Robert Mahar is just about one of the nicest, smiliest crafty types you could meet. Take a look; here's my proof:
But don't fret - he's a bit older and wiser now, and has grown up to run online indie craft shop Mahar Drygoods. After the jump, find out just how cool handmade kids toys can be!
Robert Mahar grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has lived in Chicago and San Francisco, and has called Los Angeles home for more than 15 years now, currently living in Santa Monica with his partner of 11 years, Devin. He studied studio arts and art history in college, and graduated from USC, going on to work as an art appraiser for such big museums as MoMA NY, LACMA, MoCA Los Angeles and the American Craft Museum, NY.
It's pretty safe to say after being a part of apprasing the estates of great artists like Roy Lichtenstein (one of my faves!) and the Frank O. Gehry Archive, that Robert Mahar knows great stuff when he sees it. On transitioning from the academic curation of art to starting online children's emporium Mahar Drygoods, he shares a moment that helped get the ball rolling:
"My great aunt was a wonderful and prolific crafter, sewing crazy-quilts and crocheting afghans for the many members of our large and extended family. By the time my sister was married and expecting her first child, my great aunt was elderly and unable to tackle large projects; I set about to continues her tradition and find a way to have a quilt made for my soon to arrive nephew. Hours scouring the internet resulted in a connection with a quilter in small town Kansas - I selected the fabrics and quilt pattern, and she constructed what turned out to be an amazing quilt. It was this successful collaboration that sparked the idea of attempting similar partnerships with other crafters across the US and Canada (and now Europe and Australia!) and ultimately formed the core concept of Mahar Drygoods."
Mahar Drygoods has been online since 2005, and has been Robert's full-time job since then. He curates this wonderful collection of toys, craft kits, wall art, décor, furniture and clothing & costumes with gusto - clicking near and far on the internet in a search for the best collaborations with artists and designers, bringing you whimsical goodies that are handmade in the homes and studios of their creators with an emphasis on recycled and sustainable materials whenever possible.
There are some limits to what Robert Mahar will carry - don't expect to find anything mass produced, resembling a weapon or cartoon characters owned by major corporations. You will find lots and lots of amazingly imaginative toys and more, lots with a nostalgic feel, like the shadow puppets Robert is head over heels for. He's also pretty fond of the toadstool tea set, which was a collaboration he worked on with a potter in Georgia.
Next up, what makes handmade toys so much better?
I asked Robert to share with us his thoughts on buying handmade artisan toys versus toys from larger stores like Target - he replied:
"I think there are a couple of major differences between the artisan-crafted items you'll find at Mahar Drygoods versus mass-produced items sold by the big box stores. We promote conscious consumerism - knowing who made the products you're purchasing, what materials were used in their construction and under what conditions those items were produced. This is information we share on every product page and you can rest assured that our handmade products support individual makers and not faceless corporations. The majority of the artisans whose items I carry in the shop are work at home parents and the brilliant, imaginative items they make for their own kids and yours help support their families."
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In June of 2007, Robert launched an offshoot of Mahar Drygoods known as the International Chapter of the Junior Society. This blog "explores the riotous world of kiddie culture and design", and is a way for him to show off all the great kidcentric things he finds online while searching for the next great item for Mahar Drygoods. Regular club meetings offer the opportunity to earn merit badges in areas like arts & crafts, celebrations, entertainment, wardrobe and more. Robert is the self-appointed Grand Poobah of the clubhouse, which he says "is a title I've bestowed upon myself mainly 'cause it makes me sound like a big shot and somehow justifies my desire to wear a tasseled fez and develop secret handshakes."If wearin' a fez is one of the perks I want in!
For more information on Mahar Drygoods, visit the website and blog. Already a fan? Tell Robert so on Myspace or the Facebook page! You can also follow Mahar Drygoods on Twitter, and join the Junior Society here.