Art & Soul
When this all-female group of independent artists and business owners comes together, nothing--not even a Portland storm--can hold them back.
Friday evening, Jenna Wilson and Cary Vaughan arrived inside our storm-proofed outdoor dining tent, behind schedule and in a fever of noise and color, bags full of blankets and flags, and the first thing Cary said was, “We’re really going to have to hustle.”
A storm warning had been issued for Portland that evening, high winds and heavy rain. Jenna had called Ned Ludd, the restaurant and site of our tented gathering, needing reassurance that their tent would not tip or leak, that we had a plan
in case of an outage. We set to pulling blankets and fabrics from their bags to fill the place with the
burst of color it needed. Jenna and Cary, owners and designers of the clothing brand ace&jig, are magnetic women, and
when you get them in the same room there’s an unmistakeable energy and excitement. This phenomenon is funny because it’s actually somewhat rare. Cary lives in Brooklyn, NY, and Jenna in Portland, OR. They met as interns fifteen years ago, and in that time they’ve been each other's coworkers, roommates, best friends, and bridesmaids.
In 2010 they launched ace&jig, a project that emphasizes their love of the woven medium. They design their own yarn-dye woven fabrics, which vary in color, texture, and weight, but all incorporate some type of stripe. From there, they create season less styles that don’t adhere to passing trends. These designs are brought to life by their partners in India, who weave and sew their clothing in an ethically-run factory. The soundbite is that Jenna and Cary Skype all day long, but actually they prefer g-chat. This night isn’t about them, though. They’ve filled this tent with female artists and business owners from up and down the West Coast: Hopie Stockman of Block Shop Textiles from LA, co-designer (with her sister Lily Stockman) of California-inspired, Bagru-made block-printed scarves and home goods; Brookes Boswell, a milliner and Portland shop owner; Alea Joy, owner of Solabee Flowers, an old Portland pharmacy-turned-flower shop, and the setting of tomorrow’s event and sale. There are 15 of us total, artists and business owners together, and the organization of the night is intentionally loose.
This is the joy of spending one's hours working with women you love: the divisions of professional, political, and personal, fall away, and within a few hours in the tent (which stayed upright and dry but for a small welling of water at our feet), we talk over the materials for cobbling, grieve the literal and figurative assault on women levied by a current presidential candidate, laugh and even tear up about our complicated relationships with our mothers and partners, discuss the color and vibrancy of our auras when photographed, tell of our recent miscarriages and divorces, the trials and joys of motherhood, an upcoming move, each other's astrological signs, our belief or disbelief in astrological signs, the stories of how we met (e.g. Cary ironing, Jenna steaming). We worried the storm might deter some, but in the morning there is a line down the block outside of Solabee Flowers. Kind faces stand in the morning rain and peek inside, waiting patiently to shop our goods, including a group of women who have connected over their mutual love of ace&jig and drove in from Seattle to meet with Portlanders for a pregame breakfast nearby.
At 11am we open the doors, and these women and many others spill into Solabee’s light, plant-filled space. Before long our dressing room turns into a communal changing space, women with arms full of textiles chat while helping each other style or choose between pieces, oohing and ahhing over the right fit or color. Jenna and Cary dart back and forth, helping eager customers find the textile they drove down from Seattle for, greeting followers of the brand. Up at the front, people try on Brookes Boswell hats as she consults on size, color, and style, and Hopie tells customers about the artisans in Bagru who block print their scarves. The wind and rain still kick at the door, but imagine it from outside: noisy with women and all lit up from within.