Bianca Napoleoni's "Mano Astuta": Handmade Creations with a Modern Flair

 

 

Let’s get real, accessorizing is life, whether you are looking for a set of chains to look flossy in your signature style, or want to give your look an update by trying something new. Oftentimes, it can be a hassle to mix and match different accessories when stores don’t have or offer anything innovative or different to wear. Therefore, thanks to local artisans, such as Bianca Napoleoni Gregory, who open their own local businesses to offer other alternatives when it comes to fashion, accessories, and cute objects to display your items. Her local business Mano Astuta offers a diverse variety of accessories, from coffee shaped earrings to cactus plates for your rings and bracelets, that will certainly caught your eye.

Bianca Napoleoni is an empowered youth who is in the process of completing a Master’s in Arts degree in English Education at UPRM-Mayagüez Campus. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Education and Multimedia Technology from UPR-Aguadilla Campus. Her academic interests include Multiple Intelligences, Supplementary Education, and Shadow Education, while her personal interests include film photography, clay making, crafting, and going to the beach, among others.

Mano Astuta is a tiny local business focused on the creation of handcrafted accessories made with white clay. As I was conversing with Napoleoni about the origins and concept of Mano Astuta, she explained that she “came up with the name ​​Mano Astuta based on the process of creation and clay molding. For instance, most of the time I have an original idea or design I want to produce out of clay, but as soon as my hands touch the clay it feels like they are the ones controlling and guiding the creative process. They have a mind of their own!”

Her line started at the beginning of 2018 while she was accompanying Jose I. Cruz, a friend who is a silk-screening artist, to different artistic events and activities. She noticed the variety of local art that was being presented in these events, which she had not really been exposed to in some time. However, Napoleoni  “noticed the lack of artists working with white clay. Having a bit of background with this medium, thanks to the fact that I grew up watching my mother work with white clay and move around in the local scene, I decided to start my line.” The idea started with the initiative to generate additional income, but in the process, Napoleoni found that the experience of creating something unique is extremely rewarding, and even more so when the public receives it positively. In addition, her friend really pushed her and gave her the confidence boost she needed to show her creativity to the world.

As a master’s student, Napoleoni’s main focus has always been her studies and academic career. Mano Astuta allows her to prioritize her educational goals, while still having the opportunity to be economically self-sufficient. Moreover, “the creation of this line and the public’s positive reaction towards it is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life. I compare it to the same rewarding feeling I get from teaching and helping my students.” The main purpose for her line is to promote local art and encourage others to explore their artistic beings. Napoleoni tries to do this by “including the client in the process of creation.”

“I mostly sell earrings made out of white clay, made completely by hand. The process involves molding the clay, burning it in a 'kiln' (oven to burn pottery), painting it with clay paints (glaze), and then burning it again. It is a long process that many people do not know. In fact, I would like to make a video showing the process behind the products. I also try to include my clients in the process of creation by allowing them to choose their own styles, colors, and sizes.” Napoleoni also tends to sell ring-holders, but the main focus of Mano Astuta has become ceramic earrings.

With the economical and political problems Puerto Rico is currently undergoing, it is extremely important to promote local businesses and artists for many reasons. For instance, people buying from local artists and businesses are not just helping artists and entrepreneurs make a living on a craft of talent they love doing, “they are also supporting the arts and local entrepreneurship, the former being under attack by curriculum reforms and the latter by franchise development. In the artistic aspect, when you support the local artist community, you are supporting an individuality and creative freedom.” Furthermore, there is a personal aspect to supporting local businesses. “When you personally know the people behind the local business you are promoting, be it local products and/or services, you enjoy a connection you would not otherwise have with a chain business, for instance.” Reflecting on the statements Napoleoni provided, it is important to realize that the personal touch artisans place in their craft has great significance to the quality of products and services you obtain.

 

Her family, especially her Mom, is the biggest supporter of her line. Napoleoni’s mom is a self-taught artist who has taught her everything she knows about the process of creating with white clay. “While I do the molding, painting, burning, and construction of jewelry myself, my family and my friend, Jose I. Cruz, have helped me all throughout my path with Mano Astuta. They have helped me organize, set up in activities, and even helped design a few pieces. I owe them a lot.”

Napoleoni has promoted Mano Astuta in different local and artistic events on the island. She has been part of local cultural events such as a Sabanas Magazine poetry event done in La Tertulia in Mayagüez where she had the opportunity to present her line. She has also been part of artistic activities done in UPRM, which promote local art and encourage students to expose their talents and abilities. Lastly, she participated in Gylro’s “Tocatu” activity, which is done every last Sunday of the month.

If you are looking for something new to try and want to support local artisans, I encourage you to take a look at Mano Astuta. You can find Mano Astuta pieces through the Instagram handle @manoastutaceramics.