India Stewart begins every day with a simple exercise in inspiration—she goes into her garden. There in the early-morning sunlight, plants and flowers give her the creative boost she uses as chief designer of the works bearing her name.
But it doesn’t stop there. Later on, in her Magazine Street shop, sunlight streams in through large windows, music tinkles and a mini koi pond bubbles up for the relaxation of the shop’s staff and customers. And this is inspiring too, as Stewart has seen customers enter to shop and leave breathing a bit easier. Stewart’s work reflects her interest in nature—sconces, candlesticks and picture frames decorated with butterflies and dragonflies, split-leaf philodendron accents, delicate jewelry made from natural stones—but it also serves as a sort of calming influence in her life, one whose experience she would like to share with others.
“When I look at nature, there are so many principles in nature that when you’re working on a piece and you’re reflecting on it yourself—for instance, how spring follows winter and how in winter everything looks bleak and wasted—but then you know spring is coming, so that no matter what’s going on, everything has a season, even things in your life. When I am doing my art, I really do think about things like that. It’s not about the art, it’s what’s behind the art.”
Stewart used a general love and appreciation of art and designing as a springboard for her work. She says she never really viewed art as potential career material, but would make things for people as gifts. Years ago, she lived in Singapore, where she witnessed artists using handcrafted methods. That reignited her love of art, so upon her return to this country, in search of a job, a truly fulfilling job she loved, she began making her first pieces to sell. “I figured if you are going to do that [choose a career], then it should be such a joy. Your work should be joyful, and if it’s not, perhaps you’re not working with the gifts you have,” she says. And the inspiration still flows from the garden, the change of seasons—and the Bible. Stewart says to her, the Bible is inseparable from nature and it is also from where she develops ideas for her work. She created a nativity necklace last year; next she hopes to design a series based on the herbs and trees mentioned in the Bible. But she insists that her art isn’t really about art so much as it is about the inspiration—or the story behind any given piece—and this is what many customers respond to when they buy something. Other customers see in a piece something that inspires them or also gives them joy, and for this reason Stewart views her shop as a place which is more than just selling things.
“The shop, to me, is a place I can express the joy I have in my life either through my art or through wonderful conversations we have in here. The shop is just an opportunity to talk about things which are a lot bigger than ourselves,” she explains. Stewart says she hopes her shop is relaxing, calming and ultimately inspirational: She would like other people to find their own joy in something similar. To that end, she talks to student groups, book clubs and other groups about her art, how it fulfills her and how they can pursue equal fulfillment.
As of press time, Stewart was enjoying a brief period of rest when she didn’t have any commission work for Carnival or school fundraisers, so she looked forward to using the time to execute ideas which were building up in her like steam. She and her staff of two designers had just finished a big deadline. But it wasn’t the relief of pressure that seemed to excite her most, it was the scents that drifted into her garden on the spring air.
“The jasmine’s starting to bloom,” she says. “Spring’s coming again.” • India Stewart Designs, 5419 Magazine St., 894-1014.