The work of the artist Laurel Burch is brought to new life in her daughter’s Berkeley shop

Aarin Burch once had the feeling that her mother’s works of art were “her thing, not my thing”. But 13 years after Laurel Burch’s death in 2007, her daughter opened a store in Berkeley that carried on her mother’s legacy. “I realized that I could do so many things with it,” she says. “I can be with art all day, work with people, and do things I’m passionate about.” Photo credit: Alix Wall

Laurel Burch’s art is instantly recognizable to Bay Area women of a certain age. In the 1970s and 1980s, her cloisonne earrings could be found in every souvenir shop in the Bay Area. And her colorful, whimsical designs of flowers, birds, and cats – she’s probably best known for the elongated cats – have been everywhere on T-shirts, scarves, and tote bags.

Between 60 and 80 today, these women “are what make the brand what it is,” said her daughter Aarin. Although Laurel Burch died in 2007, in March 2020 a store in Berkeley run by her daughter, Laurel Burch Studios, opened to the public only to be immediately closed by a shelter.

While many stores around the world sell Laurel Burch merchandise, this is the only “flagship” store that consists solely of their designs. Aarin Burch tried to have more of a grand opening last fall, but given COVID-19 and the Delta variant, it still wasn’t quite the opening she was hoping for.

The store is hosting a series of Open Studios celebrations November 18-21, and while Aarin Burch wants to share her mother’s legions of fans, she’s also hoping to showcase her work to younger generations.

It took Aarin Burch a while before she decided to make her mother’s inheritance her main responsibility.

“I don’t have any new art from her, but I’m figuring out how to blow up a picture and move it in new ways.” – Aarin Burch

Burch’s life was “her thing, not my thing,” she told Berkeleyside in an interview at the store. “But a few years later I realized that I could do so many things with it. I can be with art all day long, work with people and do things that are close to my heart. “

Burch said she particularly appreciated the artistic freedom of keeping her mother’s work fresh by introducing new designs. Her mother was so productive she will never run out, she said. During the interview, she brought out one of her mother’s sketchbooks that her stepfather had just found, with lots of new line drawings in it. Almost all of the images, whether on socks, scarves, pillowcases, gardening gloves or (most recently) face masks, were first brought to life in a painting by Burch.

Face masks with Laurel Burch designs in the Berkeley Shop. Photo credit: Alix Wall

“My mother created a painting and then stuck the picture on a T-shirt,” says Aarin Burch. “I don’t have any new art of her, but I’m figuring out how to blow up an image and move it in new ways. I can cut out a flower or a creature and move it so that the creature looks around the flower, for example. “

While her mother never specifically asked her children to carry on her legacy before she died, at least she left her daughter with these words: “Whatever you do, do it your way, don’t try my way. If you do it your way, that’s the way to go. “

What a gift that was, thought Burch. Although she is her mother’s daughter, her mother did not share two large parts of her identity; Aarin is a colored and queer person.

She tries to find a balance, doing things her own way and staying true to her mother by adapting her mother’s messages of inclusivity to the world we now live in. It was often difficult. For example, when she endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement on her email list, some of her mother’s more conservative fan base criticized her for politicizing the brand.

“I see it as my job and my way of using your brave and uncompromising work to bring it to the people I want to make a difference for today,” she said.

Aarin Burch is leafing through her mother’s sketchbook. Photo credit: Alix Wall

Burch’s mother, Laurel, grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She came to the Bay Area to become a singer and had an ongoing relationship with jazz musician Robert Burch; She had two children with him at the age of 25 before they finally separated. It was up to her to support her children.

She had never taken an art class and began designing earrings and other jewelry to sell at street markets to support her children. Aarin Burch said that as a child in San Francisco, it often fell on her to attach the wires on the kitchen table to her mother’s earrings.

Laurel and Aarin Burch. Courtesy of Aarin Burch

Her mother’s life story was a true story from dishwasher to millionaire. She started her business as a hippie on welfare and went on to become an internationally known artist and brand, worn by the likes of Cher and sold in department stores where fans queued to get her autograph.

She also suffered from osteopetrosis, a painful bone disease, all of her life. She often said that her life’s work was to create joy through her work, although she was often in pain herself. In her later life she lived in Novato, where she died.

While Burch says that she and her mother loved each other very much, being her daughter wasn’t always easy.

On the one hand, her mother was in touch with almost everyone she met; Burch is constantly hearing stories from people who have had unforgettable interactions with her, saying things like, “’I met your mother and we had the greatest connection. I felt like she really saw me, she just caught me right away. ‘ After losing her, I love hearing these stories about her as they keep me connected to her, ”said Burch.

But at the height of her fame, she was much less available to her own children.

“I often couldn’t access them,” said Burch. “She became so famous that I had to fax her.”

But over time, mother and daughter healed their relationship and became close again. Aarin has helped to look after her mother in her final years.

A graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts, the younger Burch, now 56, discovered her passion for film by directing and producing both promotional videos and independent films, including those about the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and HIV-positive women of color. For the past two decades, she has slowly worked on a documentary about her mother, admitting that the pressure she put on herself to get their relationship just right could slow the process down.

She is also known in Berkeley as a hip-hop dance and martial arts teacher; She taught hip-hop at Downtown Berkeley YMCA for 23 years.

In 2012, she launched Laurel Burch Studios e-commerce site to re-imagine her mother’s legacy and run it from her Oakland apartment.

She admits that she had to learn everything on the job because running a business was never her life plan.

Her brother Juaquim runs the international business; Laurel Burch still has a lot of fans around the world, especially in South America and Japan.

While some may think Aarin and her brother inherited a lot of money from their mother’s estate, they are not, she said. Her mother was an artist who didn’t always have the best business partners; there were also long stretches where she couldn’t work because of her illness. Her stepfather was running the business when she died, Aarin said.

“What she left us was this incredible opportunity and it was priceless,” said Burch.

Aarin Burch moved the business from her Oakland apartment to a warehouse in Berkeley about five years ago and began doing inventory sales several times a year. The opening of a “flagship store” only happened if it found the right place; it was an architect’s studio. The sellers hoped the new tenant wouldn’t change the layout, which she doesn’t have. The showcases are filled with Burch objects from the past and present, and Aarin uses the conference room for small gatherings; whether they are nurses or young artists; She hopes to be a center for the promotion of young women artists in the future and to hold other community meetings in this room.

After all, Burch wants the people who visit the store to get the same feeling they get from the Laurel Burch coffee mug that they have been using for 30 years.

“I want people to feel and share the warmth and the great energy,” she said, since her mother’s line always focused on giving. She hopes that after visiting the store, visitors will have a full Laurel Burch experience.

“She didn’t make cups to drink from, it was a physical embodiment of the act of giving and creating for someone to have that feeling with someone else,” said Burch. “It sounds so simple, but I run this business because it creates beauty in the world. Because of its liveliness and energy, this special art has something about it that gives people the feeling of being connected and special and loved and seen. “

Laurel Burch Studios is located at 1345 Eighth St., Berkeley and is open every day except Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Open studios is November 18-21. There is food, wine, giveaways, a raffle and the opportunity to browse vintage items from the Laurel Burch collection well into the 1970s. There will also be live music with Melanie DeMore performing on Saturday, November 20th at 2pm and Carol Garcia on Sunday, November 21st at 3pm.

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