Its 'paper doll museum' catches sprit of unique new boutique
"Uplifted Boutique and Maker's Market" is a fitting name for this new DIY-driven consignment boutique and craft shop, on the east side of S.E. 72nd Avenue, just north of Harold Street.
The boutique, as well as the 1970s paper doll museum it contains, and the community theater space next door, are all the brainchildren of Judi Martin, who owns and runs the business in partnership with her husband, David Argast.
Judi remembers the moment the idea for the boutique entered her head – it was at a key point during her own grieving process, after her father's sudden decline and death from an aggressive brain illness. Her sorrow so enveloped her, she had resigned herself to a life without joy. The "mystical experience" that finally lifted her out of that deep grief was accompanied by a creative vision for the business which is now to be found in Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood.
Securing the space for her creative vision was partly luck. Judi chanced to talk with the owner of the property, which had changed hands recently; he had long-term plans to redevelop, but was willing to rent out space for Judi's shop in the meantime. She and David subsequently worked out a deal to rent two separate spaces, on the north and south sides of the horseshoe-shaped building that houses two other unrelated small businesses as well. The building was very run down, she said. The couple chose to do their cleaning and fixing-up themselves, and were rewarded with a retail space that feels bright, airy, and fresh.
"Uplifted Boutique" was poised to open in mid-March – but the state's quarantine orders and other life events delayed the opening until September.
During the months between March and September, Judi turned to the mission statement she and her husband had written when they were developing the business. "You know," her husband had said to her then, "we have to have a mission statement, and then whenever we lose our way, we look back to the mission statement." Their mission was stated simply, "To bring joy to the community."
Following that philosophy, in the months before the boutique opened, she and David were able to use the picture window in the front of their space to stage static scenes, intented to comfort and delight passersby. When teddy bears came to symbolize community care and comfort, they used scaffolding to create a deep display box, and Judi depicted an elaborate teddy bear picnic in the window, in which the bears were socially-distanced, wore masks, and even had paw sanitizer. Later, the couple refreshed the display to become an underwater teddy bear scene, featuring fanciful flying jellyfish.
So, when heavy wildfire smoke shadowed the boutique's September opening, Judi turned that new setback into an opportunity to take positive community action: She donned "a really big face mask" and played uplifting music on a keyboard outside in the shop's courtyard in the temporary smoky gloom.
Customers and visitors walking in the front door today will find that the Uplifted Boutique space feels light, and the ambience joyful and welcoming. A "little library" bookshelf with free books for kids is set right inside the front door. Stylings of the 1970s – the decade of Judi's childhood – are reflected in the consignment clothing and accessories, as well as in the fun flowers used as a thematic element on the walls and floor.
A macramé revival is alive and well in Portland, so even though the beautiful pieces hanging on the wall are right at home, they are not unique to this 1970s boutique. What is unique, however, is Judi's pristinely-kept paper doll collection, perfectly framed and presented now as a museum, in a corner not too far from the shop's front entrance.
These paper dolls are ones Judi cut out and played with when she was a child. She was very careful with her paper dolls and their wardrobe sets, and kept them safe even as she outgrew them – including the books they came in. She didn't think of herself as a collector, but she dreamed of passing them on to her own daughter one day. But, years later, she made the conscious decision not to pass them on, realizing they could quickly be damaged and torn by her small daughter. Instead, she brought out her treasured paper dolls and showed them to her daughter, explaining, "We just have to look at them with our eyes – so we can share these with your kids, my grandkids."
Realizing the paper dolls might become more precious over time prompted her daughter to suggest she donate the collection to a museum, and Judi always loved that idea; so when she got her store, she decided to make her own museum. She had each set of paper dolls framed separately – in displays that include informational labels – under UV-protective glass. Ironically, she picked up the last of the framed displays – the biggest one – just as COVID-19 arrived to delay her plans.
Now that the boutique is open, the paper doll museum is well worth a visit – offering a trip down memory lane to anyone who has ever played with paper dolls. It's a great presentation, and a good sampling, of the varieties produced by the Whitman Publishing Company in the 1970s.
Judi tells THE BEE she has thoroughly enjoyed the creative process of setting up the store and its related endeavors – a process that is still ongoing. She regrets the ways in which the pandemic has challenged artists and hampered people's ability to create and share art in community. Although much creativity is happening online, she feels it is not the same as "the energy field when you're next to somebody, and inspiration is literally the atoms and electrons that are meeting, and the energy [is what] you feel."
The entrance to the small performance and educational space Judi and David created as an adjunct to Uplifted Boutique is identified with a carved wooden sign proclaiming, "GOOD MEDICINE." They have used the space for producing their own Good Medicine Variety Shows, 10- to 15-minute productions showcasing local talent, and it is available for rent at very reasonable rates. During the pandemic, she said, they would love to see individuals utilizing the virtual theater space to stage solo video productions they might share with the Internet community.
Essentially and overall, Judi and David are all about using creativity as the connector to build joyful community in their corner of Inner Southeast Portland. As Judi observes, "[People] are creators. We are born to create." By offering an outlet for makers, a consignment shop for curators, and a studio for performers, they hope to offer a few tangible answers to creators who may be asking themselves, "How do I keep my creative spirit alive right now? How do I make it through this time? How do I keep my head up and take care of myself?"
On Saturday, November 21, the couple organized a "Vintage Pop-up" event featuring music, food and drink, with vendors selling vintage clothes and homewares, and artists selling prints, jewelry, and other handcrafted merchandise – all socially distanced, with masks required, of course. They look forward to hosting many more such events in the future. And she has many more ideas waiting in the wings. "I know that 'time' is absolutely my most precious resource," she says. "And I've also come to realize that I cannot do what I want to do alone, which is why I'm really excited about building community."
Learn more online – www.upliftedboutique.com – and on Instagram: @uplifted_boutique.
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