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A Little Bit of Everything At Tinkerings

Entrepreneur Katrina Baker and Artisan Thomas Crickenburger discuss the artist's bird sculptures.

by Mary Campagna

When you think of craft stores, you usually don’t think of Diego Velasquez’ famous painting, “Las Meninas,” resurrected in an artistically performed tableau. Well, maybe not. But Karina Baker, owner of Tinkerings, an avant-garde arts and crafts store on Main Street in Salem, has had the mind of a ‘tinkerer’ since age two – so you never know.

“My nickname is Tinker because I’d get inside the kitchen cabinets and unscrew the doors until they fell off,” Baker said. “Then I’d put them back together in a new and unique way.”

And yes, “Las Meninas” will be performed at Tinkerings by actor/teacher Claudia DeFranco on February 16, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm as part of the Marginal Arts Festival.

That will not surprise people who know Baker, 59; an artist/craftswoman herself. She possesses far more than a magic bird box of talent. That’s one of the items she sells in the store.

“My husband Mark and I came down from Kodiak and Fairbanks, Alaska about 37 years ago because Mark could smell the grass here and see the squirrels in Virginia, even in November,” Baker said. “We both fell in love with this area.”

The couple moved to Roanoke and Katrina Baker started her shop in Salem last August. Actually, it sort of bloomed into being.

“My initial business plan was ‘HAVE FUN, AND NO STRESS ALLOWED,’” Baker said. “And I topped that off with my philosophy of business: ‘Cooperation between community businesses will go a lot further than competition.’”

Baker has proven to be a person of her word because in one short year she has helped to initiate “Salem Open ’Till 9” nights among many local merchants instead of just one or two on the same night, as well as convincing merchants to stay open until 9:00 pm on Fridays.

Customers who enter the doors of Tinkerings are in for a paradisiacal adventure.

“I speak to everyone who comes in the store and everyone is fascinating to me in their own way,” Baker said.

Maybe that’s how her business has attracted about 35 regional vendors, ages 11 to 84. Baker only receives 10 % of the profit, while most coop owners take 13% or more. But no one can explain the immense pool of talent hidden behind the shop’s quaint doors.

“I wanted really unique crafts,” Baker said. “I don’t want to insult anyone, but I wanted more than church bazaar; I wanted totally amazing.”

Amazing wouldn’t adequately describe Linda Gardner’s framed needlepoints or Karen Columbeck’s steel sculptures and birdhouses. Columbeck worked in a shipyard, according to Baker, and honed her art there using the materials around her. At Lapidary, Jan Morgan makes pendants, earrings and necklaces out of natural stone.

“I found Karina on Craig’s List,” Morgan said, “and I’m so glad I did because the shop brings back memories of New Orleans, where I grew up.”

Thomas Crickenburger’s lifelike wood carvings of birds and other creatures would make Ruskin and Morris proud. John Ruskin and William Morris started the Arts and Crafts Movement in England in the late 19th century with the dream of involving the common man in art for craft and production.

Baker is delighted to represent artisans like Monica Sheehan Slaska, whose portraits of animals in watercolors, oils and acrylics have the customer doing a double-take to see if the creatures have emerged from their canvases to take pats on the head.

Tinkerings presents everything from a band-aid jar fashioned into an iconic Victorian tin-type, to an art nouveau angel assemblage made of decoupage and painted tin; handmade glass beads, to polished wood-turned bowls; hand-made purses made out of the alluring dark yarns of old sweaters, to miniature baby dolls made of paper (two lie blissfully asleep in a heart-shaped walnut). When they wake, those tiny dolls will dance in a customer’s head like sugarplums.

Tinkerings is located at 4 East Main in Salem and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information call 389-8465.

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