LINCOLN CITY — Anja Chavez describes herself as happy and humbled by her Itinerant Artists Marketplace, a group of 12 handcrafters she helped bring together to sell their creations from a storefront at the Lincoln City Outlets mall.
“It’s a solid group,” Chavez said. “It takes a lot of time and effort, but you can see the spark in the artist’s eye when she talks about her creations. Each one conveys a desire to make something unique, and we hope our customers see the same thing.”
Chavez said that in October of 2016, she talked with Lyle and Arlene Gowing of Lincoln City about opening a pop-up store for the holidays that year.
“Lyle and I are well along in years, and we’d gotten tired of loading and unloading for craft shows,” Arlene Gowing said. “We thought, ‘why not have something here, close to home.’” They looked around but couldn’t find a suitable space, and then decided to approach the Outlets. “And the mall said, ‘why not,’” she recalled.
The Gowings were presented with an opportunity to occupy an empty restaurant space at the mall on a temporary basis, and within 10 days, “we had everything in place and opened the doors for the first time,” Chavez said. True to its name, it has moved a couple of times since then, always to different storefronts at the mall.
“The mall loves us because we bring in the locals,” Arlene Gowing said.
Arlene Gowing said she knew Chavez from the Pacific Artists Co-op Gallery in Lincoln City. “She’s a terrific business person,” she said of Chavez.
“We had one meeting and invited people we knew — about 15 people showed up,” Chavez recalled. “Everyone jumped on board, and we opened the store.” They will celebrate four years in business Nov. 22.
“We called ourselves the Itinerant Artists Marketplace because we moved from place to place,” Chavez explained, noting the Outlets offered them a new space for two years.
“Then we had to move again,” she said. “We’re starting our fifth year in our third location, all at the mall. We’re still occupying what would otherwise be an empty storefront on a temporary basis. I like this mall a lot — they’re open to different ideas.”
And she noted that even the COVID-19 closure and a wildfire didn’t keep them closed for long.
Chavez said none of the artists expected the marketplace to last as long as it has. “We’re all thrilled, and I’m very proud of it,” she said. “We don’t have a fancy cash register or paid employees — the 12 of us do it all.”
Gowing, who was 81 years old when she and her husband helped form the group, noted that each artisan contributes a little rent and commission. Out of that money comes insurance and bags and other business expenses, and Gowing said it gives everyone “a little bit of ownership, and that’s a good thing.”
Chavez uses a paper calendar for the artists to sign up for four-hour shifts to staff the store, which is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. And in spite of COVID-19’s ending most holiday craft shows and bazaars, the Itinerant Artists Marketplace continues to thrive — and with seven of the artists adding to their creations a selection of custom facemasks.
Everything sold at the Marketplace is handmade, Chavez said proudly, and items range from woodcarvings to fused glass to knitted hats to wreaths.
“We enjoy being part of the group,” Arlene Gowing said. “Both Lyle and I worked at jobs meeting the public, and being part of the Itinerant Artists is part of enjoying people.”
The artists all get together fairly regularly for a group meeting after hours. “The meetings are my favorite,” Chavez said. “They help because we get to know each other and each other’s products. They give us the opportunity to sell ourselves, to say what our passion is and what got us to this place — it always helps when there’s a story to tell the customer about what they want to buy.
“And I usually do a meal for the meetings,” she added. “I like to cook, so it’s an opportunity for me to feed people.”
Chavez, who makes beaded jewelry, was previously involved with an artists’ cooperative in Newport and is a member of the Yaquina Art Association and Pacific Artists Co-op Art Gallery. She is also vice president of the Newport Farmers Market, where she exhibits her craftwork, along with several other members of the Itinerant Artists.
In addition to Chavez, who sells beaded jewelry, goat’s milk soap and face masks, and whose husband, Mark, sells homemade dog treats, the following artists are part of the group: Ruth Zimmer of Toledo, crocheted and knitted hats and scrubbies; Darlene Martin of Amity, wreaths and holiday decorations, and her husband, Richard Martin, cedar planters and wooden signs; Carol Willey of Siletz, fused glass, wall hangings and ornaments; Lyle and Arlene Gowing of Lincoln City — Lyle weaves rugs out of Pendleton wool blanket selvage, and Arlene creates knitted hats from yarn she hand spins from sheep and alpaca wool; Liz Young of Newport, hand-sewn stuffed animals, aprons and capes; Linda Douglas of Dallas, terrariums and dried flower arrangements; Valerie Jacobi of Newport, seashell art; Sherrie and Jack Powell of South Beach — photographs by Sherrie and wooden puzzles by Jack; Linda Kay Miller of Lincoln City, crocheted dolls, baby clothes and afghans; Marilyn Attridge of Siletz, pottery and quilts; and Gloria Richardson of McMinnville, enameled earrings, origami boxes and sewn bags.
Chavez is pleased with the success of her small business. “It’s so easy to order from Amazon, but our store is not like that,” Chavez said. “Our artists take a lot of effort in their work, and their passion is in each item.”
Chavez came to her craft by chance. While living in New Mexico, she worked for a company that gave its employees the opportunity to take free classes. “I love big, long earrings but I couldn’t afford them,” she explained. “I was always crafty, so I took a free beading class taught by a Navajo lady, and I’ve been beading ever since! My specialty is similar to Indian bead weaving — the smaller the beads, the bigger the piece, the better!” She has won People’s Choice and first- and second-place awards for her work at the Oregon State Fair.
Arlene Gowing was inspired to pursue spinning by visits to the state fair. “We would always go to the textile barn and watch the spinners and weavers,” she said. “I took spinning lessons in the late ’80s and have been spinning ever since.”
Lyle has their daughter to thank for his weaving, after she gave him a tabletop loom and he started making placemats. Arlene said he kept buying bigger and bigger looms — at one point, he had nine — and kept weaving larger pieces.
“We’re not really a pop-up anymore, we’re semi-permanent,” Chavez said. “If a permanent tenant wanted our shop, I’d be out of a location, so we are still itinerant.
“I’m thankful to each artist in the store,” she said. “It takes all of us for it to work, and I’m grateful to every single one of them. They all bring their own spark into the store. It’s not just about me succeeding — it’s that all of us succeed.”
And the Itinerant Artists’ appeal?
“We are a group of local artisans making one-of-a-kind everyday goods, forged with love and crafted by hand,” the group says on its Facebook page.
“The shop is a comfortable place for crafters,” Arlene Gowing added. “You don’t have to pack things in and out — you just bring in things to replace what has sold. Everyone who works there is very congenial.
“It’s like a forever craft show,” she concluded.
Artists interested in becoming part of the Itinerant Artists Marketplace may call Chavez at 541-272-7812. Itinerant Artists Marketplace is in Suite 405 in the Lincoln City Outlets mall, located at 1500 SE Devils Lake Road.