Laurel Burch’s art is instantly recognizable by Bay Area women of a certain age. In the 70s and 80s, her cloisonne earrings were in every gift shop in the Bay Area. And her whimsical, brightly colored patterns of flowers, birds and cats – she’s probably best known for the lying cats – were everywhere, on T-shirts, scarves and tote bags.
Today between 60 and 80, these women “are the ones who make the brand what it is,” said her daughter Aarin. Although Laurel Burch passed away in 2007, a store run by her daughter, Laurel Burch Studios, opened to the public in Berkeley in March 2020, to be immediately closed by a shelter in place.
While many stores around the world sell Laurel Burch products, it is the only “flagship store” made up solely of her designs. Aarin Burch tried to have more than one grand opening last fall, but given COVID-19 and the Delta variant, it still wasn’t quite the opening she was hoping for.
The shop is organize a series of Open Studios festivities from November 18 to 21, and while Aarin Burch wants to spread the word to her mother’s legions of fans, she also hopes to showcase her work to the younger generations.
For Aarin Burch, it took a while for him to decide whether to make his mother’s legacy his main role.
For most of Burch’s life, “it was her thing, not my thing,” she told Berkeleyside in an interview with the store. “But a few years later, I realized that I can do so much with it. I can be around art all day, work with people, and do things that I am passionate about.
Burch said she especially appreciates the artistic freedom to keep her mother’s work cool, introducing new designs. Her mother was so prolific that she will never run out, she says. During the interview, she pulled out one of her mother’s sketchbooks that her stepfather had just found, along with many new line drawings to her. Almost all of the images, whether on socks, scarves, pillow cases, gardening gloves, or (more recently) face masks, first came to life in a painting by Burch.
“My mom would create a painting and then put the image on a t-shirt,” said Aarin Burch. “I don’t have a new art of it, but I find how to explode an image and move it in a new way. I can crop a flower or a creature and move them around so that the creature looks around the flower, for example.
Although her mother never specifically asked her children to carry on her legacy before her death, she at least left her daughter with these words: “Whatever you do, do it your way, don’t try to do it. do it my way. . If you’re doing it your way, it’s the right way.
What a gift it was, Burch thought to himself. Although she was largely her mother’s daughter, her mother did not share two major parts of her identity; Aarin is a person of color and queer.
She tries to find a balance, to do things her own way, while remaining true to her mother, adapting her mother’s messages of inclusion to the world we live in now. It has often been difficult. When she supported the Black Lives Matter movement on her mailing list, for example, some of her mother’s more conservative fans criticized her for politicizing the brand.
“I see it as my job and my journey to use his bold and unapologetic work to present it to the people I want to make a difference for today,” she said.
Burch’s mother, Laurel, grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She came to the Bay Area to become a singer and had an intermittent relationship with jazz musician Robert Burch. she had two children with him at 25, before they went their separate ways. It was up to him to provide for the needs of his children.
She had never taken an art class and started designing earrings and other jewelry to sell at street fairs to support her children. Aarin Burch said that as a child in San Francisco, it was often her responsibility to tie the threads to her mother’s earrings at the kitchen table.
The story of her mother’s life was a real story of rags to riches. She started her business as a wellness hippie and grew into an internationally renowned artist and brand, worn by Cher and sold in department stores, where fans lined up to get her autograph.
She has also suffered from osteopetrosis, a painful bone disease, all of her life. She often said that she felt her mission in life was to inspire joy through her work, even though she herself often suffered. Later in her life, she lived in Novato, where she died.
While Burch says that she and her mother loved each other fiercely, it wasn’t always easy to be her daughter.
On the one hand, her mother connected with almost everyone she met; Burch constantly hears stories from people who have had memorable interactions with her, saying things like “I met your mom and we had the most amazing connection. I felt that she had really seen me, she had me right away. Having lost her, I love hearing these stories about her because they keep me so connected to her, ”said Burch.
Yet, at the height of her fame, she was much less available for her own children.
“A lot of times I couldn’t access it,” Burch said. “She started to get so famous that I had to send her a fax.”
But over time, the mother and daughter healed their relationship and became close again. Aarin helped take care of his mother during her later years.
A graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts, the young Burch, now 56, found her passion in filmmaking, directing and producing both promotional videos and independent films, including those at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and HIV-positive Women of Color. Over the past two decades, she has slowly worked on a documentary about her mother, acknowledging that the pressure she put on herself to make their relationship perfectly successful could slow the process down.
She is also known in Berkeley as a teacher of hip-hop dance and martial arts; she taught hip-hop at downtown Berkeley YMCA for 23 years.
In 2012, she launched ecommerce site Laurel Burch Studios, reimagining what her mother’s legacy might be, by bringing it out of her Oakland apartment.
She admits that she had to learn everything on the job, because running a business was never her life plan.
His brother Juaquim runs the international part of the company; Laurel Burch still has many fans around the world, especially in South America and Japan.
While some may think that Aarin and her brother inherited a lot of money from their mother’s estate, this is not the case, she said. Her mother was an artist who did not always have the best business partners; in addition, there were long periods when she could not work due to her illness. Her stepfather was running the business when she died, Aarin said.
“What she left us with was this incredible opportunity and it was priceless,” said Burch.
About five years ago, Aarin Burch moved the business from his Oakland apartment to a warehouse in Berkeley and began hosting warehouse sales several times a year. The opening of a “flagship” store only took place when it found the right space; it was an architect’s studio. Her sellers were hoping the new tenant wouldn’t change the layout, which she didn’t. The display cases are filled with Burch items past and present, and Aarin uses the conference room to host small gatherings; whether nurses or young artists; she hopes to be a hub to encourage young female artists in the future and to host other community gatherings in the space.
Ultimately, Burch wants people who visit the store to have the same feeling they have about the Laurel Burch coffee mug they’ve been using for 30 years.
“I want people to feel the warmth and the great energy, and share it,” she said, as a big part of her mother’s line has always been giving gifts. She hopes visitors will leave with a full Laurel Burch experience after visiting the store.
“She wasn’t making mugs for you to drink, it was a physical embodiment of the act of giving and creating, for someone to have that feeling with someone else,” Burch said. “It sounds so simple, but I run this business because it creates beauty in the world. There is something about this particular art, because of its vibrancy and energy, that makes people feel connected and special, loved and seen.
Laurel Burch Studios is located at 1345 Eighth St., Berkeley, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Sunday.
Studios open from November 18 to 21. There will be food, wine, gifts, raffle and an opportunity to browse vintage items from the Laurel Burch collection dating back to the 1970s. There will also be live music, with a performance by Melanie DeMore at 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 20 and by Carol Garcia at 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 21.