If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Sarah Marsom, the Ohio-based Heritage Resource Consultant and maker behind The Tiny Activist Project, it won’t take you long to see how passionate Sarah is about historical preservation. Through the creation of Tiny Jane, a cut-and-sew doll inspired by the writer and community activist Jane Jacobs, Sarah discovered how to seamlessly weave the rich history of the textile industry into her career of teaching others about the past. We can’t wait for you to get to know more about this Spoonflower maker and 2018 recipient of the American Express Aspire Award!
Sarah: When people ask “What is your job?,” my answer is not particularly succinct; I do not have a quick answer that people understand like “accountant” or “plumber.” I work to help people understand how the past impacts their lives today; my official title is “Heritage Resource Consultant.” At the beginning of my career I worked in big old houses, and I even had an office in Henry Ford’s former bathroom for a bit. As my path has taken twists and turns, one thing has stayed the same: I love educating people
about old buildings, lesser known histories, and how all of these items connect to create a thriving contemporary community.
This passion has evolved from me working for other people and leading the standard walking tour that most people associate with historic sites/museums to working for myself and producing creative engagement strategies. You might find me leading people on a bike tour to “instagrammable” old buildings, showing people how to use a manhole cover for printing, or using Spoonflower fabric to create dolls of influential people who are unknown to the average person.
Textile art has been a part of storytelling since the first needle was carved. People have told stories in the design of an outfit, the pieces of a quilt, or the weavings of a tapestry. Integrating textile art into my work makes sense now, but honestly… it took a bit for me to make this connection.
In 2016, I sewed a doll in the image of Jane Jacobs for the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference, for fun. Jane Jacobs was a community advocate and writer who helped save Washington Square Park from being demolished for a road in the mid-20th century and helped start the modern historic preservation movement in the United States. She showed that walkable communities with new and old buildings can create a healthy environment for all kinds of people. In other words, she is kind of a big deal, but a lot of people do not know who she is.
When people at the conference started to ask if they could have their own Tiny Jane, I was flattered to put it mildly. When I returned home to Ohio, I began to brainstorm on how to best create a doll that could be easily created for and by others. I would need an illustration and fabric! By partnering with illustrator Shannon May for the ideal Tiny Jane, I was happy to integrate Spoonflower into my business (read the full story here) Tiny Janes now live all over the world, and we are collaborating for a friend or two for Tiny Jane this year. This project is now known as the Tiny Activist Project.
Being a Spoonflower Maker has allowed me to talk about people and places with a wider audience and to find ways to inspire others to create. I now lead a variety of workshops to help people create their own dolls, and in March, I expanded from dolls into other creations/workshops that honor the past. By partnering with Modern Phoenix and Spoonflower, I was able to highlight the work of women who designed textiles during the midcentury modern design movement! Hundreds of Spoonflower designers participated in the Desert Modernism Design Challenge and the winning design by Cecilia Mok was used during my Sew Modern! workshop at Modern Phoenix Week!
People of all ages and sewing skill levels showed up to learn a bit more about the history of textile design and make a pillow. With 30+ people sewing pillows, I was grateful for members of the Garment League to assist me with providing sewing tips and tricks to the workshop participants.
In addition to teaching a lesser told aspect of women’s history, the Sew Modern! Workshop served as a proof of concept for an adaptation of a storefront into a maker’s space at the former Park Central Mall. Park Central Mall (1957) was Phoenix, Arizona’s first mall and was open until the mid-1990s. It is currently being redeveloped to be utilized as non-traditional office space, retail, community space, and more. How cool is that?!?
Looking toward my future as a Spoonflower Maker and Heritage Resource Consultant, I’m excited to continue crafting connections to the past through hands-on workshops and finding new ways to utilize Spoonflower’s resources.
We can’t wait to see what’s next for Sarah and The Tiny Activist Project! Get a closer look more Spoonflower makers in our Meet the Makers series.
About the Guest Author
Collecting Junior Ranger badges from National Park Service sites as a youth developed Sarah Marsom’s appreciation for the past and a sense of place. Marsom works to improve the preservation movement’s accessibility by empowering the next generation of community advocates and increasing the representation of lesser known histories. If historic preservation is inaccessible, it is neither relevant nor revolutionary. You can keep up with Sarah on social media @sarahmarsom and @tinyactivistproject.