A triple Sagittarius, creative director Alex Tieghi-Walker is (by his own admission) a restless soul, which means that – government-imposed lockdowns notwithstanding – he is constantly roaming the earth, immersing himself in different cultures and projects. It’s during these trips, particularly to Japan and to the ceramics studios and folk-art museums that can be found there, that first ignited his interest in things that have been handcrafted, and prompted him to found his shop Tiwa Select. Currently settled in a century-old barn built from redwood beams in Berkeley, California, which if you follow his Instagram (@tiwa–select) you’ve already fallen in love with, it’s here that he runs Tiwa Select, a meticulously curated selection of handcrafted pieces: offbeat – and beautiful – folk art, found objects and artefacts. And while the pieces are themselves diverse, they are each chosen to “bring delight into the home” and share three important characteristics: they are hand-crafted; their creator has mostly been self-taught; and, while they may reference other works, they demonstrate “extraordinary individual execution in form, design, or decoration”. Due to the current crisis, this store can be found online, though Tieghi-Walker has plans to open it as a physical space (in the shop attached to his home) in the not too distant future. Here, his friend and Dazed’s editor-in-chief Isabella Burley speaks to him about the story behind Tiwa Select, his predilection for all things handcrafted and his very favourite pieces.
Isabella Burley: How did the idea for Tiwa Select first come about?
Alex Tieghi-Walker: I’ve always dreamed of running a shop or a space to bring together my interests; it would feel as informal and experimental as my zines, have a food element, celebrate folk art, the home ... to run a project like this where I would be able to interact with people and share stories was really exciting. When I moved to Berkeley, California, I found a home that came with a built-in shop space and it took me a couple of years of figuring out what that shop should be. It wasn’t until a trip to Japan last year for my really good friends’ wedding that I considered Tiwa. Japanese shops are fascinating: they are either huge, brash, bright and hellish, or the exact opposite: beautifully curated, small ... such care and precision in every detail. I realised that I wanted to open a shop like that. I wrote myself a manifesto on a train from Kyoto to Tokyo, then asked my friend Simon [Renggli – former senior designer Ace Hotels] to help me create a brand identity, logo, et cetera, which has become as important to telling the story of the store as the objects themselves.
IB: Supporting self-taught artists and things that have been handcrafted seems to be at the heart of Tiwa Select – why is that so important to you?
ATW: I’ve always skewed towards working with creators at the outset of their career. When I worked in editorial commissioning photography and film, I would often look towards recent graduates, or students for projects. In creating The Anonymous Sex Journal, I work with artists either at the beginning or mid-point of their career. It’s always been a double win for me – it’s more economical (and freeing) from my perspective, but also gives creators a platform to continue their journey and their exposure. Of course, it’s about the right mix. One of the artists I’m working with, Jeffrey [Cheung – founder of Oakland-based queer skate collective Unity] has plenty of recognition for his art, but has never created homewares before, so that context feels appropriate for Tiwa Select. Laura Rule is an extremely accomplished creative director, but creating vessels from clay is a somewhat newer direction for her creativity. I like that I can be part of that journey and bring her work into my world, and to my audience. In terms of the handcrafted element, I really do value craft and consideration and one-of-a-kind above mass production. It’s my approach with food, clothes, and design. Of course, I realise the privilege in being able to consume this way, and it hasn’t always been the case, but now, right now, I’m happy to be able to choose how big my impact on the earth is, what it means to consider creating more slowly and cautiously, and I want to celebrate it with others.
IB: Why is California the perfect home base for it?
ATW: I would love to be able to take Tiwa anywhere that I end up. I think so many cultures and crafts are represented in the collection that it would be really interesting to see how the objects skew based on where I am located ... I think the fluidity of Tiwa is what will keep it exciting further down the line. Of course, for now, I’m lucky to be able to call California my base. California has incredible ties to creativity and folk art and craft – we have a long indigenous history, and wonderful museums that showcase pre-Colonial works, but in recent history, California has ties to cultures that really value continued craft and craft for the home – Latin America, Asia … it’s always been a hotbed for experimentation and that includes for design. Northern California has a deeply-imbued connection with Japan – through its food, ecology, architecture, and through its design culture ... I’m thinking JB Blunk just up the coast in Marin, the work of Ido Yoshimoto, the playfulness of Ruth Asawa, the ecological stance and design sensibility of artist and friend Fritz Haeg ... the identity of the home, and the objects in it, in both Northern California and Japan is paralleled very neatly.
IB: You’ve always had such a wonderful curiosity about seeing the world and spending time in Japan, moving to California, et cetera. What sparks that desire?
