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.
- photo by Joyce Alexander
- Rachel Reichert (left) and MIhelle Keller (right) don't toy around when it comes to crafts.
"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.