The Creativity Caravan Finds a Spot in Montclair

Maya Stein, one curator of the Tiny Book Show with her partner Amy Tingle, both of New Jersey, helps visitors to the Art Garden in Shelburne Falls make their own tiny books Sunday, June 12. Beginning on July 7, the Tiny Book Show is traveling from the east coast across the country with their 1965 RV called the Creativity Caravan, to as far west as the San Francisco bay area. Their final stop is August 20 in Newport, PA. (Photo by Matthew Burkhartt)

Maya Stein and Amy Tingle’s storefront might not have a set of wheels, but it drives home the same message as the original Creativity Caravan: to bring creative inspiration to everyone.

By Sarah Emily Gilbert 

Amy, Maya, and Maude: these are the names behind Montclair’s new storefront, The Creativity Caravan. Amy Tingle and Maya Stein are independent artists, writers, and owners of the shop, and M.A.U.D.E, a 1965 Covered Wagon, is the store’s namesake.

Before settling into their new space on 28 Fullerton Avenue, Maya and Amy were miles away from Montclair driving their vintage caravan cross-country for their 2016 Spring/Summer Tiny Book Show. During the 10,000-mile tour, they stopped in 24 states to teach miniature book-making workshops and display their collection of over 350 tiny books (no more than three-inches in size) handmade by artists and writers from around the world. When they weren’t in transit, the two worked out of a friend’s studio in Nutley, and more recently, a space shared with Basemeant WRX, before settling into their current location. Stein and Tingle’s storefront might not have a set of wheels, but it drives home the same message as the original Creativity Caravan: to bring creative inspiration to everyone.

In true Tingle-Stein fashion, the duo doesn’t run a typical business operation. For starters, the Fullerton Ave startup is not a shop. “It’s an ‘imaginarium,’” explains Maya, who was a freelance writer for 15 years prior to partnering with Amy. “That essentially means it’s a space to feed your imagination,” she continues. “We want to keep our offerings stimulating, enriching, and accessible, and to also make sure that we get inspiration from other artists and makers so that we can learn and become better facilitators.”

Indeed, there is plenty of creative nourishment at the imaginarium; Stein and Tingle have adopted several collaborative art activities from fellow thinkers across the U.S. Each month, they introduce them to locals in the form of in-studio events. “We are both drawn to the intersection where art and writing meet,” says Maya. “A lot of our classes, workshops, and other events end up being a mix of the two.”

Among their offerings are #SocialSketch, a collective doodling and drawing night and Storybowl, an activity where participants tell a true story based on a random prompt picked from a bowl. On the first Friday of each month, The Creative Caravan encourages people to participate in the art scavenger hunt associated with the global Free Art Friday movement. Individuals can use the studio’s art supplies to create something to hide in town for others to discover with the help of social media.

Then, there are the grassroots art movements started by the caravanning artists themselves. As this year’s keynote speakers at the Miniature Book Society Conclave, it’s only appropriate that they’re host tiny book-making workshops on some Sunday afternoons. Other days bring #LetterLounge, what they describe as an evening of letter writing on vintage typewriters.

“Our ideas stem largely from the belief that doing things by hand makes learning incredibly meaningful and long-lasting,” says Maya. “You just remember things better when you are actually manipulating them and having sensory experiences that go along with that.”

As was evidenced by the adult coloring book craze, our fast-paced society often forgets the meditative nature of crafting and creating. These in-studio events allow individuals to rediscover “old-fashion” pastimes like doodling and face-to-face storytelling. Interestingly, Stein and Tingle have found that these experiences often come with a learning curve for modern Americans.

“We try to stay away from screens and digital technology…in fact, I can’t think of a single class or workshop experience that ever involves a screen,” says Maya. “I think we’d like to keep it that way. It can feel strange at first for participants who haven’t sat down with art or writing materials in a long time – there’s a vulnerability there, a visibility that kind of goes against the anonymity – or at least the veil of distance – we achieve when we’re on our devices.”

Still, it’s always a profound moment when someone “gets it.” According to Maya, “those who never expected to enjoy art or creative writing have discovered a surprising kinship with those experiences. And for me, the best part of what we do is that it draws all sorts of people to the table – all ages, all abilities, all experiences –so there’s a genuine conversation taking place between those who might never have intersected before.”

The way Stein and Tingle measure their business’s success is based on lessons learned during past adventures typing their way across the country. In July 2014, the pair embarked on Type Rider II: The Tandem Poetry Tour. This involved riding a tandem bicycle from Colorado to Wisconsin building tiny libraries and writing personalized poetry on their typewriters for people along the way. Prior to that, Maya rode solo during a similar tour in 2012, Type Rider: Cycling the Great American Poem.

“I remember when Maya was in the midst of her Type Rider project (riding a bicycle towing a typewriter from Massachusetts to Wisconsin) and a reporter from the New York Times was trailing her for the day,” recalls Amy, a former public school teacher, managing editor at Simon & Schuster, and bartender. “At the first location on the sidewalk outside a pizza parlor in Fishkill, NY no one would stop to type. The owner finally came out and he wrote a great piece about transitioning from being a teacher to making pizza. But that was it, no one else stopped. There was no prodding or cajoling or ‘selling’ the experience, just patiently waiting to see what would happen. The reporter asked if it produced anxiety, claiming she would have been totally stressing out at the absence of bodies and engagement. Maya said, not at all. The person who was meant to tell his story sat down. And that’s the only thing that matters. I think that, for better or for worse in terms of a business model, is truly what we believe.”

Tingle and Stein’s qualitative measure of success is refreshing. More than any item, they are dedicated to selling a unique experience that brings people together in an unexpected way. And in our opinion, it’s a model that the world could use a little more of – along with vintage typewriters and caravans.

What else is in store at 28 Fullerton Ave.? The list includes: make-and-take “crafternoons,” poetry readings, art shows, tiny book-making kits, writing-prompt poem jars, and poetry broadsides. The owners are also interested in hosting artists in residence, where passersby can watch artists at work through the Creative Caravan’s storefront window.

A brick and mortar site doesn’t mean these ladies won’t be mobile. The two plan to go on tour every other year, making their next adventure scheduled for summer 2018. However, in the lives of Amy Tingle and Maya Stein, almost every day brings adventure and Urban Agenda can’t wait to go along for the ride.