The Mend Project creates a Spectacle 

First Thursday in the Linen District

Across the railroad tracks on Latah Street, hidden in a small run-down red brick strip mall, is a door with glass shattered like a princess-cut diamond. If it weren't for four tiny letters spelling out the word "Mend" in the adjacent front window, you'd have no clue this was the Mend Project's world headquarters.

Inside the humid, gutted space sit a variety of tools, the bare bones of framed walls and a floor that's been ripped up to expose weathered wood planks. But no chairs. Sitting crossed-legged on the floor in a fuchsia dress with a dollop of blonde bangs pulled atop her forehead, Mend Project director Michelle Keller adds a dash of color to this otherwise bleak room. As she points to various areas--painting a picture of the future gallery, metal-working shop and community craft workspace--the room, too, fills with color.

"It'll eventually be a community place," said Keller. "It's hard to see it now because it's a shell now. But it's been a lot of work with the space. We were granted the space by some very awesome donors ... They ripped the whole thing out and gutted it completely."

By exploring "the potential of handmade objects," the Mend Project strives to elevate the importance of craft and give back to those in need. In June 2008, Keller and co-founder Rachel Reichert launched Mend at the initial Modern Art event at the Modern Hotel. The two displayed 30 hand-sewn recycled stuffed animals, which were then donated to the Women's and Children's Alliance of Boise. After receiving positive feedback, Reichert and Keller organized their inaugural donation show, "The Altered Toy Project," which brought in more than 100 toy submissions from crafters around the world.

"When I started the Mend Project, Rachel and I had this idea of doing a number of different types of donation shows," said Keller. "One was toys, one was eyewear, one was clothing and the fourth one was an interim dwelling project, which is portable housing for homeless people that pops up."

Though Reichert has since left Mend, Keller is staying the course. With the help of some volunteers, she organized Mend's second annual donation show, "Spectacled." For this show, the call for donations was two-fold. The first part was a drive to accumulate used eyeglass frames for Unite for Sight, a worldwide nonprofit providing eye care for patients living in extreme poverty. According to UFS, 80 percent of blindness is curable or preventable and 36 million people are living needlessly blind. With the support of Idaho Youth Ranch, the Mend Project has already collected more than 1,000 frames.

"It's very heartwarming that people would reach out and donate their eyewear for someone else who can't purchase their own eyewear, or doesn't have the luxury of going to the eye doctor," said Keller. "This may be the only pair that they'll have in their life."

The second half of "Spectacled" involved asking artists to jazz up frames for a silent auction at the Linen Building this First Thursday.

"The call we sent out was basically for artists to create something that could be worn on the face," said Keller. "That was really it. We left it pretty open. We did end up with a conceptual piece; it's an eye apparatus that is playing off of being blind."

In addition to the "eye apparatus," approximately 10 other frames sent in from places as far as Florida will be displayed and auctioned off. Local jewelry designer Kay Seurat learned of "Spectacled" last January at an Idaho Metal Arts Guild meeting and spent months staining and cutting glass, then welding together a set of whimsical, circus-y glasses with multi-colored pinwheel lenses.

"You know that old phrase about looking through rose-colored glasses?" asked Seurat. "That's always seemed kind of limiting. You should be able to look through all different colored glasses."

Though Seurat's glasses are impractical as eyewear--the curved brass frame is as thick as a hearty stalk of asparagus--the project turned out to be an exciting artistic challenge, one that pushed her to explore new materials and forms.

"It gets me out of my normal jewelry-making mode to do something a little out there and use different materials," said Seurat. "Left to my own devices, I don't always stretch that far. So this was good. It gives me a chance to look through some different-colored glasses."

Another group of spectacle-crafters pumped to participate in the project are members of Boise's Boys and Girls Club. Their pom-pom-and-pipe-cleaner frames created at a recent Mend Project workshop will be up for auction alongside the adult submissions. In addition, Keller has plans to meticulously string up each of the 1,000 donated pairs of glasses to form a lit chandelier on the second floor of the Linen Building the night of the event. With an assortment of styles ranging from modern Chanel frames to vintage horn-rimmed glasses, Keller can't wait for these spectacles to find worthy new homes. She also hopes Thursday's silent auction and raffle will bring in enough dough to cover any repairs that might need to be done on the frames.

"We'll split the proceeds [with Unite for Sight]. We wanted to send a little bit of cash with the donation of eyewear, so if they needed to be refurbished, there would be cash to do that," said Keller.

While Keller, a Boise State metal-smithing grad, admitted her initial attraction to eyewear had more to do with an appreciation for the form than any larger metaphor about how she views the world, she did walk away with a new perspective on spectacles.

"It's incredible how someone has worn these glasses for years and years and years. It's something that has been by their side and they've carried and held and touched," said Keller. "These are objects that are so valuable to people. They rely on them. They can't do their day-to-day functions without them."

But Keller's vision for Mend is larger than just the "Spectacled" project. She hopes to have the new community workshop, gallery and lecture space up and running by October, though she admits she's become a lot more realistic about her goals in the past year.

"Things are going organically right now," said Keller. "We're at the point where we're not envisioning things beyond our means."

Thursday, Sept. 3, 6-10 p.m., $5 or $2 with the donation of used eyewear. Linen Building, 1402 W. Grove St. For more information, visit themendproject.wordpress.com.

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