Tuesday, September 09, 2008

New web site - crafts from the tropics and more

I've been working on the new gift shop web site a lot lately. I changed the whole face of it over the weekend and added some new categories. The picture above is a bit of the Amazon River - a slice out of a photo I took. I may replace it sometime, but I wanted something to use as a title background with a flattish area where I could superimpose the type, and I found this one in my files from my trip to Brazil with Lee in April, 2007. It seemed appropriate, because the site will include quite a number of items hand made in Latin America. I thought and thought over the idea of a short title that would say what I wanted to express, and could only come up with a long one: "Tapir's World ~ Arts, Crafts, Cultures, and Other Wonders of Planet Earth." It will include more than animals. It will also be about nature and about cultures. It's a mouthful, but the concept is pretty simple. Maybe I'll find a minimalist title as I live with it. Or not.

I started the new site as an experiment to see how the Market America web sites worked in practice. It seemed I'd be able to put items into the online store quickly, and it turned out to be true. I had a lot of painted animal pins on consignment from the artist, and the new method worked like a charm. I got several hundred up where people can see them, and I still have a few hundred to go. I actually got about 50 of them scanned and online in one day, but that was without optimizing, which can be done later. The gorgeous piranha pin below is one of my favorite pieces of painted animal jewelry in our store.

Next I decided to put up some werregue baskets (or jars) from Colombia. I say, "or jars," because despite the woven surface, they hold water. These are really special, and you can read more about them here. I'd had them in the shop for a few months and hadn't decided how to present them online. With the coding method I use on our other web site (hand-made HTML), I can present nice big photos on each item page, but to build a page for a one-of-a-kind item isn't very practical. I now had a good way to put up the five baskets in stock fairly quickly. They look nice. You do have to click all the way through to the order page before there's an option for enlargement. The more I work with the site, I'm sure I'll find a way to showcase certain items with larger images more easily. Anyway, the baskets are gorgeous and unique, and it was fun to finally see them online. Sergio got these for us in Colombia, and we'll be posting more about that later. We'll also be getting six more in the next shipment.

Next I started putting up the palo de sangre (or bloodwood) carved animals. Again, these are items Sergio sent from Colombia. We've had them on our original site, but again, each is unique and looks different from the next. The sizes and colors vary, etc., so I needed a way to display each exact piece that a customer would buy and to be able to get them offline again easily when they were sold. It turns out, I can take an item out of the catalog with basically three link or button clicks. So I began building our online inventory of carved palo de sangre wood animals again. I still have a number of them to photograph and put online, including armadillos and some more fish.

The carved wood animal pens (see the elephant pen below) are from China. We've imported our own shipment once, but it's not something we do every day. They ARE hand carved and painted, but they're done in mass quantities, unlike the red wood above. As it turns out, our new site is good for displaying these pens because the automated thumbnail photos are sized by width (100 pixels) and the length is in proportion. I should have thought of this for our other site, but it didn't occur to me. Our other site uses thumbnails at 100 pixels height, although I could break the scheme for something like vertical pens. It just hadn't occurred to me.

Next I put up Sergio's ceramic giant river otter. He used to work more in ceramics when he lived in Cali, where he had more outdoor space and access to a kiln. We have the one otter left, and there are a few more animals I'll be putting online in this category soon.

At that point, the site was becoming pretty interesting, but it still looked a bit bare. I decided to add some categories where I may have only a few items, but ones that had been problematic with our old site for reasons given above. I added the fish and turtle hair combs. They're probably mass produced in China, but they seem special to me because Lee and I found them on our trip to Sicily, and I'm not sure I've seen them online before. I tried the vertical approach, as with the pens. We only have 4 or 5 of each, so this site seemed the right place for them.

And then there's the tapir (below). This is Lucia, a baby Baird's tapir Lee and I saw in Panama. She'd made big news because Adrian Benedetti, Director of the Summit Zoo, had just taken part in a sting operation to transfer her safely from poachers to the authorities. We arrived in Panama City shortly after Lucia came to the zoo, and we were allowed to visit and scratch her, which tapirs like a lot. What's she doing here on the blog? No, she's not for sale! But she and her kind are why we're doing this - why we're selling animal-themed gifts, crafts, and toys, and especially why we're developing our new site featuring products made in the countries where tapirs live and now need our human intervention to survive. If we can't stay out of their way and let them live as they have for hundreds of thousands of years, then we're going to have to become more actively involved in making sure they survive despite our interference. Here's to Lucia, her relatives, all other critters of the wild, and the habitat they need to make it through the next decades.

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