Meet 2 makers coming to DC’s Downtown Holiday Market

The market kicked off on Nov. 22 and hosts dozens of vendors through the holiday season. Here, we spoke with two who emphasize the importance of shopping small.

The tents were pitched, the lights were hung and the days turned cold. The Downtown Holiday Market in the shadow of the National Portrait Gallery popped up as soon as the spirit of the holidays was whispered through the nation’s capital. 

Vendors at the market, located on Eighth and F Streets with pop-up white tents, are offering gift-worthy items ranging from hand-blown glass necklaces and charms, to sweatshirts emblazoned with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s portrait. 

We spoke with two makers about their Downtown Holiday Market experience and what they’re hoping to gain from the holiday season this year. 

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purse made with reused fabric on white background
A hand-sewn purse by Jenae Michelle for Range of Emotion. (Photo by coleimage.com)

Jenae Michelle: Artist, Maker and Owner of Range of Emotion

How did your business get started?
My business started 25 years ago. I was on a more mainstream path, doing my master’s degree at UC Berkeley and became critically ill. I eventually received treatment at the National Institutes of Health and was able to start building a new life. I set up a little table at Eastern Market and for a year or two, I made wool coats for people. My Great Depression-era grandma had taught me not to throw away scraps, especially wool ones, and with them I started piecing together very simple bags. Today, I make one-of-a-kind handbags from recycled textiles that people can use for years and years. The core of my business has always been that we should have fewer things, but better things.

What are you excited about when it comes to having a stand at the Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, DC?
I have had a stand at the Downtown Holiday Market for many years. Michael Berman has created a place where artists, like myself, can show their work to tens of thousands of people during the most important time of the year. My favorite moments are seeing special customers who have supported my work over many years, and the wonderful experience of meeting a new customer (or even someone who isn’t able to purchase) that is really able to recognize the colors, textures, crafts-womanship, reusability and beauty of each piece I create.  

woman in black top wearing gloves
Hand-sewn fingerless gloves by Jenae Michelle for Range of Emotion. (Photo by coleimage.com)

What types of products do you offer that would be great as holiday gifts this year?
The most accessible and wonderful gifts are the one-of-a-kind fingerless gloves that I make from recycled cashmere sweaters. They are thoughtfully made to be both beautiful and durable. For the very special gift, one of my bags is perfect. As a gift, they are shocking treasures that often become a source of daily joy and many compliments. There is a certain magic when people see something that is created with real care.

Why do you think shopping from small businesses is important during the holidays?
The answer is very literal: When a customer chooses a gift, made by an artist, they are making it possible for an artist to continue to do what they love. Do we really want a world where there is no respite from mass-produced, thoughtlessly made stuff? There is another way, a more hopeful way to live in our culture. A return to valuing quality over quantity and people over things.

Find Range of Emotion at the Downtown Holiday Market through Dec. 23. 

Keith and Donna Ellingsworth: Co-Founders of Blue Ridge Cutting Board Company

How did your business get started?
DE: We started the business in 2000 as a way to be together. Keith was living in a cabin in the woods, in Sperryville, Virginia, writing and working part-time jobs, as well as furniture-making. I was living in Florida. While working as a financial analyst, the real estate development company I worked for dissolved and I was laid off. Keith had fallen in love with the wood that was available locally here in Virginia. We were young and unencumbered and started very small. Working out of an 1820s log cabin, we made the cutting boards mostly outdoors and sold them at the Charlottesville City Market and Eastern Market, as well as small arts and craft fairs.

KE: After nearly two decades and more than 45,000 cutting boards later, Donna and I are married with an amazing 10-year-old son.

What are you excited about when it comes to having a stand at the Downtown Holiday Market?
KE: We’ve been selling our boards at the Downtown Holiday Market since its inaugural year. The spectacular location at the foot of the National Portrait Gallery in the heart of the Penn Quarter not only ensures a lively crowd of potential customers but is a beautiful place to be among the historic buildings of downtown Washington, DC. Add to that the festive live music, the family of vendors who return each year, as well as new ones from all over the country, and it is really the most satisfying and fun place that we offer our boards for sale each year. Mike Berman, the director of Downtown Holiday Market, has done a really great job building the event—evolving many aspects over the years while at the same time maintaining a continuity with his staff which contributes to the family atmosphere for vendors and shoppers alike.

DE: We have customers who stop by every year to let us know how much they enjoy using their board, or how the person they gave one to as a gift appreciates it. Some prior customers will even give an impromptu testimonial to the shoppers browsing our stand. There aren’t many opportunities to buy something from the person who made it. I love helping someone pick out a board that I made and discuss with them what may be unique about the wood I chose to use and/or the way I put the pattern together. Buying a gift from its maker connects people directly. It is extremely satisfying when I’ve connected with a buyer and know that the board that I made is going to a good home.

What types of products do you offer that would be great as holiday gifts this year?
KE: From wood local to the Shenandoah Valley, the cutting boards we make come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. Several of our boards are of completely original design, including the popular cypress and walnut end-grain boards, as well as a moon cycle cutting board which was inspired by the eclipse in 2017, and consists of a walnut sky, maple moons and walnut shadows. Our live edge tables are made of reclaimed cherry, walnut, maple and oak.

DE: Cutting boards. For those who love to cook, having a beautiful and functional cutting board in your kitchen can add joy to the mundane. The cutting board is the center of preparation for many of our meals. Choosing a cutting board for a loved one is a way to remind them every day that you care. Even if you or your friends don’t cook—everyone eats! A handmade cutting board can elevate your take-out and up your presentation game. We offer several types of boards made from walnut, cherry, cypress, oak and maple, such as end-grain cutting boards, edge-grain cutting boards, paddle boards, DC Flag boards, moon boards and more.

Why is shopping from small businesses important during the holidays?
KE: When you shop from a small business, the hands you buy it from are the hands that made it. You tend to find the most unique, one-of-a-kind gifts from artisans who love making the products they sell.

DE: Just like many retailers, the boost that holiday shopping gives us makes it possible for us to make and produce cutting boards year-round. It is increasingly difficult to compete in an online shopping/two-day free shipping and click-it-and-forget-it world. We buy only local, native sustainable wood species.

Find Blue Ridge Cutting Board Company at the Downtown Holiday Market through Dec. 23.

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