The lost art of art

In the age of tech and trade, handmade Mother’s Day gifts are still tops

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 10, 2017

 Grace Sadler, 2, of Royal Oak, creates a masterpiece for Mom at Green Garden Child Development Center.

Grace Sadler, 2, of Royal Oak, creates a masterpiece for Mom at Green Garden Child Development Center.

Photo provided by Erica Bateman-Tank, of Green Garden Child Development Center

METRO DETROIT — Ask any mother, and she’ll be happy to tell you why her 10-year-old macaroni necklace is just as valuable to her as her diamond pendant.

The sentiment that comes along with a gift crafted with love isn’t lost on any parent. These days, though, with online retailers just a click away, many of us opt instead to buy a present and have it delivered to Mom’s doorstep. 

But there’s so much more in a handmade gift than just paint and glue — there are memories, and even learning opportunities, according to Erica Bateman-Tank, owner and program director of Green Garden Child Development Center in Hazel Park and Madison Heights. 

Over the next few days, the kids enrolled at Green Garden will be making Mother’s Day gifts to take home for the special ladies in their lives with eco-friendly materials and recycled paper for wrapping.

“We believe children need to be given opportunities to be creative and have open-ended art experiences that are focused on the process, rather than the product,” Bateman-Tank explained. “Even though the end product of this particular art is to create Mother’s Day gifts, we know the children take pride in giving Mom a gift they created themselves. And Mom will treasure that gift as a special memento for years to come.”

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, which co-hosts the annual Art Birmingham fair in downtown Birmingham each Mother’s Day weekend, is always careful to select artists who will show pieces that could make for great gifts. 

But according to BBAC President and CEO Annie VanGelderen, the art center puts even more thought into one area of the event in particular: the children’s art activity tent, where younger guests can come and make a unique gift for Mom at no cost. This year’s project will be “twinkle cards,” which are paper lanterns that fold up into a card and can be unfolded into a lantern illuminated by a battery-operated tea light candle. 

“No two creations will ever be the same — each is totally one of a kind,” said VanGelderen of the value of crafted gifts. “And the bonus of the gift being hand-touched and personal is that the one making the gift will experience the pleasure of the creative process.”

There’s a similar pleasure of taking photos of those memories with a camera. The shooter gets to experience the excitement of capturing that meaningful moment on film, while others can later relive that memory when they look and relook at the photo.

That is, if the photos are ever printed.

“People are not printing their pictures. I call it the ‘lost generation of photos,’” said Burt Weidner, of Woodward Camera in Birmingham. “I’ve talked to so many people who don’t back up and they lose everything.”

Weidner said sales at his store for point-and-shoot cameras have dropped 70 percent in the past five years. That’s because customers just don’t see the point of buying an additional camera when there’s one built right into their smartphone. 

But the quality and the photography process aren’t the same between the two devices.

“We used to sell albums and frames, but people aren’t printing the pictures like they were. And when they try, the best you’ll get is a 4-by-6-inch print. You can’t blow it up any more, and people get really disappointed. But you can’t make something out of nothing.”

Just like handmade items are falling by the wayside, so are photos, according to Weidner. The way to salvage those beloved memories is to take as many photos as you can on a real camera, and then have them printed into a physical form. Those make pretty great gifts too, after all. 

“We make hundreds of different gifts, anything you can think of — from keychains to pictures on metal, which look really sharp,” Weidner said. “We’re actually doing a Mother’s Day special where we’ll make five 4-by-6-inch prints for free. We’re trying to get people to think about doing something with their photos.”