ATW: My quick answer is: triple Sagittarius. Restless soul. In reality, I just really get joy from being surprised and spontaneous, and travel offers me that feeling. Even though we didn’t have so much money growing up, my mother would prioritise travel, which would often feel really rustic and ‘local’ simply based on the fact we would be staying with friends in their scrappy little farms in France, or taking early morning trains down the coast of Italy, sleeping in stations. She was a real adventurer and also had hoarder tendencies, so my home was full of objects and odds and sods we had picked up from travels. I’m exactly the same … I like to dive into a culture and lose myself a bit, and come home with suitcases and bags full of things I’ve picked up. I like being challenged to fit in somewhere and I get immense pride from understanding part of a place, or being able to immerse myself in another community when I travel. Of all my trips though, I do find my trip to Japan one of the most significant. So many of my interests and ideas aligned there, I loved touring ceramics studios and folk-art museums, and came back with a really clear direction that I would like my career and personal life to head in ... of which a lot of that is Tiwa Select!
IB: What are some of the pieces in the selection you treasure the most?
ATW: Out of the found objects, I have a collection of really beautiful Japanese textiles that I found in junk shops in Kyoto and Tokyo, and flea markets, that I’m really excited to be selling. I planned my trip around several flea markets and spent hours rummaging around stalls. I love the print designs, and the imperfections in the stamp, and even the way some pieces have been repaired; the handiwork of the repair-job is almost as intricate as the print themselves. Some of the studio ceramics from the past few decades in California are also really special – a bulbous vessel with two openings that looks a bit like a big clay heart, for example. I really like all the commissioned pieces; the creators all practise so differently, yet somehow the energy and playfulness they put into their work unites them, from Laura’s topsy-turvy clay towers, to the naked balloon-like people running all over Jeffrey’s globe lampshades. I also find the masks really fascinating; I’ve been collecting masks for years and find they have so much soul. A lot of cultures use masks as allegory or to set a tone of storytelling. The marks and shapes and patterns of the masks tell so much, and hide so much, too. They’re fascinating ...
IB: With everything moving online for the launch [and the physical store postponed due to Covid-19] do you think it sparks an interesting dialogue between the digital world and items that are found objects, handmade, physical things, et cetera?
ATW: This is interesting, I’d actually never even considered taking Tiwa Select online ... it was always intended to be a physical space where the curated objects would work to tell the stories of other objects, and people would see them in the context of the home, the place in which they would be used. I’d planned to make the objects useful even in the shop space, commissioning Ikebana to be placed in all the vessels, or serving food from the plates. By taking the collection online, I’ve tried to continue that idea as much as I can – the inventory images (photographed by Damien Maloney) show the objects in use, playful details about how the object might be used. To buy objects, people will still need to email me ... I didn’t want this to simply be a ‘click-to-buy’ webstore, I still want a relationship to the audience, and to be able to share stories about the objects. Trying to keep this all as ‘analogue’ as I can even though the shop is switching to digital ... even in terms of figuring out how to send the objects I’m trying to make this as much about the object and the experience of owning something handmade. The packages will feel like the anti-Amazon delivery, and will be customised to each order.
IB: What object could you not live without?
ATW: Probably my cowboy hat. It hides my bald batch and keeps the sun out of my eyes. I wear it when I’m gardening, driving, or outside. I picked it up from a western-wear shop in Lone Pine California and it’s from the 1980s. I’ve even learned how to shape it when it starts to get floppy. The other item I can’t live without is a little hat I bought with my mum in Bolivia when I was 18. It’s from the 1950s and is embroidered with planes and trucks and other strange pieces of ‘new technology’ sitting alongside more traditional objects like looms, and farm animals. It’s pure folk art, probably the first piece of folk art I purchased. I usually hang it next to my bed wherever I live. It was hanging next to my bunk when I lived on a boat, and now it’s nailed to the wall in Berkeley next to a framed Robert Mapplethorpe show poster.
IB: What are the future dreams, plans and goals for Tiwa Select?
ATW: I really feel like this is just the start. I can’t wait to open the physical space. I want various editions of the shop to open for brief periods of time in homes, so that the objects are viewed in the environment in which they will eventually be used, starting with my own home, a century-old barn built from 400-year-old redwood beams. I’d love each iteration of the store to be anchored by an object, and for the objects to link to that object either through form, function, or culture. There will be a food component, a printed inventory … it will be a whole experience. I’ve had some really lovely invites from businesses and exhibition spaces in San Francisco and down in Los Angeles to do pop-up events ... and I’m excited to see what Tiwa Select looks like when I do it somewhere else ... what would it look like in Mexico City (where one day I will live) ... where I have access to different creators and crafts. I also can’t wait to bring more artists onto this journey ... or rather, to join them on their journey for a split-moment in time.