A Toast to Georgia – Gaumarjos!
I must admit that I had pretty high expectations going into this Mondeur trip. Everyone I knew who had been to Georgia before had just raved about it, and everything I read in my preparation leading up to the trip had me thinking that Georgia was a nearly mythical place of abundance for all the most sought-after sensory experiences. From its legendary hospitality to its vast geographic and cultural diversity, musical traditions, delicious food and wine and, of course, fashion and folk art traditions, Georgia promised a lot. I was not disappointed.
Georgians like to drink, and they have elaborate toasting traditions that go on for many rounds during which glasses of wine (or homemade brandy, “chacha”) must be emptied at each toast. While in Georgia we were welcomed into so many homes and invited to homemade wine and chacha in no small quantities. (The cover photo for this story is the "Mother of Georgia" statue that rises high above Tbilisi, a symbol of the Georgian national character - a glass of wine for hospitality and a sword for freedom). I invite you to read this story like a toast (and drink through it if you must or would like). This is my small tribute to Georgian hospitality and the people who made this trip possible. Per the extension of this hospitality, it is also my way of inviting you to share in this trip and collection with me.
To build this collection, I spent three weeks in Georgia, two of which were spent on the road visiting artisans at their homes and otherwise stuffing my face with homemade wine/beer/chacha and khinkali. While I spent about ten days in Tbilisi, I also visited the famous wine region of Kakheti (birthplace of wine?), the mountainous regions of Khevsureti and Kazbegi, and the cave monasteries of Vardzia and environs. (I promise to write more about all of these magical places and the people I met there, so be sure to check back in the weeks to come as I post new stories.)
In Georgia, they say that a guest is a gift from god, and they’re not kidding around. Georgia is certainly one of the most welcoming places I’ve visited (photos below of a couple table spreads from artisans who welcomed us into their homes). This is in part due to this legendary hospitality but also, I think, due to Georgia being a relatively small country both in size (it’s about the size of Ireland, or West Virginia) and population. It seems like everyone knows everyone! Once we made one connection the doors the kept opening to new ones, and all within this highly inter-connected social web that kept circling back and overlapping throughout the trip. By the end of the trip, we were at an art opening and then later having dinner with a gathering of people with whom we had all independently connected throughout the trip. Even the owner of the store where I bought my handmade boots as a mere passerby at the beginning of the trip ended up inviting us to drink from his collection of antique wine vessels at his restaurant alongside other new friends at the very end of our trip! I have never been somewhere where, in such a short period of time, I have been made to feel so welcomed into a community.
Georgia is unlike any other place I’ve visited. It is a country that really offers something for everyone, and it feels like it’s on the verge of even bigger things to come. It was an exciting time to visit, and I’m looking forward to continuing my work there. Mark my words: if it isn’t already on yours, Georgia will definitely be on your radar as it’s sure to be added to the hottest must-visit travel lists in the years to come.
A huge thank you to all those people who made this trip possible, the friends we made along the way, and the artisans who opened their homes to us. Gaumarjos, Georgia! Hope to see you again soon.
Special Thank Yous
Many people often ask me how I go about sourcing my pieces and connecting with artisans. Every trip is different. For this trip, I had a hard time finding leads online, so I engaged in a lot of blind outreach based on the little I did find scouring the internet, and somewhat clumsily and very fortunately fell into the most capable hands for making this a successful Mondeur trip, and I’d like to take a moment to describe their work and thank them here.
Before I had even arrived, I had already exchanged many emails with Irina Koshoridze, Director of the Georgian State Museum of Applied & Folk Arts, who offered to arrange a totally customized tour to visit artisans in their homes around Georgia throughout my stay. A total stranger to Irina prior to our meeting, she nonetheless found the time in her very busy schedule to put together a meticulous itinerary based on my interests, and continued to be the most incredible and attentive host throughout the entire trip. Irina is a lovely, graceful woman with a strong presence and an intimidating knowledge of folk (and other) art, and I can’t thank her enough for her role in this collection! Irina has worked tirelessly for decades in her aim to revive and preserve craft traditions in Georgia. If you are visiting Tbilisi, you should visit this lovely little museum: http://georgianmuseums.ge/?lang=eng&id=1_1&sec_id=1&th_id=37 and say “hello.” Private tours may also be possible to arrange with a donation to the museum.
I also connected with the Georgian Arts and Culture Center (GACC) prior to my arrival and continued to work with them throughout the trip. GACC is leading cultural NGO in Georgia dedicated to preserving, developing and promoting Georgian Arts and Culture. You can read more about their work here: http://www.gaccgeorgia.org/indexEng.html. They work with nearly 600 craftsmen throughout Georgia, and were kind enough to connect me directly with a few of their finest, whose work is represented in this collection. A special thanks to Maka Dvalishvili, the Founder and Executive Director, and Tamar Kiknadze, the Programs Development Manager.
We had the most incredible guides on our trip, Ano Shanshaisvhili and Tika Bulashvili. Ano is a Ph.D. Art Historian who runs the Association of Georgian Artisans, which also has two stores –EthnoDesign, one in Tbilisi and one in Vardzia— in which artisans sell their work. The cotton Kabalakhi and gloves in the collection come from EthnoDesign. Please visit this incredible selection of handmade goods and wearables if you’re ever in Georgia: https://www.facebook.com/ethnodesignsocielshop/. Tika was our guide for a majority of the textile tour. She is actually the daughter of Nino, who founded the Pesvebi studio. The large and small woven wool bags from the collection are from Pesvebi. Ano and Tika, you two are both amazing. We had such a great time. Finally, a huge thanks to our wonderful driver, Giorgi Tsiklauri. He not only made for great company but kept us safe on some of the most infamously dangerous roads in the world.