A Search for a Memory of Home: Mr. Littleboy's Year in Review

Our CEO in the snow out east.

Happy Holidays Artiphans,

So, here we are, at the end of another year. For us at Artiphany, it’s both seemed too long, and too short. Let me explain: when you’re running a small business, there is always too much time and too little time. Too much time until the printer is done with your latest, newest pack of cards; too little time until your deadline to submit this design or that. And throughout this process, this learning curve that waxes and wanes, our peripatetic CEO, creative director, artist-in-chief John Littleboy has been on a journey of his own. 

Last year, we shared stories: stories about the birth of the company, about the awakening of John’s creativity, and about his more recent journeys to places near and far. This year, John has continued to travel. In part, the search he’s on, for, as he says, “a place that is a memory of home,” is the search all of us go on—from our childhood homes to the homes we make our own. But it’s also a very specific kind of search—one about the place that John has called his home for most of his life, for over half a century in fact. “The place where I grew up,” he explains, “Palo Alto, has changed dramatically…the changes that have happened here are so drastic, that I need a new place. I do it somewhat reluctantly—but the circumstances of my life are now that I don't have the same attachments to this place physically that I used to. And part of my wandering around is the idea of looking for a place that I'd like to be in—and it's not likely to be in the Bay Area."

Up in the hills above Los Altos. 

John, like many people who grew up or moved to or love this part of the world, the Bay Area, has watched as this place has become alien to him. What was once a hub for free spirited ideals, workers rights movements, revolutionary practices has become one of the most expensive places to live in the world, a place driven by material wealth, fueled by fast-paced lives, lives filled with tension and incessant striving. But you all know this—this (that the Bay Area has changed) is old news. But for our story, it is an important repetition, because it is the backdrop for John’s search. It’s what led him out of his comfort zone and into, this year, Milton, Massachusetts, to work on a friend's farm; Mexico City, for three creatively stimulating weeks; and, closer to home, Mountain View, to stay with friends; Mill Valley, to a canyon full of dewey trees and chirping birds; and finally, to the place he finds himself now. 

“Right now, I’m up in this place in the mountains above the Los Altos Hills,” he says, “It's about 25 minutes from where I grew up. In fact, I came up here as a kid to feed farm animals, when I was in elementary school."

Foggy days at Hidden Villa. 

Hidden Villa, this little pocket of the world John has found a peaceful place to work and think about the future, was the property of a family who wanted the kids of Palo Alto and Los Altos and Mountain View in the 60s and 70s to be exposed to a different way of life: to see farm animals, to learn how to grow their own food, to be self-sufficient and hardworking. Now, it has become a place that hosts young people and offers internships for animal husbandry and organic farming. "Hidden Villa promotes a strong attachment to nature and a different speed of life than is currently prevalent around here,” John explains. 

But Hidden Valley is also the perfect—almost, poetic—place for John to reflect on his own, current search for a new place that feels like home. It has, in fact, direct, deep ties to that older, far away idea of home for John. “There is a beautiful stream here called Adobe Creek,” he says. “It’s  running now since it’s been raining recently. And it turns out that the creek that starts here is the same creek that flowed right next to my house. I used to play in it or sneak over the fence to smoke cigarettes and do, what I thought at the time, were dangerous things with my friends. It forms in the mountains just above here, and flows down through Los Altos, Mountain View, into Palo Alto, and then into the Bay."

A very Californian landscape.

There were five places that John called home this year. Wherever he went, however, he brought the structures needed for any temporary home: the things that keep his work, and Artiphany, together. His monitor, his paint, the tools to set up a workstation. Because, wherever John was this year, you better believe, he had a lot of work to do. Artiphany rolled out two huge projects: the Social Knitworking Tote and our new deck of cards, Popinjay.

The nomadic lifestyle that John has been leading and product deadlines are not easy friends. However, through one means or another, he made it work. In fact, our Social Knitworking tote was an enormous hit and can now be found in more than a dozen stores across the nation (as well as, of course, online with us).  The tote was brand new territory for John. He had had the social knitworking image among his characterverse for some time. It was an easy pun, a fun visual metaphor, something that worked on so many levels. It was both the play on words—knitworking vs networking—,the idea of sheep, who are known for flocking, and the loose idea that knitters like to exchange ideas married together in one, quaint, comedic image. Little did John know were that modest image would take him…

A temporary abode in Massachusetts. 

When he showed the image to a friend, a knitter up in Canada, she quickly suggested to turn the image into a tote: a project bag. "It was a lucky discovery,” John says. “This knitting community is very connected—that was implied in the drawing, but I discovered it was actually true. Knitting is all about community, all about staying connected, all about sharing patterns, sharing tips, new ideas. Knitting is a communal activity. Apart from the thing that you're making for the person, it’s about meeting, and connecting, and weaving this community of people together."  

After the tote was done, John headed to Mexico City, to the neighborhood of La Condessa. There, he found a place literally buzzing with life: the scooters, the bikes, the stylish young people strolling down the streets. He loved the spirit of the place, loved the museum of anthropology, was inspired by it all.

John trying to fit in with the locals. 

A favorite from the museum of anthropology in Mexico City. 

Despite all of this recently rambling, John says there’s another version of home which is eminently more portable: his imagination.

“I’ve been working on an idea for childrens’ book for a few years now. I’ve sat at a different desk in a bunch of different cities and worked on it so of course, it doesn’t matter where I am. The new pages are like adding to the map of this internal territory I’m discovering.

"If you go to a new city, naturally you explore and discover what’s there. When I explore my imagination, I often have the same experience of walking around a corner in a big city and being taken by surprise by a magnificent building or beautiful park. That’s the most thrilling part of creativity. The sudden discovery of something you didn’t know was there. A new idea can take shape in my mind all at once as if it were just around the corner and already formed before I got there to see it.” 

John says that the images and ideas he produces are like visual souvenirs that he brings back his latest journey. Stay tuned in 2020 to see where his next journey takes him.

Now get off your computers and tablets and phones and enjoy this time with your loved ones! All of you! Don't make me bark at you!

Love and dog bones,

MOMO
Man’s Best Friend & Chief Communications Officer                                                                       (Personal Motto: Live Life Off Leash)

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  • Beverlee Hastings on

    Hi John!
    I loved hearing about your adventures and philosophy of life. I especially appreciate the reflections of growing up in Palo Alto and I too feel the same way and am searching for a place to land. Its not the same place we grew up in and even though its changed, its hard to break the ties and leave.
    Merry Christmas.
    Bev hastings

  • CArolyn Zaroff on

    I think the Bay Area can still meet your home
    Desires. Hope so.

  • Hilary Oates on

    What a beautifully inspiring, thoughtful dialogue – thank you so much for sharing. Creativity can have prerequisites and one needs certain stimuli. We will be forever grateful for the wonderful designs, especially with the decks of cards. With best wishes to all at Antiphany for a pleasant, safe Christmas and a new year filled with all that you would wish for yourself.

  • Catherine Seidler on

    I love your wanderings & musings, John. Your observations on the Bay Area are spot on and truthfully can apply to any urbanized & monetized area in California. I look forward to you keeping that spark alive where ever you are!!


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