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Northern Michigan maker launches online store showcasing Great Lakes artists

Dec 18, 2018 07:18AM ● By Editor
Megan Gilger, who recently launched The Fresh Exchange shop, sets an outdoor table with one of her shop's items: Handmade serving dishes crafted by a ceramicist based in Empire, Mich.  Photo:  The Fresh Exchange

By Emily Bingham of - December 17, 2018

Communal gatherings, seasonal living, farmers markets, local art -- these were all things Megan Gilger cherished about her upbringing in northwest lower Michigan, things she figured wouldn't be difficult to find in a new community elsewhere when she and her husband briefly moved out of state six years ago.

But moving away made her understand that the only place she could find all the things she loved about Northern Michigan was in Northern Michigan itself.

"I realized all the things I was most passionate about didn't lie anywhere outside of this beautiful little utopia we have up here," Gilger says. "I realized just how special that is."

Gilger's move away from Michigan and subsequent return home was one of the catalysts behind the design-minded creative's newest endeavor: An online shop with a focus on art, home wares and other products made by Great Lakes artists. The shop is an extension of her long-running lifestyle blog, The Fresh Exchange -- and much like the blog, The Fresh Exchange shop celebrates mindful living.

"Our ultimate goal is to be a shop that celebrates the seasons," she says. "Gathering is a huge part of seasonal living; I want our pieces to help you enjoy the seasons more beautifully, and better."

When she speaks of "gatherings," Gilger means the kind of rich, community-building experiences like impromptu beach picnics, winter soup nights with friends, or even attending a more formal harvest dinner at a nearby farm.

"To me, gathering is what identifies this area because in every single season it's really natural," she says. "Granted, we have amazing restaurants here, but that stems from the same culture: we gather, we eat, we enjoy the great things this area gives us. It's being a steward of what is given to you."

To embrace that practice, for her shop's soft launch around Thanksgiving Gilger worked with Empire-based Laura Lou Ceramics to design serving dishes and holiday ornaments inspired by local scenery; she also stocked handmade walnut serving boards crafted by Freshwater Woodworks in Traverse City.

The shop also features a handful of items made by Gilger herself. Drawing on her background in printing and design, Gilger created block prints and torn-paper collages of Leelanau landscapes made with paper from the Traverse City non-profit Paperworks Studio, as well as handmade napkins she dyed with natural gathered materials such as acorn, marigold and sumac.

The latter, Gilger says, was inspired by daily walks in the woods with her toddler son.

"It's just so fascinating to see what lies around us and the expansion that can happen from it," she says. "Really, there's so much depth in our area -- we kind of just overlook it. This is a great way to think deeper about the landscape around us."

The recent soft launch -- which found the shop selling out of several items -- included just a fraction of what Gilger plans on stocking by springtime. By that point she aims to feature work by more Great Lakes artists, including Michiganders as well as makers from Chicago, Madison, Wisc., and elsewhere around the lakes. There will be more original art and ceramics, as well as blown glass, clothing, "upcycled" items made with repurposed leather and even artists' canvases, and other items.

"What I'm trying to focus on is [working with] people who understand the life of the Great Lakes," she says. "There's a mindset that comes with life on fresh water." 

To read more on this story, see a photo gallery of products and read related stories, follow this link to them to their website.

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