You need to check out these 10 Ann Arbor artisans – and their awesome goods

Ann Arbor adds another A – for Art

By Lois Alter Mark,

Wife team Ami and Gigi of YpsiGypsy jewelry — Photo courtesy of Emily Mills

With its emphasis on individuality and indie businesses, it’s no wonder Ann Arbor, Michigan has become a mecca for makers.

"Ann Arbor has always been a creative hub, and I am excited to see the maker trend continuing to grow here," says Karen Delhey, Executive Director of The Guild of Artists and Artisans, a non-profit that presents half a dozen annual art fairs including the world-renowned Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair.

"With the current movement towards the handmade and DIY, there’s more wonderful work than ever coming out of this community."

Plan your visit to coincide with one of the city’s many art events and crafts fairs, and pack an empty bag to bring home one-of-a-kind handmade treasures from WSG Gallery, the Ann Arbor Art Center or the gift shop at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Here are 10 local makers to seek out, whether you’re touring the area or surfing online. In the spirit of collaboration, some live and work in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor’s bohemian next-door neighbor whose equally vibrant arts scene is well-represented by makers like Ypsi Gypsy (above) and the always highly-anticipated DIYpsi Indie Craft Fair.

While browsing these artisans' work, don't be surprised when you're inspired to make something yourself:  a purchase.

Kate Tremel Clay

Pierced lamps by Kate Tremel — Photo courtesy of Kate Tremel Clay

You can see the care and attention to detail that goes into every one of Kate Tremel’s ceramic pieces, especially these stunning pierced lamps. Using a slow rhythmic raising technique she learned as an anthropology student in Peru, Tremel thins the walls of the vessel to give it the feeling of a textile when it’s cut.

"I’ve always liked the connection to the history of makers that ceramics affords," says Kate Tremel. "I am interested in making forms that seek to be caressed and used, whether it’s raising a cup to one’s lips, arranging flowers in a vase or sharing espresso with a friend."

Cool Critters

Jess Sheeran and her Cool Critters — Photo courtesy of Cool Critters

These one-of-a-kind creations come from the wild imagination of Jess Sheeran, who hand makes stuffed animals, fluffy pillows and cozy couch companions that are the stuffed equivalent of security blankets.

Although she’s created everything from aliens to friendly monsters to Frida Kahlo, she admits, "I never know what they’re going to look like when I sit down to make them, and I love that because it keeps things fresh and exciting."

Fineberg Art Studio

Hand-marbled journal from Fineberg Art Studio — Photo courtesy of Fineberg Art Studio

Emily Fineberg’s handmade journals are so beautiful, they just may encourage you to start that writing project or simply get through your to-do list.

Fineberg marbles her own cover papers using a traditional Suminagashi marbling technique, then adheres them to sturdy book boards and gives them an acid-free matte finish. She fills the book with 160 blank pages, binding them with a classic coptic stitch so they lay flat. This is one case where you should absolutely judge a book by its cover.

Tin Angry Men

Cre Fuller and his Tin Angry Men — Photo courtesy of Doug Coombe

If the future is anything like these robot-inspired lamps and sculptures, bring it on. Cre Fuller, co-founder of DIYpsi, uses lost, found and broken pieces of metal to create surprisingly soulful pieces with a haunting humanity.

"My goal is to give new life to old relics," says Fuller, "like pieces of mid-century cook- and kitchenware that still have the soul of their user, or glass eyes, dentures and teeth molds that once brought a sense of normalcy to someone’s life. I try to imbue a vintage aesthetic to a futuristic idea."

Kristin Perkins Glass Jewelry

Ring and brooch from Kristin Perkins — Photo courtesy of Kristin Perkins Glass Jewelry/Photo by Larry Sanders

For the past 17 years, Kristin Perkins has been creating jewelry that combines her own glasswork and metal work. From the glass itself to the silver setting, she makes each individual piece entirely by hand.

"I’m inspired by color and simple, clean design," she says. Her jewelry is contemporary, and its eye-popping color is a warm sight during those cold Midwest winters.

Tree Town Paper

Bridal bouquet of paper flowers by Tree Town Paper — Photo courtesy of Tree Town Paper

When Linsey Skelly realized how much floral bouquets would cost for her wedding in 2011, she decided to make her own – out of paper. They were such a hit, she started a business, creating personal keepsake paper flowers out of comics, newspapers, sheet music, favorite books – anything meaningful to the bride and groom. 

For those lacking a green thumb, these are also perfect for filling vases around the house or gifting to loved ones on special occasions.

Stephen Kerr

Ceramicist Stephen Kerr at Yourist Studio Gallery — Photo courtesy of Lon Horwedel

A retired art and elementary school teacher, Stephen Kerr is a studio resident at Yourist Studio Gallery, where he creates ceramic pieces inspired by American folk art and abstract Impressionists. 

His pieces, many of which are molded in old wooden bowls, are made with a red earthenware clay, giving them a rustic, natural feel. He uses simple paper cutouts for stencils, and white slip and black glaze for a clean yet powerful graphic appearance.

The Little Flower Soap Co.

Holly & Justin Rutt of The Little Flower Soap Co. — Photo courtesy of The Little Flower Soap Co.

Handcrafted in small batches, using essential oils, natural colors and the finest ingredients sourced from around the world, these beautifully-packaged bath and body products smell as good as they look. 

Husband and wife, Holly and Justin Rutt, have created essentials that you’ll wish you could place on automatic re-order. The Complete Spa Gift Set with soap, lip balm, bath salt, and tins of muscle rescue balm and skin rescue balm is likely to become your new go-to gift.

Motawi Tileworks

Speedy Bonito art tile from Motawi Tileworks — Photo courtesy of Motawi Tileworks

Nawal Motawi started making art tiles in her garage more than a quarter of a century ago, and, today they’re sold in more than 300 shops and galleries around the country.

Inspired by nature, art and architecture – Motawi has exclusive partnerships with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the estate of wildlife artist Charley Harper – her distinctive designs are proudly American. Celebrated for their rich glazes and timeless craftsmanship, they are conversation pieces in any setting.

Science Bee

Original Data Necklaces from Science Bee — Photo courtesy of Science Bee

Genetics researcher by trade, but crafter at heart, Betsy Salzman promotes science advocacy through handmade wearable art and home goods that incorporate reclaimed items from the lab. 

The Original Data Necklace, made from vintage medical slides of brains, hearts and a variety of tissues and organs, is a true statement piece. Salzman suggests holding it up to the light for "classic scientist-looking-at-something-interesting" style. It takes the idea of cellular data to a whole new level.