It's always nice to see small pop-up shops, in whatever form they may take around the city. Increasingly, these shops are online-only destinations, offering a small array of unique items for a limited time. One of the latest of these is Bison Bison Candy Shop, utilizing the artwork and style of its founders Andrew Shaw and Mary Toscano to sell collectible pins, paper art and shadow boxes that are Utah-related. Today we chat with both about founding this new venture and what they have to offer. (All pictures courtesy of BBCS.
Mary Toscano & Andrew Shaw
Bison Bison Candy Shop on Facebook
Hey, Andrew and Mary! How have things been since we last chatted?
Pretty good and awfully busy! Lots going on at work, with music, and then there’s this undertaking of starting a small business. I’m always looking for a free weekend to get out of town and into nature, but the last couple of months have been a whirlwind.
You've both been involved with several projects as of late. Tell us about what you've been doing the past few years.
So much has happened in the last couple of years. I’ve been writing and playing music for lots of projects—Color Animal, my four-piece rock band, has released an album and an EP in 2016; Magic Mint, my solo project, has been playing a decent amount; Hail Atlantis Records released a split 7” record that has a couple songs from Color Animal on one side, Magic Mint on the other. I’ve also released a self-titled acoustic album and put together a trio to play the songs live, but these days we’re just a duo, Mary and me.
Aside from learning to play an instrument to accompany Andrew, I had a show in the spring featuring drawings, sculpture, embroidery and quilting. We belong to an artists’ group called the Halophyte Collective, and we’re working on publishing the first issue of a journal this winter.
More recently, we’ve been concerned with issues in our city, state, country and world
, not only trying to find out how our voices belong in the worlds of music and art but also social justice in our community.
How has it been for both of you making your art and thriving in the community?
I’ve really enjoyed seeing artists come into their own in Salt Lake City, young people creating and making amazing things, and I’ve been really inspired by their work. People like Alyce Carrier, Chloe Monson, Lizze
Maatala—women who are designing and creating things that are beautiful, smart and fresh. I feel fortunate to be a small part of this really cool community.
I feel fortunate to live in a time when creating and broadcasting are so accessible to everyone, but at the same time it feels like there are so many awesome voices to hear. I feel like I’m constantly missing things, and afraid I’m also falling under the waves of creators. It’s tough to see it all, hear it all and feel like I’m participating in all the ways I want to. But it’s an embarrassment of riches.
When did the idea for Bison Bison Candy Shop come about? And where did the name come from?
The imagery started when I made Andrew a small paper sculpture of a white bison for Valentine’s Day. Andrew always gives me super thoughtful gifts, and I wanted to one-up him, and I did! He loved it, and it became an inspiration for the name and logo design.
I love that enamel pins are having “a moment” right now. They’re small, accessible ways to collect artwork from creative people and show off a touch of personality, even when wearing a suit. As a designer, I wanted in on the game. As for the name, for a very long time I’ve liked that the American bison’s scientific name is “bison bison,” and I’ve considered naming bands, albums, whatever something with “bison bison” for a while. Since Mary and I are inspired by the American West, we thought it fit well with what we’re doing with our shop. And we like to think that what we’re producing is a bit of candy—something small, hopefully, something that brings joy to the world. And if you say it right, Bison Bison Candy Shop sounds like the beginning of a double-dutch rhyme.
How did you learn the process for making items like the pins or the paper sculptures?
Making paper sculptures is like a puzzle—you need to discover how to take something that’s a real-life object, simplify it into its basic shapes and characteristics, and put it back together into a sculpture. It probably helps that I was a real big nerd when I was young and could expertly put together 3D puzzles in a few hours.
I think designing the pins is a similar process. Trying to make something recognizable in a 1” space means breaking it down to some of its simplest parts. I love studying what other people are making in the pin world, their choices of finishes, seeing how they are pushing the limits of the medium, and then finding what I can do that connects.
What inspired the bison and trilobite designs you've been making?
Making the pin was our first step into pin making, but we’ve made a conscious decision that everything else that Bison Bison Candy Shop makes is inspired by the American West, particularly Utah and Nebraska, our places of origin. We identify with these places as part of who we are, and the things we make are speaking from our perspective. We love exploring this area, our beautiful landscape, the national parks (and perhaps even more so, the areas outside the national parks that are more rugged, less populated and equally mind-blowing).
For me, drawing or representing an animal, object or person is about trying to understand or learn about that particular being to understand it physically, but also to see if you can capture what makes that thing what it is. It’s an excuse to study something. We most recently picked the trilobite because we have been spending time in rock shops looking at fossils of trilobites, and we wanted to know more about them. And then we wanted to be able to wear one on our hats and coats.
How much work goes into making one of the paper designs or sculptures?
When you’re making something, you can’t always focus on the amount of time—you’re
not an hourly worker. You have to think about the object and what it needs to exist in the way you want it to, and sometimes that means you put a lot of time into creating it. And sometimes it comes together really quickly. And then you have to decide what this thing might be worth to other people, and there’s no formula for that. Our goal is to make something beautiful, something that someone will treasure for a long time.
What was it like starting up the business as an online shop?
Easy peasy! The folks at Big Cartel have made it so simple to start a shop of your own, and we really value having them as part of the process. We also value that even though Big Cartel is online, it’s also local to Salt Lake City. All the hard work has come after starting the shop—figuring out how to get our name out there, all the marketing elements, packaging and shipping, and I’m sure we still have a whole lot to learn about running a business. But I’ve enjoyed learning, and I really look forward to getting better at it.
Do you intend to be a part of any craft or art fairs down the line?
Yeah! We’ve participated in two pop-up shops during the holiday season, and they were fun! I liked getting to know the other vendors, talking to shoppers and coming up with a fun and portable physical shop.
We have our eyes on Craft Lake City next year if all goes well. But since we’re still pretty fresh, we’re just starting to get our feet wet in the land of fairs. It’s so great to interact with people face-to-face, and although I feel equal parts anxiety, anticipation and hope every time someone wandered by our humble booth, it’s fun to see people engage with the stuff we’re making.
Is there any chance you might sell some of your items through local retail, or will you stick to your own site for now?
We’d love to get our items in a few shops. We have thoughts, but we need to turn it into action.
Are you looking to add any new types of work to the list yet?
Oh, yeah! We’re always scheming and designing new products and coming up with new ideas. We have a lot of plans for the shop in 2017. Without giving anything away (or making any promises), we love working with paper, fabric and pins. Anybody who is interested in our work should follow our Instagram
accounts where we’ll be posting all about new developments.
What can we expect from both of you and Bison Bison in 2017?
I always promise more music releases, and I hope I can make those a reality. And I really look forward to some of the secret plans we’ve been thinking about for Bison Bison Candy Shop.
I’m working on producing new textile pieces—quilts, pillows, etc. I’m also working on a small show of drawings hopefully for the spring or early summer.