Amish MississippiThursday, July 22, 2010
This month, we visited the Amish community in Mississippi again - I think we're going about once every three or four months now, which is great because this way we're able to keep up with what they're making seasonally.
Oh the way I love these signs.
One of my favorite places to stop is at Mr. Gingerich's workshop - I must've bought ten baskets from him already. He's always incredibly friendly and loves to just talk and swap stories. When I went in to visit him this time, though, there were only three or four baskets on the shelves rather than the twenty or so that he usually has. I asked one of the young girls if he was around (we've gotten to the point where he 'knows' me), and she said that his wife passed away back in April and he's just not in the workshop, visiting like he used to be. I met his wife once and she was so nice; if I remember correctly, she helped him a lot with staining the baskets. The only walnut-stained basket he had was this one he signed that he made in June, so I brought it home.
These are a couple of rag rugs that I've gotten in the past. So useful and so pretty.
When it comes to sleek, style-conscious interior design, the word "Amish" doesn't necessarily come to mind. Sure, this community is known for its carpentry and craftsmanship, but the lifestyle -- no phones, electricity or modern conveniences -- would seem to be at odds with the concept of urban chic.
Specializing in custom-designed tables, beds, cabinets, side tables and other home pieces, they hope to lure customers in with their stylish floor models and seal the deal with low prices (overhead costs are minimal when your supplier comes from a self-insured community, uses a horse-drawn carriage for transportation and requires no more than $50 in diesel fuel once a week for his workshop).
"A lot of people think our name is an oxymoron," says Ron Walton, who co-founded the store with business partner Craig Stewart. "There's a misconception, and it was one that I had, too, that Amish refers to a style of furniture. But it really denotes quality, not style. And it's not just clunky, rural stuff that belongs in a country home; it's for the city."
Running a contemporary furniture business that must adhere to the values of a technology-resistant, somewhat ascetic population is not without other logistical problems. First, Walton had to track down a handful of Amish families that would be willing to work throughout the year.
"Usually, they build seasonally," he says. "But when you're in a retail environment, you can't sell someone a coffee table in March and say 'It'll be ready in November, when farming season is done.' So we had to track down some people who would agree to work full-time."
More specifically, it's a three-hour circuit that takes place each day. They fax stuff to a central location, then it gets sorted into colour-coded file folders, which someone drops off at each farm by horse. Then, when the furniture is ready, a guy with a 34-foot horse trailer goes farm-to-farm once again and picks everything up.