La Tienda’s World’s Fair Beginnings

How the Mexican Pavilion inspired one of Seattle's favorite world-sourced artisan boutiques.

By Janet Pelz January 26, 2012 Published in the February 2012 issue of Seattle Met

WHILE OTHER WORLD’S FAIR VISITORS waited to ride the Bubbleator, Leslie Grace headed for the Mexican Pavilion. She was transfixed by hand-carved bowls and tactile table runners and the way they sat on low-slung, modernist display ledges, basking in the golden light that poured through the tiled-glass windows.

La Tienda cofounder Leslie Grace set an international program for her folk art boutique

Before the fair was over, the 25-year-old sociology graduate and her father drove to Tijuana where they started their own collection of traditional handicrafts from the city’s markets. Back home, they began drafting plans for roped hanging shelves and a floor made of loose bricks and in October 1962, they opened La Tienda Folk Art Gallery in the University District.

Soon enough, Grace broadened La Tienda’s reach. In 1966, in pursuit of molas—appliqued textiles made by the Kuna people off the coast of Panama—she traveled through Guatemala where she spent her small savings on colorful shirts that proved popular with young, arty shoppers. In the ’70s she traveled to Africa, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia, buying from the people who wove the textiles, stitched the clothing, and carved the statuary.

Grace sold her window on the world to employees in 1995; three years later the mini pavilion moved to Ballard. These days you’ll find locally shaped vases as well as ethnographic tabletop studies, but the founder’s vision and passion can still be seen—and heard. A balafon, or gourd marimba, imported by Grace more than 20 years ago from the Ivory Coast, sits waiting to inspire the next era’s globe-trotting entrepreneur.

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