Tannur “Shewrightz” Ali is originally from Philadelphia, PA. She began writing poetry at 12 years old, and began performing at 13. Winner of the Judith Stark Creative Writing Award, Host/Facilitator of Unplugged (Poetry Reading and Spoken Word venue), and member of The D’town Arts Coalition. Tannur remains active in the art, and always working to secure a place for the arts in her community.
Remember those tags that said “Made in America”? When I was growing up they were just about everywhere. Over the years, I have seen them less and less. Now I can barely remember the last time I saw one. While interviewing Heather Ashberry, the image of a new tag came in to my mind. Made In Albany.
“Our country has allowed other countries to take over manufacturing and we don’t make anything anymore.” -She states, sitting curled up in my office chair, no bigger than my nine year old daughter; and yet reminding me of a time when our country made everything from handbags to handguns and apple pie to automobiles. It’s easy to be fooled by Heather’s barely five foot stature. By looking at her you wouldn’t automatically think “Steel-worker” or “print-maker”. But there is a secret hidden in her delicate fingertips. Her artwork tells the story of a very old soul in a very new era. I guess you could say that Heather is kind of like a computer chip, in that there is a ton of knowledge and know-how packed into a tiny package. The cool thing is that she sees the irony in how our world and our city have changed. She sees the good in the new as well as the old.
“Artists don’t have to starve”, she says impassioned. “We have so many skills. We build and make so many things and we can do something with that.” When asked what her plans are for the next big project, she mentions SquirrelyDoodle Ink, her line of accessories and trinkets that already includes clutches and will soon include collector’s edition corsets, handmade leather items and much more. She plans to open a boutique to sell her one of a kind handmade crafts and accessories, as well as an Etsy account soon to come. Heather knows that in order to be successful, she must demonstrate skill as well as passion. She does just that when showing her work at the monthly Nights @D’town events. You may have also seen her work in her solo exhibition at The Albany Museum of Art, or maybe you’ve noticed the mural on the wall at The Levee studio.
She carries a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Georgia Southwestern with a concentration in painting and drawing, although she said much of her focus in college was print-making. “School doesn’t teach the business of art.” She tells me. In order to know that side of being an artists, you have to put yourself in a position to learn on the job.
Ashberry is currently an apprentice to Trent Ty, Master Blacksmith. Yes, Blacksmith. The practical education that she’s receiving right now is not your stereo-typical horse-shoe conversation. So excited about the level of expertise and talent she has found in her teacher, Heather immediately jumps on the computer to show me pictures of the gargantuan steel gazebo in Trent Ty’s workshop. Then, pictures of knives that he’d made. My personal favorite, the tooled leather handbags and man bags. Wow. She shows me pictures of her clutches and describes in detail some of her new ideas and designs. I kept thinking “Where is your boutique, again?” (Only to remember that it’s not here yet.) I’m going to go ahead and let you know I’m looking forward to the SquirrelyDoodle Ink store more than the new Olive Garden set to open on the West side.
Albany has been called the fourth poorest city in the nation. I’m convinced that’s because Albanians do not recognize and support the talent it has oozing out from between the cracks of the storied woodwork. We have artists and artisans who take seriously olden days concepts like quality, detail and reputation. They can provide us with the hot new things that no one else has, and they can do it right here in our own backyards. All we have to do is support them financially, as we do verbally.
Americans, and Albanians by extension have become consumers. “We’re so connected by technology that we no longer relate to each other in person.” We laughed about sitting with friends and noticing everyone on a phone, computer or other device. We laughed about it, both recognizing that it’s no laughing matter. Heather’s vision to “create something personal and make it universal so that people can relate to it” is one that can help to change the way Albanians view Albany. Heather, and artisans like her will help to make Albany represent culture, passion, skill and beauty. The artists of Albany are showing up and showing out. The next time you go out to grab a new purse, or place another piece of art on your wall. Consider this: Is it as awesome as a SquirrelyDoodle Ink design? And is it Made In Albany?
To contact Heather Ashberry, or to view some of her work, visit her on Facebook at: Facebook.com/Squirrelydoodleink