What’s happening in Africa? Southeast Asia? Haiti?
If you pay attention to international affairs, these place names probably evoke images of poverty, warfare and disease. At least this is what mainstream news headlines tell us.
But Keith Recker, founder and publisher of Hand/Eye Magazine, wants you to know that there’s more to the world than conflict. He created Hand/Eye to give readers a glimpse at international issues from a different perspective: art.
Printed on unconventionally tall, matte paper with brilliant eye-catching colors, large photographs and carefully rendered design elements, the magazine showcases high-end craftwork by artists around the world—most of whom you’ve probably never heard of.
Articles have covered velvet cloth made by the Kuba peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo; batik cloth crafted by a young woman named Nani Norchayati Lestari in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; and metal sculptures welded together by Croix-de-Bouquets artist Jean-Roberts Jacques.
Recker said one of the reasons why he decided to create the magazine is to educate people on the cultural value of other parts of the world.
“I feel like learning what is gorgeous, admirable, enviable and desirable in a place like Haiti or Mozambique may actually color our decisions vis-a-vis those societies in a much more positive way,” he explained.
“If you really see what’s at stake, if you really see that they’re a culture of creative people with problem-solving resources, wouldn’t you make better investments?” Recker, a Shelter Island resident who holds office space here in Sag Harbor, has a background in design, having been the vice president of home furnishings for both SAKS and Bloomingdales in New York City.
After nearly two decades in the business, during which time he forged connections with artists and gained a working knowledge of he international craft market, Recker was able to tap into his network of friends and associates in 2008 when he decided to begin work on the first issue of Hand/Eye.
Now, after four printed editions and a circulation that hits about 4,000, the production is still modest, relying mostly on freelance contributors who volunteer their time writing articles and helping with fundraising efforts. In fact, the only other full-time contributor to the publication is Rebeca Schiller, who serves as Hand/Eye’s web editor.
While the website has the potential to reach a more wide-ranging audience (the magazine is only sold in a few boutiques and museums in the United States and Europe—none on the East End), Recker said the magazine component is still very important.
“I love print because I feel, particularly in the case of unknown artists, they deserve to be preserved,” he explained. Unlike the website, which also provides a wide array of information, the magazines are fashioned around a central theme, most often geographic. Past issues have covered Africa and East Asia, and now Hand/Eye sets its sights on Haiti. Partially due to the large-scale destruction that hit the area in the wake of the massive earthquake almost exactly one year ago, Hand/Eye’s focus on Haiti prompted Recker, for the first time since the magazine’s inception, to create the Hand/Eye Fund, a non-profit organization that aims to raise money for artists and craftsmen around the world. Recker has put effort into raising grant money and forging partnerships with national organizations like West Elm, Pottery Barn and the New Mexico Craft Fair, as well as local non-profits like Peace Quilts and Haiti Projects.
So far, Recker said the Hand/Eye Fund has raised over $100,000, half of which has already been distributed to poor artists in dire need of monetary support.
One of the main focuses of the Hand/Eye Fund recently has been housing. Millions of Haitians are still living in tent camps, which—for many artists—means they have been unable to work.
So last month, Hand/Eye held a fundraiser which collected about $3,000 to build a modest 400-square-foot home for a local painter named Gerard Fortune; and this week Recker will hold another fundraiser with the hope of raising another $6,000 to build two more homes for Haitian artists. The funds have also gone toward other artistic endeavors. Recker’s favorite grant so far, he said, went to help a group of mostly elderly women in a small Haitian village called La Vallée de Jacmel who make 17th Century cutwork lace.
Using a technique that was brought to the village by french nuns, the women draw lace patterns on paper by hand then place the paper over a piece of fabric. Then, using a blue oxide paste, the women make small dots along their paper patterns, which sink into the fabric below, thus transferring their designs from paper to fabric. The intricate task is time-consuming. And, as La Vallée de Jacmel is an impoverished region in an equally impoverished country, productivity is key.
With Hand/Eye grant money, the women can now create stamps that will more quickly transfer their patterns onto fabric and increase their rate of production.
While the Hand/Eye Fund has kept its focus on Haiti, Recker said that in the coming year—especially with the broad focus of the Spring/Summer edition of the magazine,
“Manifesto: philosophies of making and consuming in the 21st Century”—Hand/Eye will take on more global initiatives. Because this is what the magazine is all about. “The news media covers the news, but it almost never sees global creativity,” Recker continued.
“And in a world that’s increasingly connected, shouldn’t we be focusing on the everyday genius of creative people as much as we focus on the everyday genius of politicians, criminals, merchants, companies and executives?”