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March 28, 2012
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Profit from passions

There is an old quote that says, "The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure ... He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both."

That adage certainly applies to a number of cottage industry operators in Eagle and Gypsum who are earning a living doing what they love. They may still have regular jobs as well, but their diverse interests and talents helped them find their way to glean profits in their passions.

The charm imbibed in Nedra Bonta's hand-painted glassworks reveals itself most tellingly when the person who is drinking from one of her creations finishes his or her beverage.

That's when the flower at the bottom of the glass appears.

"I can't tell you where the idea came from that the flower is the glass. That's the fun part of it. You are holding a flower and drinking out of a flower," said Bonta

Bonta's Shazam Designs pieces are pieces of tactile art. She hand paints floral designs on an array of glassware ranging from mini-martini glasses to large decanters. Her booth has been a popular spot at local art shows and farmer's markets as people marvel at the dainty daisies and striking sunflowers that bloom around her display.

Bonta has always enjoyed crafting and harbored a desire to try painting. Then one day she watched a PBS show that demonstrated one stroke painting styles and she was hooked. Before long, she decided she wanted to try painting on glass and she purchased some wineglasses to test her skills.

"I was working for a local real estate company and I painted two glasses for every broker as a Christmas present. The were all really excited about them," said Bonta.

One of those brokers asked Bonta to paint more glasses as a closing gift for a client. Then other friends and business associates started making special requests. Finally, in 2009, Bonta decided to give her blooming business a shot. She started selling at local craft fairs and she hasn't stopped since.

These days, Bonta's work is sold at Fox Ridge Fine Art Glass Gallery in Breckenridge and at the Wildflower Boutique in Ouray year-round in addition to her booth sales. Last summer she was part of both the Vail and Eagle Farmer's Markets as well as the Beaver Creek Arts Festival. That's the circuit she hopes to sell in again this year.

"The Beaver Creek Show was incredible. I averaged a sale every 9 1/2 minutes during that two-day show," said Bonta.

What Bonta loves most about her work is that it is whimsical, unique, and yet still attainable. A long stemmed wine glass costs around $26. "It is affordable, useable art," she said.

Last year she sold around 1,000 glasses. "To me, that is just amazing for a home business that started on my dining room table," said Bonta.

Right now, she is gearing up for the busy summer season. She would like to have an inventory of 300 to 400 glasses completed before market season comes. Her process is to complete one part of the design on a number of glasses and then move to the next element. "It's an assembly line. First I paint all the apples and then I paint all the grapes and then all the pears, down the line. It's the quickest way to get them painted."

Once a glass is completed, Bonta bakes it in her household oven to set the design. "They are completely dishwasher safe, but if you want them to last forever, you should hand-wash them," she said.

As she surveys her garden of glasses, Bonta said even when she is behind on orders and feeling pressured while painting, she loves her creations and is thrilled by the positive feedback she gets from customers. Bonta noted that many people who check out her display talk about how they would be terrified of breaking such special glasses. She said her glasses are sturdier than people think and she urges customers to embrace the idea of using something special even when they are doing something as routine as enjoying a cocktail.

"Life is short. Enjoy the extraordinary," she said.

Bonta's work can be viewed and purchased through her website www. ShazamDesigns.net.

-Pam Boyd


When you walk into John Cummins' industrial space at Airpark Drive in Gypsum, it's hard to tell exactly what his business might be. Computers and gadgets line the counters and longboards line the walls. Is it a board shop or engineering firm? Basically, it's both.

Cummins runs Marmot Electric from the space, where he also designs and sells his custom longboards. In terms of skateboarding, longboards are much bigger than trick boards and designed for speed and carving down paved hills.

The skateboard company is called Street Swell and Cummins runs it with his dad and brother, who reside in his native state of California.

"I skateboarded as a kid and got back into it when my daughters started riding scooters, around 2002," Cummins said. "In 2005, a friend in Gypsum was making longboards in his garage and got me into it. We made about 10 a year. In 2007, I wanted to make it more than a hobby."

That's when he started his own company and moved production to California, where his dad made cabinets. The woodwork is done in California and then sent to Gypsum for the finishing touches.

"My favorite part is the first time I have a finished board in my hands and take it for a ride," Cummins said.

Since 2007, Street Swell has specialized in making custom boards made from exotic woods like Afromosia, Zebrawood, Purple Heart and Wenge.

"Every January, I go to California and we select wood for the next year's production," he said. "As the decks mature, the colors in the wood change a little, almost always for the better. I'm still learning, running into new species of wood."

The company also tries to reuse material, such as a door made of Koa wood that was going to be scrapped, and buys hardware from North American businesses as much as possible. The wheels are from Boulder and the trucks (basically axles) are from Canada.

