Frequent visitors to Mid-Main might have noticed a new tenant among the music venues, restaurants and bars lining the trendy strip: The Tinderbox, an artisan craft studio and shop, has caught the eyes of craft lovers with its Pinterest-worthy window displays for just over a month.
The city's newest creative space is the brainchild of Ren Mitchell, who comes from a line of makers. Her mother taught her to sew at a young age, and she is constantly inspired by her great-grandmother's backyard tinkering and creative repurposing.
"Our generation has kind of lost these skills that keep ups alive," Mitchell tells CultureMap. Her time in and around educational environments (first as a teacher, then with Writers in the Schools) opened up her eyes to a lot of need.
"Our generation has kind of lost these skills that keep ups alive."
Ready to become her own boss, Mitchell felt her next logical step was the creation of a maker's space. It's a concept that she admits isn't completely unique, but is new for Houston, where knitting meet-ups draw an older demographic, wine-and-painting workshops yield "masterpieces" that shouldn't see the light of day and Sew Crafty, an endeavor that did offer classes to a more contemporary audience, shuttered in 2011.
The Tinderbox is different. Along with her husband Wayne Ayo, Mitchell has transformed 3622 Main Street, Suite B, into a space where workshops and classes, led by local artists and artisans, vary in subject matter and required skill level and appeal to craft enthusiasts of all ages and persuasions.
A flat fee includes most (and often all) of the required materials; attendees learn a basic skill and leave with a useful product, like a table lamp or a wooden beer carton or a leather key fob. Workshops and crafting happy hours cater to avid crafters and newbies alike, while Crafternoons, held Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., allow children a time to express their creativity.
"A lot of people come to us and say, 'I feel like a kid again,'" Mitchell laughs. Even the simplest demonstrations foster a sense of accomplishment and a sense of community in workshop attendees.
A boutique-cum-community space
Another element of Mitchell's plan was a small shop filled with products made from Houston- and Texas-based artists and artisans. Although she had only intended to dedicate a corner to the retail end of The Tinderbox, it has since taken on a life of its own — and around 50 percent of the floor space.
"I fell in love with the idea of incubating these artists," she says, noting that it sometimes takes years for small-scale creators to develop momentum and support.
"I think people misunderstand craft and craftsmanship."
Within what Mitchell calls the "handcrafted emporium," each artist has dedicated shelf space and full control over how it looks. The proprietress has become something of a small business consultant, advising each artist on the pricing, branding and merchandising.
Over the course of a three-month contract, the artists can use the creative space — some take advantage of the ample natural light for product shots, others use it as an opportunity to work outside of their studios — and have the opportunity to teach classes.
"I think people misunderstand craft and craftsmanship," Mitchell says. Workshops led by working artists allow non-creatives a glimpse into that world.
Current artists include jewelry makers Abbie Drue Designs, Orange is the Sun and Austin-based Son of a Sailor; paper goods from Lisa Chow and Fisk & Fern; women's beauty products from X. Compound and Urban Lacquer, and men's grooming supplies from Manready Mercantile.
That's just the beginning, and more artists are signing on every week. Find more information about workshops and more on The Tinderbox website.