VISIT: 8202 N. Denver Ave Portland OR 97217
STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – SHOP MANTEL – PHOTOS BY NICHOLAS PETER WILSON for The Style Line
“I didn’t open Mantel to make it big,” says shop
owner Karen McClelland, “I opened it to challenge myself and to do something for the community while staying true to my most important job of raising a child. I feel lucky that Portland is so supportive of female entrepreneurs like myself.” It’s true that Portland as a city lends itself well to those looking to shop small and still make a big impact – case in point, today’s story with the inimitable Karen McClelland whose intentions have translated into something special for the local community. To put it simply her shop, Mantel, pays homage to artists and their respective works by championing a broad mix of old and new perspectives from makers of just about any kind. As she put it in our interview below, “My hope is that Mantel can support artists as they offer these new perspectives and that it will continue to play a part in facilitating conversations that are such a large part of the human experience.” Speaking more to this idea, the shop itself provides the perfect canvas for Karen’s thoughtful curation of products to exist in a way that is creatively stimulating and downright inspiring. So without giving too much away Discover more from our visit with Karen (featuring exclusive photos from our immensely talented contributor Nicholas Peter Wilson) who kindly shared more on her professional background, how it informed the inception of Mantel and her honest thoughts on creativity’s role in the world.
Hello! I’m Karen McClelland,
wife, mother, ceramics teacher, and new business owner! If we went out together, I’d be the one laughing too loud, grabbing your arm in excitement during stories, needing clarification on directions, and over-analyzing an interaction I had recently. Of course, this would never happen because life has gotten so busy that I’ve become a hermit. I recharge by being alone in my studio, sitting in the sun, or watching Star Wars with my 9-year-old and husband.
We love Mantel’s penchant for fostering makers and their process. How do you hope to tell this story through Mantel’s shopping experience?
I work hard to match the level of craftsmanship my vendors have achieved, with the overall design and aesthetic of the store. I try to celebrate each piece when arranging. By staying true to my branding in both curation and styling, I hope to have created an environment that is cohesive and calming. Although sometimes difficult to achieve in a small store, the minimalist approach offers viewers the chance to focus on the individual works, themselves. But people often come to a store like Mantel because they already have a love of craft. And so I tend to walk around the store telling stories about the artists, their history, their process… and that is really what makes the difference for my customers. It’s that personal connection to the stories.
We’ve been fortunate enough to really get to know Portland’s small business scene and it’s AMAZING. With this in mind talk to us more about the Kenton neighborhood and why it made sense to open Mantel in this part of town.
There were some real benefits to opening in Kenton. For one, it’s my own neighborhood and I’ve lived here for the last 12 years. I walk about 3 blocks to work and it allows me the flexibility to sometimes work from home while still being available to my employees in a pinch. I share a building with three businesses, two of which are owned by friends/neighbors. Honestly, it was Kenton or bust. There was no other consideration. But beyond the convenience factor, I feel Kenton is the next big thing. It’s right off of the light rail and boasts a beautiful historic business district. It’s the home to a 31 foot tall Paul Bunyan statue that is our pride and joy. It has a small-town feel with parades, potlucks, and plain old neighborly love. And I guess that it didn’t matter to me if it was a little risky. Because this is my home and I believe in it whole-heartedly.
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Generally why do you think running an independent shop in Portland makes sense and could you see the space existing in other cities?
Portland is extremely supportive of small independent shops like mine. Many people here really celebrate artists and make an effort to shop locally. And when they can, they often feel it’s worth paying a little more for work that is hand-made and possibly even created in their own neighborhood. Mantel is just a baby right now (5 months old), and Portland is the perfect city to foster the growth of the brand.
I do think Mantel could easily exist in other cities, once it has become more established. However, I’m not sure that’s my vision. It’s important to me to maintain a healthy lifestyle that allows me to engage with my family regularly. I didn’t open Mantel to make it big. I opened it to challenge myself and to do something for the community while staying true to my most important job of raising a child. I feel lucky that Portland is so supportive of female entrepreneurs like myself.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
Haha! You know, mostly, I’d like to take a break from answering questions and just listen for awhile. But I’d love to be asked, “So where do you think you’ll go on your next vacation?” And then let that lead into a cathartic conversation of the best beaches, A-frame cabins, coastal road trips, or airline fares to Hawaii. I think it’s just a symptom of opening a new business!
How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role is Mantel playing in this movement?
Our past experiences shape the way we both create and interpret artwork. And because we’ve come from vastly different walks of life, no person will do this in the exact same way. That alone is what makes art wonderful. It’s about broadening the conversation, using art as an outlet for expression while also offering viewers the opportunity to create their own new narratives, connections, and points of view in response. Most often we think of fine art as the mode for this outlet. But there are many ways to broaden the conversation. And I think it’s less about what kind of work you’re viewing or creating, and more about the act of being mindful, cognizant and open to possibilities. So that you might bring a new voice to the table.
Maybe it’s not about the product, but about the process. About finding new ways to approach a problem, a painting, a mug. My hope is that Mantel is able to support artists as they offer these new perspectives and that it will continue to play a part in facilitating conversations that are such a large part of the human experience. (You realize you just asked an art teacher about the overall role of art in society?).
How does Mantel encourage celebrating personal style?
I carry a lot of larger “gateway” brands that people are familiar with and are likely to accept into their home simply based on reputation, but I make a very concerted effort to bring in new makers and products that have possibly never been sold anywhere else. These emerging artists may be from the Pacific Northwest, the surrounding neighborhood, or even local high school artists. (We dedicate a small area to young artists and give back 100% of the profits.)
Of course, I have to stay true to Mantel’s branding. But by offering products that are new to the scene and engage a fresh aesthetic, customers are encouraged to find items they love based on how it may speak to their style- not by brand name.
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How would you advise the next generation of business owners, creatives and makers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?
Knowing your passion is just the first step. I’m coming from a teacher’s perspective here, but I’m a huge proponent of hard work. Educate yourself in your field as much as you can. Research it, talk to people who are more experienced and successful, get organized, take classes, tap the resources around you. And if you find that you are still enjoying the process in the midst of working harder than you ever have, then maybe you have what it takes to really make it happen. Because you aren’t living in a void.
You need to have the skills, the drive, the courage, and the ability to bounce back after feeling crushed. So surround yourself with supportive people, get your work done, know your craft, develop a business plan and take a shot at it.