A bag with saturated magenta and red textiles rests on a hand-woven chair. They were crafted by women who “sit on the back of their oxcarts and loom this hemp… and this back part is from their clothing, and this front piece was from a baby carrier,” says Ann Hoyme, known to most as Robbie, proprietor of Blue Lotus Trading Co. in Winston- Salem.
It’s a respite from the corporate and chain stores that litter our suburbs. Each display is a shrine to artists, most of them women, many who live halfway across the world. The store could be a museum of international craft culture, except that the wonders of the world are out in the open to be touched and explored, and every item is for sale. Well… almost every item.
Enclosed in a glass case rest a pair of hand-embroidered silk slippers from Thailand, circa 1700, and Robbie isn’t sure whether or not she can part with them.
“They do have a price-tag, but I think I’ve made it high enough where I won’t have to worry about it,” she says.
There are other items in the store that Robbie wouldn’t mind holding on to, like those pieces of handcrafted furniture from Shandong and other Chinese provinces, each finished with a wax seal unique to its region.
“China isn’t letting a lot of this stuff out anymore,” she says. “Once they sell, pieces like this are really hard to get in again.” Robbie’s first shop, GAIA, has been a staple in Winston-Salem for 17 years and remains a vital part of the Whole Foods shopping center on Miller Street in Winston-Salem. There she sells eclectic women’s clothing and other handcrafted items. The origin of Blue Lotus began within GAIA’s walls.
It was really a matter of space.
“Once I realized that GAIA would not allow me to be all things, and celebrate women-craft everywhere, I decided to limit GAIA to [products from] the US and Europe, and open another store for the other parts, the rest of the world,” she says.
Blue Lotus is the “other part” — all of “the textiles, the things women make, the beautiful jewelry, the tribal accents.” Robbie created Blue Lotus to showcase the treasures she’s curated from a lifetime of seeking.
She explains that many of her friends had been in the Peace Corps, and had introduced her to the artistry of the indigenous peoples they had met.
“Almost everything I have is old; wonderful global antiques,” she says.
Unlike chain curio shops that may have handmade items selling cheap, Robbie insists that her items truly are fair trade.
“I like to buy from the source, from the artist herself, instead of from organizations,” she says.
In her own travels, Robbie finds crafted goods of interest and brings them back to her store. Zooties (baby shoes created to look like little animals) from Kyrgyzstan line a shelf above a basketful of handmade toys from Mexico. And Mala beads dangle everywhere.
“Somebody came in here once and told me: They said, ‘Every time you turn around in here you see something from a completely different viewpoint. And I just loved that!”
Most of the pieces in Blue Lotus are striking and one of a kind: a temple door from India, a mermaid from Indonesia, a suzani throw from Turkey. Captivating pillows and bags with screen-printed faces of women from across the globe, stitched together with strips of decorative fabric and hand-sewn, are on display.
“I met these two sisters from Morocco and they have done all of this photography
of tribal women,” she says. “I fell in love with their things.”
Several items are remade from Kanthas, hand-stitched textiles from Southeast Asia generally used as a women’s dowry.
“These pieces are old,” she says. “There are a lot of newer ones being mass-produced, but you can tell the difference. Look at this.”
She points out the dotted rows of thread that stripe the intricately patterned throw. A curve made of baby hats from Nepal line the archway of the store, worn to ward off evil spirits. Robbie gets them from a Nepalese woman who buys them, cleans them up and sells them overseas.
“Smell them… they all smell like this detergent they use in Nepal.”
The collection that Robbie has pulled in from around the world is remarkable and shopping in Blue Lotus is a delight to the senses.
“I believe in enhancing the human experience. I want to make it beautiful… this store is here for seekers of beauty.”
Blue Lotus Trading Co.
53 Miller St., W-S
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