Inspiration from Africa

Artisan and her work motivated by Zimbabwean orphans

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Virginia Barrett's travels to Zimbabwe led to a line of handbags and other items that celebrate the African nation's children while raising money for their benefit. Barrett was one of many local and regional artisans to sell their crafts at Saturday's Christmas in the Rockies event.

— Virginia Barrett's first Christmas in Zimbabwe was spent with a single woman who cared for 10 orphaned children.

Barrett knew the likelihood of the woman providing a new outfit - as is tradition in Zimbabwe - for each of the orphaned children was slim, so she took matters into her own hands. Barrett, who at the time was studying music in the African country, wanted to help make the orphans' Christmas as special as possible.

"I knew that the woman I was living with wasn't going to be able to provide a new gift for each of the children, so I e-mailed 15 of my friends to donate money and we were able to get each one of them new shoes and a new outfit," she said. "It was pretty amazing."

Years after that special holiday, Barrett, who teaches art during the summer at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, has taken her admiration for the children of Zimbabwe and turned it into art.

During Saturday's Christmas in the Rockies craft fair in Steamboat, Barrett sold potholders, handbags, bookmarks and larger totes displaying photos of Zimbabwean children. Each of her items included words such as "wonder," "freedom," "play" and "love" alongside the black-and-white photos. Many of the photos show the children laughing, eating or playing.

Barrett's hope is that potential buyers will be as inspired by the African children as she is.

"These children really captured my heart. They live under very difficult situations. They don't have parents, they have no material goods, and it's beautiful because they aren't tied to television or video games," she said. "They laugh spontaneously and have incredibly beautiful spirits."

Barrett donates 10 percent of her proceeds to Tariro, a Zimbabwean organization her friend started to help send orphan girls to school.

"Making these bags is a practical way to have inspirational art that actually benefits someone rather than just having art hanging on the wall," she said. "It's nice to get the spirit of these children out on the street."

Barrett was one of dozens of artisans who convened at the annual Christmas in the Rockies event at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Saturday.

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