When the Path Varies


I’ve always believed in leaving something meaningful behind. Although I believed in it, I never made a concerted effort to invest time into it. It was a concept that I wanted to hold closely and protect; yet I felt disconnected from it for so long. Legacy, my own and the legacy of my work, was never truly considered until I lost my father in 2016. That’s when I was confronted with his footprint, and after surveying his path, I considered my own. I thought about what I was doing, and what I wanted to do. I thought about what I had done over the years of being an artist, and how everything that was done before, led me to this point in my life. I thought about designing and building something that could last forever, and once I create a clear path for myself, I would teach others how to do it too.

The design company was founded in late 2017 as a direct result of me being in the right place, at the right time, and seizing an opportunity for growth. I was ready to move beyond paintings. It would be called Contour Functional Art. The concept for the company was to create beautiful art that can actually be used. I knew that if I ever had the chance to start a design company, that I would use every single experience from my past, as a way to better understand my future. After completing a project in Houston in early 2018, I decided to leave teaching and pursue Contour full time. At the time absolutely nothing was guaranteed, only a blind faith that everything would work out, in due time.

Shortly after quitting my job, I hopped on a plane to Africa and spent a month exploring the small country of Malawi. My intention was to only spend time with my good friend and my Godson who live there. But with every new experience each day, I built a connection to the people and the land. The light was different. The shadows were different. The colors and smells were all different. I was immersed in a creative space, an unforgettable density of nature, that I’d never experienced before. I was inspired to sketch, to create and to collaborate because of the energy and the creative depth of the people. I felt myself finally turning a corner as an artist.

It was then that I knew that everything was about to change. My friend Ike and I sat down and we discussed ways to expand Contour from a local company, to a global company. This is when the pieces of the puzzle began to slowly fit together, and the new version of Contour was envisioned. After discussing rough ideas concerning logistics and creative direction, we hopped in a truck and began traveling around the country, meeting artisans and sharing our thoughts about collaborating with them. We went from village to village, and each time, we were met with open arms. We sat down, we shared hot tea and we discussed our dream.

Along the journey throughout East Africa, we met woodworkers, metal fabricators, painters, sculptors and farmers. We met fathers, and mothers, and sons. We shared our stories. We all want to learn, love, and create a legacy that will last forever.

I returned to America with a new set of experiences, and a new focus. I hit the ground running, applying for every permit that was needed to import exotic wood into the country. I started sketching and producing finished drawings of ideas for unique pieces of furniture, handmade with exotic wood. I started to slowly build the new narrative and creative direction for the company, while taking care of other art projects in Houston. Because Ike lives in Malawi, he continued to build relationships in the community, which led us on a path of several breakthroughs. I began to make designs in Houston and send them to Ike in Africa, where he’d share the ideas with the artisans there, and challenge them to build what I design. After auditioning several woodworkers and metal fabricators, we were able to assemble a team of talented artisans that made our ideas tangible and functional.

A few months after I returned to America, Ike called me and said, “You have to come back. We need you here to work with the guys and teach them the technical skills of design.” A few weeks later, I was back in Africa, holding design workshops with our artisans, sharing everything I’ve learned over the years in order for us all to better understand the future of Contour. I am reminded of a quote by Dr. King that says “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” I am reminded of my dad’s footprint, and what I’d like to leave behind.

-js


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