The Benitez Collection (BC) is creating a new kind of art folk art: funky papier mâché jewelry from the Philippines. Founder Ramona McClelland states, “This jewelry is for the adventurous. It is elegant, yet eco-friendly and unique.” BC's collections are comprised of heritage eco bangles, pins, and pendants, as well as eclectic paper mache necklaces and bracelets.
Ramona was born in the Philippines, yet currently resides in New Hampshire. For years, she would travel to and from her native country with her family. During one of her trips accompanied by her son, she decided that it was time to give back to some of the unemployed women she met along her travels. She noticed that many of the men had access to employment, but opportunities were extremely slim for the women. BC became a way to create something sustainable for the families of women artists living throughout the villages of Remedios, Victoria Tarlac and Ligtasin, and Batangas. Ramona adds, “The women I first employed were all friends within this one village, which is comprised of 25 families. Some were married to the workers of my son, Bryan, who had them building his company’s bamboo bikes. In talking to them about what I wanted to do, I found out that they were being contracted on a piecemeal basis to make beaded purses so while this was not my vision of what I wanted our products to be, I was pleased that they at least had some skill in working with similar materials.”
Ramona explains, “The papier mâché process is quite modest. Women and their families simply cut up newspaper, soak it in water and cornstarch (or rice paste) in order to turn it into a mush. They next form it into different beads, poke a hole in each piece, and lay it out to dry in the sun. After a few days, the beads dry, are sanded, and then coated with a decoupage medium. Nothing goes to waste, including the sanded particles which are also collected to make additional pieces. The beads are painted with non-toxic, eco-green paint. Their contours and finish almost resemble rocks. Finally, the pieces are varnished with several coats of a non-toxic seal to make them water resistant.”
The Philippines are well known for their natural materials including wood, shells, metals, textiles, seeds, and so much more. Ramona did not want to compete with the already established businesses so she decided to innovate and do something different. Ramona’s goal is to continuously engage her clients with the beauty of Filipino culture through her constantly evolving collections. While attending Artisan Resource @ NY NOW at Pier 94 this February 1-4, 2014, be sure to stop by Ramona's booth!
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