Last year, Street Swell produced 10 custom and 60 regular boards, all by hand. (To learn more about that process, visit www.streetswell.com.)

"We've grown slowly, doubling business every summer, and we incorporate some new designs each year," Cummins said.

A design the company now incorporates into all its boards is inlaid fake mother of pearl.

"That was inspired by guitar designs and we buy the fake mother of pearl from the Gibson Guitar company," Cummins said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has a custom Street Swell board that features the inlay design. That board is on the wall of his office but Street Swell is making him another one to ride.

Cummins said he met "The Gov" through a friend in Denver who owns a reputable board shop there.

The boards sell anywhere from $225 and $450 for ones made with regular hard woods like oak - to $645. The latter price is for a stand up longboard that comes with a staff a rider can push him or herself along with as they would on a stand up paddle board used on water. Those prices aren't typical for longboards but these longboards are definitely not typical.

Marmot Electric employees also end up helping with board designs and such, as work between the two companies is done in the same building. One of the architects is apparently quite the sketch artist.

"I suppose it's like writing all the parts of a song and hearing them come together," Cummins said of the personal satisfaction he gets from crafting the boards. Cummins is also in a band called Monk Tonic that recently started performing at the Brush Creek Saloon in Eagle, among other places.

For more information about Street Swell, call 877-216-9091, email info@streetswell.com or visit the business at 147 Airpark Drive, Unit 1-C, in Gypsum.

-Derek Franz


If it's antique, rare and western, Donna Fasi knows how to find it - and how to restore it.

Fasi operates Spring Creek Floral and the Purple Sage Cafe next to Manto's Pizza in Gypsum. The sign on her store says "Floral" but that doesn't tell Fasi's whole story. She's also an accountant, a honey farmer and the owner of The Beardance Ranch Fine Western Collectibles, specializing in saddle and leather restoration as well as finding hard-to-find items such as 100-year-old bits and spurs. Her floral shop is consequently something of a museum, with all kinds of artifacts tucked into every corner among the rest of the artwork she sells.

She's been restoring and collecting since the 1980s, and luxury home designers now seek her services.

"Somehow they found me and started coming to me for their projects around 2006," Fasi said. "Sometimes they have specific things they want me to find and other times I help them with the design."

Fasi said she goes to a lot of auctions and employs a strict financial strategy. It's her curiosity that keeps her going and gives her the patience to restore brittle leather.

"Restoration reveals stories," she said.

She recently acquired a red saddle that was black.

"It was a 90-year-old woman's pony saddle she used when she was a girl," Fasi said. "It was completely rotted and dried, in very bad shape. The night we got it, my husband and I stayed up until 3 a.m. working on it, we were so excited."

It took four cleanings over a month and they discovered the saddle was actually red. Restoring leather properly relies on patience more than anything else.

"I don't ever put a chemical on leather, except maybe leather cleaner," Fasi said. "Sometimes leather is so brittle I have to soak it in water for days. When you can't bend it, leather cleaner would break it. Leather cleaner and preservatives should only be used on it when it's still wet."

Fasi estimates she's restored about 200 saddles. She started in her 20s, mostly with her own stuff because she didn't want to throw it away. Then friends started coming to her with items they wanted restored or things they think she might be interested in, including old paintings.

"I never know what's going to come in the door," she said.

One of Fasi's best discoveries came out of a box of spurs she bought in California.

"My husband teased me for buying a box of junk and then I had my best find in 30 years," she said, taking a single spur off the wall. "This was the only one. It's from the 1800s and is the kind of spur you would see in California Gold Rush photos."

Fasi dates spurs by their architecture and style.

"Around the 1920s, people started clipping the points off spurs or making them square-ended," she said. "That was probably about the time animal rights started becoming more of a concern. The older spurs just look brutal."

Other prizes of Fasi's include a 300-year-old bit from the Sonora desert and a jail lock from the 1890s. When she gets many of the metal items, they're rusted into obscurity. Lots of careful polishing reveals engraved names and tell-tale designs that give hints about their history.

"If I have my mind on something like TV while I'm polishing it's not so tedious," she said. "I use mineral oil and a little bit of No. 4 Steel Wool and very carefully start scrubbing."

Scrubbing too hard will remove silver or obscure special markings. Fasi uses her judgment on when a piece shouldn't be scrubbed any more.

As for herself, "People will send me a list of what they want to find and that's when I shine," she said.

The Beardance Ranch Fine Western Collectibles can be reached at (970) 524-7057 or by dropping by Spring Creek Floral at 106 Oak Ridge Drive in Gypsum.

-Derek Franz


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 28, 2012 12:57PM Published Mar 28, 2012 12:46PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.