The tag “Made in the Northern Mariana Islands” used to be a coveted title that was affixed to many of the clothes that were made in the Commonwealth during the garment factory years of the late ’80s and early ’90s and shipped to the United States.
These days, with the factories now all gone, that tag has become a byword among local artists, who create art pieces borne out of passion and hard-won skills, and whose products make great souvenirs for the islands’ many tourists and even residents.
This holiday season, give our CNMI artists the attention they deserve by giving gifts and souvenirs that are 100% made in the CNMI. These people carry with them the passion, talent and ingenuity to make the CNMI community a better place to live in, which is why local support is warranted.
“A lot of people are starting to appreciate something that is handmade now,” said one of the CNMI’s more prolific artists, Greg Elliot, whose hobby revolves around art. “Handmade is a trending idea, especially when there is a globalization of products. Getting something that is handmade in your community…is what people look for. …I want people who buy my art to feel that they got something unique from Saipan,” he said.
Elliot, who grew up in Los Angeles, started painting watercolor in high school. “It was in college where I actually really took off with art. I had great teachers and was into watercolors for 15 years until 10 years ago, I transitioned more into acrylics and oils,” he said.
One will never miss Elliot’s art as it is colorful and is always bright and interesting. “I’ve been getting into acrylic pouring techniques where I pour paint and then doing realism on top of the pours… building the two together.”
Elliot has been a resident of Saipan for 16 years now and worked as a resident artist for DFS Galleria for 10 years. “Much of my work has tropical themes. Now I’m combining tropical scenes with fantasy. When I got here I just started hitting the pavement and trying to get my art in different stores and, luckily, DFS opened right away. They liked my stuff and they set me up with a gallery area for 10 years and sold a lot of paintings,” he said.
These days, Elliot does a lot of gift-type sizes—4”x4” original pieces—”so I am doing little canvas paintings that are small, easy to take home, great for gifts and affordable, which I think the market needs right now. …I have endless ideas and a sketchbook full of ideas and always coming up with new concepts. I really like to combine what I see from different places and creating something original and new,’ he added.
More of Elliot’s original paintings in bigger pieces, prints, and apparels can be seen on www.windmonk.com. With the goal to promote art even more, Elliot will open an art class on Jan. 7, 2020—an after-school program for children ages 6 to 12. It is free on the first day and $22 a class thereafter. It has 100 slots available and classes will be held at the Saipan International School.
Tanya Salas, owner of Tahine’s Creations and Tahine’s TV productions, grew up in a family of weavers and carvers in Pohnpei.
“I watched my aunties and uncles make things. …I grew up around weaving, carving, and creating things, so I try to make something too as a hobby. …I made things for myself like earrings and necklaces and friends complimented the pieces and, orders started pouring in,” she said.
With Tahine’s Creations, Salas makes handicrafts, design handmade jewelry made of shells and natural materials, and ornaments for occasions or holidays.
“I also make baskets…the natural materials I get from my homeland of Pohnpei. …Making every piece takes time but, in the end, the quality is good and every piece is one-of-a-kind,” she said.
Salas said that when people support local artists, they also support the growth of the community. “People have to support their own locally-made products as they are from natural resources. …Artists give their time and resources to make one piece.”
“When I see customers wear my work, it makes me feel happy and satisfied. …Every piece promotes my island culture that I am proud of,” she added.
‘Share what I see’
Photographer Pangshuhsu, who really prefers to be called that, has been enjoying so much of what the CNMI has to offer in terms of beautiful images that, pretty soon, he has accumulated gigabytes of pictures. “And I figured I better to do something with that,” he said.
Whenever he is out on weekends, he does underwater photography while diving or take photos while driving around.
“I figured out a way to represent the island in semi-abstract ways and…share what I see, put it in a canvas so that people can take home something from the island that is easy to put on the wall. Anything that happens after that is a gift or a bonus,” he added.
According to Pangshushu, his form of photography is a protest against the selfie culture. “Most of my photographs have no people represented in them or very little. It is always about nature or animals,” he said.
Elliot, Salas and Pangshushu’s arts are available at the Marianas Creations pub and restaurant located along Micro Beach Road in Garapan. MC owner Elena Chhetri said that they welcome more local products to be featured at Marianas Creations. “We are open to any type of products that are made in the Marianas by any producer who is in the Marianas. …We are here to offer them space,” she said.