Bellezza to give talk on helping crafters in Africa

By Page H. Gifford

Elaine Bellezza will be the guest speaker for Friends of the Library on April 5 at 10 a.m. and will be discussing handcrafts made in Africa and her role in helping expand economic opportunity for the crafters. Later in the month, she will also speak to members of the Fluvanna Art Association.

There are not many who do what Bellezza does. A recent transplant to Virginia, she has lived overseas in France, Asia, the middle east, and Africa and has firsthand knowledge about the culture and crafts of the people.

 Most of her time was spent in Africa, which will be the focus of her talks. She lived in places like Burkha, Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Madagascar, Morocco, and Kenya, to name a few. Crisscrossing the continent of 54 countries, she discovered that the in some rural areas, the people were unable to sustain a living by normal means, such as farming, and economic development suffered as a result. Yet the people in those areas had talents and skills for making beautiful and unique handcrafts that are an expression of their culture.

With an eye for design, Bellezza recognized that what they created could be marketed to give them an economic base. The offerings included everything from baskets to hand-blown glass, wooden items to jewelry, and more. The crafters have learned to utilize what is in the natural environment for their creations, whether it is wood, grasses, or even fruit peels.

There is a lot of work that goes into her projects that support the people in these rural areas.

“I create an industry project design, implementing it and setting up global market linkages,” she said. She trains and researches product sources and business development, emerging economies, strategic planning, and branding. She is dedicated to a cause that has empowered mostly women entrepreneurs to connect to world markets for over 25 years.

She stressed that creating these markets and establishing cottage industries among the people, helps them to support themselves. In many rural areas throughout the world, it is difficult to define the economic support people who live in these areas need to be absorbed into the modern world. Agrarian societies are the most common in rural areas but cannot be sustained if farming is no longer an option for the people who live there. Nowadays, global warming is a factor that has changed traditional farming in many areas of the world.

In her home, Bellezza surrounds herself with the arts and crafts of the people that she has mentored and supported throughout her time living in Africa. It is a testament to the imagination, craftsmanship, and appeal of these one-of-a-kind items. An eye-catching seven-foot giraffe stands in the corner of the room, as well as carvings and intricate baskets that line the walls. Stunning hand-blown glass, using the technique of melting glass beads and fusing them into the final product are on display. Most striking is the bright, bold colors used in the creations. Bellezza calls them crafts but to look at them is to see the artistry which goes beyond them being simply utilitarian.

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