7 Ways to Give “Made in the Midwest” This Holiday Season

Growing up, Dolan Geiman spent his time exploring abandoned buildings and falling in love with the rural American landscape, including Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. These early experiences now manifest themselves as motifs in Geiman’s mixed media work: from birds and woodland creatures, to imagery of classic Americana and music.

The Skinny:

More than 10 years ago, Geiman moved to Chicago. His mixed media creations made from salvaged wood, found objects and other recycled materials have become a staple in the national art scene. Each year, Geiman (a proponent of buying local) assembles a list of his favorite American makers for his annual gift-giving guide. This week, he shares a special Midwest edition of that guide (see it below, or on Pinterest), as well as his thoughts on Midwest artisans, and how living in Illinois has influenced his own practice: 

You come from southern roots. How has living and working in the Midwest influenced your practice?

Look around Illinois when you are driving up Interstate 55 or Interstate 80; drive through DeKalb, Ill., or Moline, Ill. It’s a stark landscape made barren by decades of agriculture, farmers digging the earth and pulling down any trees invading the precious dark soil. Wind sweeps across these fields like a child sweeping playthings off a kitchen table. Wind turbines stand white and naked like totems thrust-up quickly by Puritans on a new frontier.  These are the flatlands, and to an artist like myself, born in the mountains and surrounded by hills and valleys, I feel exposed here. The first five years I was here I worked in a basement studio, almost reclusively like a mad scientist in a laboratory, avoiding the prying eyes, or in my case, the prying wind. There is something survivalist about this landscape, something that makes a solid person of the Midwesterner. But there is also an energy to Midwesterners that I haven’t seen elsewhere in the country. To be blunt, folks in the Midwest don’t put up with bullshit. They just get in and get it done, and it’s this very straightforward attitude that I’ve adopted towards my work and dealing with my peers. I’m not one to sit around confabulating all night. I’m going to be in the studio being productive, breaking new ground, conducting experiments and reviving my desolate spirit.

What kind of artists and makers resonate with you?

I try to look for individuals who have a really strong work ethic paired with an interesting product. I also try to find makers who are creating products in the United States with reclaimed or recycled materials, and whose mission statement reflects their desire to be friendly to mother nature.

What’s distinctive about the artisans in the Midwest? 

They’re productive and die hard, with an independent work ethic. Midwest artisans gave birth to the new wave of craft, and their mothers gave birth to such visionaries as Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, Walt Disney and Shel Silverstein.

Why is it important to support local makers?

Local means that your friends and family will benefit from these products, whether directly or indirectly. Buying something from a big box store only benefits one group, and it’s not a good way to ensure community growth. Get to know your local makers and I promise you’ll meet some very interesting people who will enlighten and inspire you. As Napoleon Hill used to say, “If you want to succeed in life, surround yourself with people who are more interesting than you are, and you will be elevated into their midst.”

Each day this week, Geiman will pin one of his favorite Midwest-made gifts to give this season. You can find Geiman’s work at the upcoming Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago on Dec. 7-8, or through his website (get a discount if you buy before Dec. 18!)