It is seldom, with the exception of the farmer's market, that a person finds soy candles, body polish and potato baking bags made by Idaho artists in one location. But now there's Tater Joe's, a new indoor marketplace that offers unique products like these, plus numerous others made by Idahoans.
Scott Nicholson and John Cotton opened Tater Joe's in October 2006 with the intent of offering local artists a gallery-like haven where they could show and sell their work. After exploring the store for a while, I gathered that they are open to all art forms (with discretion, of course); their only requirement is that the work be locally handcrafted. Choosing only locally-made products is their attempt to bring "fair trade" to Idahoans and contribute to the local economy. Tater Joe's Web site states the following: "If every adult in Idaho switched just $100 a year from buying goods made outside of Idaho or the U.S., over $100 million would be added to our state's economy. That's a lot of money being passed around! Set a goal for you and your business to buy Idaho goods and services."
Originally, Nicholson and Cotton planned to run the store like a gallery, where artists could buy retail space by splitting the cost of an overall lease. However, after they accumulated a collective of artists with varying shelf, wall, and space needs, they decided to manage the store by commission instead. Currently, artists give 20 to 30 percent of sales to Tater Joe's. Compared to some galleries, this percentage is small--it may just be the saving grace for some artists.
While artists do have to pay Nicholson and Cotton commission, the two men are more than willing to assist with whatever help the artists may need with regard to sales and set-up. Artists are encouraged to set-up their displays as they prefer to see them, but if they live too far away from Boise and this isn't feasible, Nicholson and Cotton will set up themselves and then take photographs to send to the artists for approval. Artists are also welcome to spend time in the store visiting with customers and answering questions, but they are not required to be present--there is always staff on hand to take care of purchases.
With over 65 artists contributing to Tater Joe's, the shopping selection is beyond diverse. There is an abundance of food, games, jewelry, photographs, greeting cards, paintings, clothing, skin care products and so forth. There are a few products too "craftsy" for my personal liking--the kind that are more fun to make than look at every day--but overall, Idaho's artists prove to be a talented bunch. If you aren't worn out from the holidays and still have some Christmas money just waiting to be spent, recommend stopping by Tater Joe's and supporting your artistic neighbors. Here are my 10 favorite picks in no particular order:
1. Michelle Larson's Creative Gift Baskets. I particularly like her Idaho Redneck Gift Basket, which is an old pick-up truck (not to scale, of course), filled with BarbieQ Sauce, Road Kill Teriyaki and Sunflower Em-N-Ems. Larson also has wagon and log cabin gift baskets for sale.
2. The Honey Store. They offer delicious-looking creamed honey, honey bears and honey sticks.
3. Lasting Impressions by Merine Heberger. Heberger salvages old dominoes and paints the non-game side with detailed images of pine trees, butterflies, flowers, animals or travel motifs. Perfect for parents who prefer that their children play with technology-free toys. Some sets serve as both matching and domino games.
4. Allan R. Ansell photographs. "Photography concentrating on the beauty of human beings." His nudes mastermind line and shadow. My favorites celebrate the mystery of pregnancy.
5. Yoga-Yingo by Jeanette Runnings. Matching games of yoga poses meant for children at home, children's yoga classes, schools, day-care centers and therapy sessions.
6. Wayne L. Kidwell photography. Antique NuGrape, a portrait of an old NuGrape soda bottle, photographed, printed and framed by Kidwell.
7. Dudley and Dell Mausling's Idaho Cards and Photos. They make personalized cards and also transfer old slides and photos to CD to preserve them. (Kudos to Dudley and Dell for their noteworthy names.
8. Kristi's Kandles. Kristi's NVSoy Candles are non-toxic, and petroleum- and paraffin-free.
9. New Brantford Pottery by Lon Gilbert. His "common vessels of uncommon quality" include large bowls, pie pans, wine holders and cookie jars all with a soothing bluish/purple finish.
10. Spanish Simplified Language Learning Program by Gail Lebow. Expand your worldview.
There was one product I found in Tater Joe's that certainly wasn't made in Idaho but must be there because it's about Idaho: Parker Brothers' Monopoly Idaho. The game itself was made in Carlsbad, California (at least it's in the U.S.) and the dice were made in ... China! Maybe Cotton and Nicholson ought to consider taking the game off their store shelves to stay true to what they state on their Web site: "We've been to some stores which are thought to only have products of Idaho and have been sadly disappointed to see products from China."
Along with products for sale, Tater Joe's offers a large room for one artist to feature an abundance of works. Throughout November and December, the room was filled with "Spirit Winds of Peace" by Marcine Quenzer. Her exhibition included 21 brightly colored paintings of typical Native American scenes, such as the chief, the great council, and the warrior. The highlight of the exhibition was a display, though not for sale, of carefully beaded earrings, chokers and moccasins, and also dolls, baskets, tools and instruments.
Tater Joe's is open noon-6 p.m. Monday through Sunday and is located at 3150 Lake Harbor Lane in the Waterfront Business Center, off State Street. Visit www.taterjoes.com for more info.