After 30 years of selling imported crafts on Woodstock’s Tinker Street, west of Tannery Brook, Bryn Kelsey has moved her shop, Walkabout, to Rock City Road, just off the town green. “It’s like moving from the Lower East Side to uptown,” she says. “It’s a completely different feeling — much more traffic, and it’s livelier.”
Surrounded by colorful artifacts — Day of the Dead figurines from Mexico and Peru, jewelry from Nepal, antique kimonos from Japan, and much more — Kelsey explains how she got into the business. “My parents traveled. And we had a lot of relatives living in different countries, who came and stayed with us. For me, traveling was the norm.”
From their home on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, her parents took her to Morocco, Brazil, pre-Castro Cuba. “We always came back with wonderful things, and I loved them,” she recalls. With an early yen to be an artist, she sought work that would allow her to paint. At the age of 19, she opened a store on East 7th Street with two other young women. One of them made jewelry, and Kelsey and the other woman made clothing. The shop did well for several years.
Then she headed to West Stockbridge in the Berkshires to join the young people surrounding Alice and Ray Brock, of Alice’s Restaurant fame, who played surrogate parents to the young Arlo Guthrie. Asked what the scene at the Brocks’ 19th century church was like, Kelsey shrugs. “It was just life to us. I made the clothes.” She also opened a store in nearby Lenox.
Back in New York, she became the manager of Made in USA, a clothing store on St. Marks Place. She did a stint in Seattle, returned to Manhattan. The move to Woodstock came when she paid a visit to her close friend Richard Segalman, an artist she had modeled for in the city. “He told me about a woman who was moving from here to the city. I took her house, and she took my apartment.” Kelsey set up a shop in a charming little building set back from Tinker Street, later the location of the Readers Quarry bookstore. Eventually, she and two friends bought the building at 68 Tinker Street, where Walkabout settled in for three decades, until the recent decision to sell. “The buyers are very nice people,” Kelsey says. “I don’t know what they plan to do with the building.”
We walk around the new shop, looking at the shelves crammed with the work of Asian, African, and Latin American artists and craftspeople. “My main love is the folk art,” says Kelsey. “I try to keep it authentic, getting things that are not commercial.”
We peruse some of the antiques, including Afghani pouches and meticulously painted boxes from China. Deity statues from Nepal, Thailand, and India portray Buddha, Ganesha, Kwan Yin. A glass case displays Girls Day dolls in formal dresses, figures that Japanese girls are allowed to play with one day a year. There are elaborately dressed marionettes from Burma, some vintage and some new; essential oils from India and Morocco; beaded belly dance scarves from Egypt; carved wood masks from Africa.
“My house is like this too,” says Kelsey. “I like that these things are handmade and represent the country they’re from.” However, she also carries items that are unusual but thoroughly modern, like Day of the Dead socks from Mexico. One of her best sellers is a backpack mounted with an extremely realistic plush tiger head.
Unique North American products include the knitted, felted, and decorated headbands a local craftswoman calls crowns. A man in Pennsylvania handcrafts knives with handles made from the jaws of bear, coyote, deer, and raccoon.
Kelsey used to make buying trips herself, especially to Morocco and Turkey. She recalls a jaunt down the Nile, when her boat passed a tour of Woodstockers led by local archeologist John West. “They saw me and said, ‘Oh good, we don’t have to buy anything. We’ll buy it from you when we get back.’” These days she no longer travels, although she wouldn’t mind returning to Bali. “It was so easy there,” she says with a dreamy look in her eyes. “Such sweet people.”
Walkabout, located at 5 Rock City Road in Woodstock, is currently open Thursday through Monday.