so amazed at the community that showed up. I did craft fairs in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and up and down the West Coast. By far my best shows, with the most positive crowds, were here in Nashville. The response from the people is just really incredible.’’

Q: I was going to ask about the differences in the craft movements here and in other cities where you’ve lived. Anything you want to add?

A: “One thing I noticed coming back to Nashville is the variety of the types of things that were being made that were different – a lot of different mediums, people doing really unusual things. Because a lot of times, since we have the Internet and Etsy and Pinterest and all that, I feel like it’s sometimes easy to get on there, and everyone’s being inspired by the same things.

“Sometimes that maybe results in a lot of people following some craft trends, (and) similar things being made. But when I came back to Nashville, I was so impressed with the variety of things and originality of the work being made here. I feel like people are really supportive here, and it’s a really solid community. People are enthusiastic and help other artists succeed. I never get a feeling of hostility or competition that’s unfriendly. I think it’s a very positive supportive community.’’

Q: Wonder why there’s a variety here?

A: “I don’t know. It’s not like the Internet doesn’t exist here. I’ve wondered that myself… It just seems like people are generating a lot of interesting, new ideas here.’’

Q: And what do you think makes the community so supportive here?

A: “I think one [reason] is because it’s sort of new. When you go to Seattle, the community is huge. So you don’t really know everybody. It seems like to me that the smallness is a benefit, because you can really know everybody. I also just think people are excited.’’

Q: Is Wonder Thunder full-time for you?

A: “I thought I wanted to do this full-time, and I tried to do this full-time for a while. But to me it sort of crushed my creative spirit a little bit thinking, ‘what will people buy? What should I make to make money? I need to sell this stuff, so I can pay my rent.’ That just doesn’t work in my brain creatively. It sort of shuts everything down, and I can’t make anything.

“But other people don’t work like that. I know plenty of people who do their craft full-time, and they just make and make, and it works out for them.

“I like the security of having a day job – but involved in the arts. I like the community it gives me access to – people coming through the gallery or people in the theatre. I like having that interaction with other people’s creative projects.

“I can just go out and make something and not worry about whether someone’s going to buy it or not.’’

Q: What have you learned through this work?

A: “Running a business and trying to be creative at the same time, you can’t – I mean you can, but to me -- you can’t follow trends to make your artwork. I think people can see whether you’re excited or not in the work that you make. I think they can see whether you’re making it to make a profit, or it’s a real passion.’’

“My lesson on this was to follow my gut, follow my intuition and that’s where the good work was going to come from. Your best work is coming from what you feel, not you looking out and seeing what needs to be made. It’s just sort of a process that comes naturally and comes out of your hands.’’

Q: What are most looking forward to about Porter Flea?

A: “I think it’s easy sometimes when you’re in the studio just to focus in, and it’s just you there working. I really enjoy talking to people (vendors and customers).

“The interaction with people is something that I really enjoy at each craft fair. [Co-founders] Katie [Vance], Jessica [Maloan] and Brent [Elrod] do such an amazing job having done a lot of craft fairs…It’s just a pleasure to be there.

“There are so many people in Nashville who will come and say, ‘we’ve been wishing something like this would happen for years.’ It’s nice to meet that community.’’

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