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Peterborough shop celebrates a world of craft and cultures

Union Leader Correspondent

August 26. 2012 10:12PM
Francoise Bourdon holds up an African Wedding Basket, also known as a beer basket, in front of her shop, Joseph's Coat, in Peterborough. (Annie Card)

PETERBOROUGH - A love of different cultures continues to feed downtown business Joseph's Coat.

Over the years the store has become a mecca for lovers of other cultures as well as a place where shoppers can find handcrafted items that have a story to tell.

Founders Linda Marsella and Shelley Osborne opened Joseph's Coat in the old Baptist Church of Peterborough on Main Street as a fabric and quilting business in 1980. Marsella later opened her multicultural Mariposa Museum in 2002 at the same location.

Current owner Francoise Bourdon was drawn to the store as a customer and soon became friends with Marsella, who sold the business to Bourdon seven years ago, a year before Marsella died.

A fire in 1999 caused the store to move to Depot Square. A few years ago the store moved again to its current home on Grove Street.

More than 30 years later, Joseph's Coat has expanded into a multicultural bazaar offering textiles, toys, musical instruments, kitchenware, jewelry clothing, and baskets from around the globe.

Bourdon stocks Joseph's Coat with items made by individuals in villages around the world who directly benefit from the sale of the items.

Last summer, she traveled for nearly four months visiting the countries and many of the artists she buys from in Kenya, Bali, Laos, the Philippines, Guatemala, Ecuador, Uruguay, Portugal, Nepal, India, Thailand and Japan.

Born and raised in Quebec, Bourdon understands what it's like to be a member of a community under threat, in which others want to decide whether your language, culture and traditions matter.

Because of that she is devoted to preserving cultural diversity through her business, she said.

'When artists are able to make a living where they are, rather than having to abandon their village and move into the city, the world is better for it. Supporting these artists helps protects language, culture, viewpoints and whole ways of life that are endangered by the growing sameness of the world,' Bourdon said. 'I think that what we do is tied to buying locally.'

By supporting artisans around the world, Bourdon said she is also supporting women in developing counties in which women often lack status and are kept down, she said.

Most of the handiwork and crafts that she buys are made by women, she said.

Producing textiles or other crafts for market can be a way for women to support themselves and their families, she said.

'When women earn money, it changes the dynamic. They are respected,' she said.

And women usually turn around and spend the earned money on their families.

'So the craft is one way to raise their family and improve the education of their children and improve the health of the family members,' she said.

Bourdon and her husband, Clyde Kessel, are also well known in Peterborough for their continued support of the Mariposa Museum.

'They just come forward to help,' said Karla Hostetler, director of the Mariposa Museum.

'It comes out of a caring about intercultural issues and helping people get along (with each other).'

Bourdon is a former chairwoman of the museum's board of directors.

'We all really know Francoise herself is a person who is driven to make a difference both as an individual and as a businessperson. She's motivated both here in Peterborough and in the world to make a difference,' Hostetler said.

Before moving to the Monadnock region five months ago to run the Mariposa, Hostetler had worked as a strategist in the international craft sector for 18 years and had heard of Bourdon when she worked with artisans in the Caribbean.

'Businesses like Joseph's Coat are vital to helping small producers and artisans to find a market,' she said. 'Not everybody can sell to the big department stores.'

Bourdon said she has many popular items in her shop from beaded bracelets to baskets, but one of the most popular items are the Nativity sets that hail from numerous countries. 'I think it resonates with people to have something like that, that connect the cultures.'

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