For Shilin Hora, strolling through downtown Riverside and enjoying the neighborhood’s quaint, friendly vibe provides a unique sense of neighborly cheer that seems harder to come across these days.
But this fall, as the Berwyn resident and her daughter made one final stop at the village’s final farmer’s market of the season, two new, diametrically opposed feelings came over Hora as she walked around the market near the water tower — depression and hope.
Because of the pandemic, Hora has not had many opportunities this year to collaborate with area artists, either creating art or teaching adults and children the importance of incorporating art and nature into daily life.
And with that trip to the farmers market being the last before winter, Hora was anticipating a cold, dark winter filled with continued uncertainties about the pandemic and more lost opportunities for connecting with others.
But while getting back into her car, a “for rent” sign posted in the window of a vacant storefront along East Avenue caught her eye and got her thinking.
“I’ve had to close [artist] collaborations in Chicago and in Oak Park, and was just working from home in my studio … and I had no plans of opening a store,” she said. “But I thought that if I could just sell little gifts, I could encourage people to not lose hope — and not lose hope myself.”
From there, the seed was officially planted into Hora’s mind — she was going to open her own art boutique.
Aptly named The Seed, Hora’s new store at 38 East Ave. is one where customers can expect to find one-of-a-kind botanical arts, gifts and home decor not found in big-name stores or craft shops.
A botanical artist and self-described nature enthusiast, Hora’s background includes extensive work bridging the divides between art, science and nature.
Following her studies in botany and fine arts at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University, Hora’s resume includes an abundance of public outreach art projects, ranging from the founding of a tree study and urban environment public art project in Montreal to hyperlocal collaborations including with the Park District of Oak Park, where she launched the first ever nature preschool at the Austin Gardens Environmental Center, focusing on early childhood nature education.
At the start of 2020, Hora was partnering with Sugar Beet Schoolhouse in River Forest (same ownership as Oak Park’s Sugar Beet Food Co-Op grocery store), developing children’s workshops around food literacy and studying the local environment and engaging in a monthly market, in addition to her work with various Chicago area public and private schools with programs helping students heal through working with nature.
Now, Hora’s goal with her own shop is to do the same — introduce local residents to the importance of engaging with nature and getting in touch with the beauty of the world around them.
“The reason I decided on ‘The Seed’ is that I make these beautiful art pieces called botanical boxes, and they basically illustrate the importance of the seed as a miracle of nature,” she said about both the naming of her store and inspiration behind the merchandise.
“I take these boxes and I house hundreds and sometimes thousands of seeds in these natural history arrangements, and so the focus of my artwork is the seed,” she said. “I also want to be a seed in a time of all this happening and even afterwards — a seed of hope, a seed of hope, a seed of joy.”
About half of The Seed’s inventory is crafted by Hora herself, with everything else on consignment from printmakers, illustrators and other artists Hora has gotten to know and work with over the years.
Aside from her botanical boxes, the many unique pieces found in the store include handcrafted cards, botanical pillows, tea towels handmade from organic fibers, sculptures and necklaces made from blue gem corn from a vendor in Mexico.
With price points ranging from $10-$150, Hora hopes that shoppers of all ages will be able to walk out the door with something they like.
“If you pick up our artwork, there’s literally nothing like it in the universe,” she said. “If you pick up some home decor, there’s something handcrafted about it, and no two are alike out there.”
For now, Hora plans on only selling her goods, but is hopeful that in the near future, she can begin starting workshops to support and give back to the community. Ideas for future programming include seed quilting, paint-and-sip type events for adults and educational outreach with local children.
At the beginning of the month, Hora held a soft grand opening for the community.
Her main message?
She’s here to offer artistic experiences, nature education and a chance at growing a personal connection with each shopper.
“It’s the experience of knowing and getting to build a relationship with your boutique owner, so I hope to bring people back again and again and build a relationship with people,” she said.
The Seed, located at 38 East Ave. in Riverside, is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 1-6 p.m.
For more information, visit the store’s Facebook page online.