celeb magnet
Taking Art to Heart
Celebrating not just objects, but the artisans behind them is store's mission
by Trisha J. Ratledge
by Marshall Williams

Pick up a burnished clay pot in Judy (Perez) Compton’s store. You are holding a family’s heritage and an artisan’s future in your hands. Every item in Aesthetyx, a tiny tienda on the 101 in Encinitas, is handcrafted by those whose skills are often generations deep. It’s Judy Compton’s mission to ensure that these art forms — and the artisans themselves — not only endure, but thrive.“If an art form is not passed on to the next generation, then it’s lost,” says Compton ’90, whose store features pieces from central Mexico and will expand to include work from around the world. “There are so many amazing art forms, not just pottery, but woodworking, textiles, tinsmiths.”

Her journey began in 2002 with a visit to a friend’s home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She and her husband, Charles, were captivated by the Spanish colonial town, brimming with stunning art and beautifully handcrafted pottery, mirrors and starlights.

At the same time, Compton, who had built a successful corporate career in the apparel industry, was searching for a higher purpose in her 9-to-5 life.

After several return trips to Mexico, she realized that if she could import the art she so admired and create a profitable business, she could then give back to those artisans. She and her husband, a retail consultant, tested her idea by selling the handcrafted goods at street fairs in Southern California. At the end of 2005, they found the perfect storefront: a vintage courtyard motel that had been converted into boutiques that feature handcrafted products. Aesthetyx was home.

The couple travels twice a year — soon to be quarterly — to towns throughout central Mexico to buy their goods. That’s why, when Compton picks up a piece of pottery or points to a mirror, she talks not only about how the piece was made, but the artisan who crafted it as well. She’s been to that workshop, and often to the artisan’s home, since they’re usually one and the same.

The store itself reflects this same personal touch, from the guestbook for customers to the fiestas celebrating art and culture.

“We’re trying to create a community,” the store owner explains. “We’re not just trying to be a store that sells a product when someone walks in the door and you never see them again. We’re trying to build a relationship with the customer that extends beyond that.”

With the store just over a year old, Compton is already giving back to her artisan community, first with orders that help sustain their work, and then with proceeds from store events and larger fundraisers she is planning for the future. She also works closely with Barro Sin Plomo (“Clay Without Lead”) and Aid to Artisans, both nonprofit organizations that preserve and promote artistic traditions.

“I have a much bigger vision than this little tienda,” she says, “but I always want my business to feel like the art that’s in here, which is handcrafted. I always want it to feel unique.”