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Christmas in July

As people we are all so much alike that it makes the differences in our journeys very exciting. Perhaps you grew up in Alaska, too, or moved here from Southern California for the natural beauty. But did you like to cut things up as a kid? Did you make shelves for your bedroom from cardboard and tape? Anahata Katkin did. She and her mom, Gina, also created the local greeting card company PaPaYa! that is responsible for eliciting many an ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ on gift-giving occasions. Maybe you’ve seen the beautiful cards at DJ’s or Soundpeace and admired the balance of luscious art and simple text like I have. But do you have the story behind those cards? Well, that’s how I’m different, I suppose: I get to share it with you.

After a childhood of scissors, glue, and artistic expression, Anahata spent a year in art school and various workshops before she and her mom started the company in the 2-bedroom apartment where they lived together with Anahata’s son. Gina worked to support them while Anahata designed the cards, but the business eventually crowded them out and they recently got a warehouse and office space here in Ashland. Now, Anahata handles the design and public relations and her mom oversees the entire production process (that is thankfully helped along by a crew of 12 employees). With 1300 accounts throughout the United States, and hundreds more projected by the end of the summer, PaPaYa is growing rapidly and, in some cases, outgrowing their beginnings. Originally, they sold to New Age-centered shops but their market is gradually transitioning to upscale boutiques which means that, artistically, Anahata has had to lessen her incorporation of spiritual icons to appeal to a wider range of people, but a narrower mind-set. Apparently, even Jesus on a Christmas card makes people uncomfortable nowadays.

Though she believes that creative inspiration need not come from the outer world, Anahata joyfully integrates religious and spiritual deities with aspects of world cultures to express her personal journey. (Her travels to Mexico and Belize and around the States have also inspired her, as will her trips to Costa Rica, Paris, and India this summer.) Lots of us keep journals and diaries detailing our daily lives, but Anahata has "art journals" (from which she gathered many of the designs for PaPaYa’s products). These thick notebooks consist mainly of collage images (and some text) and serve Anahata the same way your diary does you, but also proves her assertion that we are all ‘visual’ – I have to say, I’d rather look at her diary than yours, so I think she must be right.

Professionally, she also strikes a balance between the outer and the inner, using gentle colors and complex textures, and ends up creating art that appeals and inspires the deeper awe of its viewers (or at least of me). And she’s not done yet. Following a June exhibition at Bohemia Gallery on A Street and owing to the smooth operation of PaPaYa, Anahata plans to focus more on her fine-art in the near future. This medium allows her total "Creative Abandon" (the company’s motto) since it does not depend on markets and tastes and well, fickle consumers. She appreciates making art that people relate to, but wants it to push them beyond the common impressions of "whimsical" and "Indian-inspired" to a simple appreciation of the off-beat. And by the time that happens, a lot of us will be getting Christmas cards with the ‘reason for the season’ on them and admiring the artistic craftsmanship more than the political implications.

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