By Rick Garrick
SERPENT RIVER FIRST NATION—The Sumac Creek Tipi and Trading Company has found success with its new art gallery featuring art from around the region and across Canada.
“We opened up on the May 24 weekend,” says Jeff Jacobs, who owns the business with Karen Jacobs in Serpent River. “It’s been really good. We’ve been moving a lot of art and crafts as well.”
The Jacobs’ opened up the art gallery with the intention of supporting local artisans. They built the building and obtained a new truck for the business with their own resources.
“We buy everything outright, so nothing on consignment, because we’ve been artisans ourselves,” Jacobs says. “If you’re making a pair of moccasins and you want to feed your kids, you can’t feed your kids on a promise, which is consignment sales. So we buy everything outright and we try to be as fair as possible with the artisans.”
Jacobs says they buy art and crafts from artists across Canada whenever they drop by the business, which is located just off Highway 17.
“One of our biggest things is absolutely nothing made in China,” Jacobs says. “As First Nations people, we have to start supporting each other and that’s been our vision and mission.”
Jacobs says the arts and crafts range from smaller items, such as dream catchers and baby moccasins, to items that are worth up to $5,000.
“We have pieces that are more substantial, but we are not selling them,” Jacobs says. “We do have access to bigger pieces. We have been commissioned to sell other pieces as well.”
Jacobs says people have also been bringing in art to have it appraised, but he and Karen are not professional appraisers.
“People seem to think we know our stuff, but it is a big learning process for us,” Jacobs says. “So we’re learning as we go along as well.”
Jacobs says there has been a “really positive” reaction to the art gallery since it was opened.
“I want to stress there is a real good team with us now that help my wife and myself to do this business,” Jacobs says. “We have a young gentleman sewing the teepees for us now who is [Ontario Regional Chief] Isadore Day’s son. And we have our niece who is our management assistant. And we have another young woman, Carol, who is a sales assistant. And we have the people who cut the poles as well, so we do feed a lot of families from this one business.”
Jacobs first went into business making teepees 21 years ago after learning how to make his own. He stresses that he and Karen have operated the business over the years without any funding.
“We take a lot of pride in our product,” Jacobs says, noting he is considered as one of the grandfathers of the teepee manufacturers. “I’ve established a really good credibility in the teepee world. We deliver when we say we are going to deliver, and we try our hardest to do our best as far as quality and service.”
Jacobs made than 40 teepees this year, which he says has been a good year. The teepee manufacturing process involves sewing the canvas and harvesting the poles, pegs and pins.
“We do delivery and set up,” Jacobs says. “We’ve travelled all across Ontario, Quebec, Michigan. Last year we went down to New Brunswick to deliver four teepees to a Sundance ceremony.”
Jacobs is currently looking at the possibility of opening a fast food outlet in the future.
“Other things that we do [are] we fish and we have sold firewood,” Jacobs says. “Basically, we do whatever we can to generate funds so we can expand business.”