October 3, 2004: Headlines: COS - Philippines: Decoration: Art: Handicrafts: Maine Today: Philippines RPCV Michael Bowdoin has acquired a large collection of handcrafted treasures that capture the spirit and mystery of distant cultures

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Philippines: Peace Corps Philippines: The Peace Corps in the Philippines: October 3, 2004: Headlines: COS - Philippines: Decoration: Art: Handicrafts: Maine Today: Philippines RPCV Michael Bowdoin has acquired a large collection of handcrafted treasures that capture the spirit and mystery of distant cultures

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Philippines RPCV Michael Bowdoin has acquired a large collection of handcrafted treasures that capture the spirit and mystery of distant cultures

Philippines RPCV Michael Bowdoin has acquired a large collection of handcrafted treasures that capture the spirit and mystery of distant cultures

Philippines RPCV Michael Bowdoin has acquired a large collection of handcrafted treasures that capture the spirit and mystery of distant cultures

Ethnic flair ; Decorative pieces from other cultures - or even your own - can inject distinctive sty...
Oct 3, 2004 - Portland Press Herald
Author(s): Selena Ricks Staff Writer

Frollicking in a lush grove of African flora, the Dahlov Ipcar- like lions, gazelles and monkeys are far from home.

The animals, pictured in a Hermes silk scarf centered on the pale yellow walls of the Portland apartment of Molly Morell and Michael Bowdoin, evoke scenes and temperatures found far from the Maine coast. The couple bought the large French scarf during a trip to Africa.

Morell and Bowdoin are frequent world travelers. Over the years they have acquired a large collection of handcrafted treasures that capture the spirit and mystery of distant cultures.

The relics, some fit for a museum, dominate the decor of each room of the couple's apartment, which overlooks Baxter Boulevard.

They say their ethnic decor is an alternative to "the packaging of Americana," and it creates a tranquil respite from the bustle of modern life.

"We buy things we think are art," said Morell. "Having had the opportunity to experience different cultures adds to your life. It broadens you."

Whether items are found during a vacation abroad or on the shelves of a local boutique offering imported goods, decor that hints of exotic places can inject character and style into your living space. The decor also may reflect interests, pastimes and heritage of the homeowner.

In the home, items from exotic cultures can include vibrant hues and graphic patterns that pose decorating challenges.

"When you're dealing with ethnic decor, the colors can seem vivid," said Atlanta interior decorator Yuwanda Black, co-owner of Ethnichomedecor.com, which sells African and Asian home accessories.

"Reds, purples, golds, yellows - those tend to initiate the idea that something is ethnic."

Black started her online retail business in 2002 after she had a hard time finding African goods to decorate her home, which was in New York at the time. "I was surprised that I was unable to find anything remotely interesting and affordable," said Black, an African- American.

She bought some African fabric from a store in Harlem and used it to sew a coverlet for her bed, and her friends began asking her to make pillowcases and curtains.

"The major retailers don't get it," said Black, who runs Ethnichomedecor.com with her sister, Cassandra Black. "You might see a few sheets with animal prints, but that's the extent of it. It's frustrating. . . . As the ethnic population in America grows, more people are interested in decor that reflects their culture. People like to see themselves in whatever they do."

Tod Dana, owner of Asia West on Commercial Street in Portland, says people are developing an appreciation for furnishings from afar.

"People who have inherited family furnishings in a traditional colonial style are coming into my shop looking for one or two special pieces that will accent their home," said Dana.

Asia West is undergoing an expansion this week, and the store, which carries furniture mostly from India, Indonesia, Nepal, China, Thailand and Vietnam, will carry more accent items for decorating, said Dana.

Furnishings from India are very popular right now, said Dana, who recently returned from there.

"Everything Indian has been quite fashionable, from yoga to meditation to block-printed curtains," he said.

In his store, anything in Chinese red has been a hit, he said.

"If you have a room with background colors and woodwork that is muted, and maybe the furniture and rugs are muted, something like a Chinese red cabinet becomes a focal point," said Dana. "It's a bold statement. It's vibrant but elegant."

The collectibles that Morell and Bowdoin acquired show their tastes and offer a glimpse of their personal adventures.

"We like to find things that are less tourist-y, more authentic," said Bowdoin, an education professor at the University of New England who served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines 50 years ago.

Antiquated weapons, such as an Indonesian poison dart gun, and tribal masks from places such as China and Costa Rica hang in the living room. Woven baskets from Tanzania hanging in the kitchen are reminders of the simplicity of country life.

Vibrant hues representative of African, Asian and European cultures are blended with subdued wall colors and paintings of Maine landscapes.

Many of their souvenirs are not just pretty to look at but are functional as well.

"The rugs are on the floors," said Morell, assistant director for program development for the University of Southern Maine's Center for Continuing Education.

"Our kitchen canisters are from Russia and Germany; our salad utensils are from Tanzania, and they're held in a pottery container from Alsace."


About three years ago, Rhea Cote Robbins decided the kitchen in her Brewer home needed a foreign accent to reflect her Franco- American heritage.

Cote Robbins was raised in Waterville, and French was her first language. But as a teenager, she rebelled against her parents and took less pride in her French roots.

As a young woman, Cote Robbins became curious about the Franco- American history of Waterville, but she says she found nothing on the subject in the local library at the time.

She is now a published author, instructor of Franco-American women's studies for the University of Maine's continuing education program and founder of the Franco-American Women's Institute.

Cote Robbins has examples of her renewed cultural pride on display in her kitchen, the focus of the French home, she says.

"I wanted to create an atmosphere that would remind me of the culture, not just of the memory, but how it makes itself new," said Cote Robbins, a 51-year-old mother of three adult children.

She scoured antique stores and flea markets in Maine and Quebec and searched online auction sites looking for kitchenware with French writing or artwork.

A three-piece canister set for sugar, coffee and tea with French labels and a matching bread box were a surprising discovery from a catalog.

"It's not easy," said Cote Robbins of finding affordable Franco- American housewares.

On her apple-red countertop, Cote Robbins has cups, tins, china and urns that either depict a bistro scene or offer French proverbs that remind her of her mother's wisdom.

Cote Robbins has other French items in her home, such as a map of L'le d'Orleans Island in Quebec over her fireplace, but her collection is mostly confined to her kitchen to illustrate her interest in the lives of Franco-American women.

"Even though this is a private space in my kitchen, it empowers me," said Cote Robbins. "There is a satisfaction from having an environment shaped by French as opposed to English themes. My sensibility, and what is more 'home' to me, is French."

For Morell and Bowdoin, whose ethnic decor reflects cultures other than their own, bringing a taste of the world into their home reminds them of their experiences as travelers.

"There's a process of immersing yourself in a cross-cultural experience," said Bowdoin of shopping in foreign marketplaces. "I often pause and admire something I have. There's a story behind everything in our home."

Staff Writer Selena Ricks can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:


When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: Maine Today

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Philippines; Decoration; Art; Handicrafts



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