[FORT WAYNE] The sign on their front door reads, “Come in. We’re awesome!”
Yup, we chuckled too. But in this case, it’s actually true.
Ben Keffer and Nicole Moore Keffer are artists and businesspeople with gobs of heart, smarts and creativity. And above all, they are really darn nice. Awesomely so.
I first met Ben at The City Exchange in downtown Fort Wayne, where he had a holiday pop-up shop. I think I frightened him a little when I scooped up an armload of prints and begged him for the opportunity to sell his goods, blathering about my new business.
Little did I know he was newly married to the at-the-time proprietor of Creative Women of the World, the shop next door that, among others, has served as inspiration for Local Universe thanks to its focus on goods made by hand, made sustainably and benefitting a cause.
We give back: $1 from each purchase goes toward clean water projects in The Central African Republic through Water For Good, and $1 goes toward Matthew 25, providing free and low-income health care in Fort Wayne.
As it turns out, the connections run deep: I realized that I bought two of Nicole’s prints years ago. My daughter, a global studies major, interned with her last year. We know a billion people in common. It’s a small, small world.
I visited Ben and Nicole at their studio and home. Both are in the top floor of a duplex carved out of one of the oldest homes in Winona Lake, Indiana, just west of Fort Wayne. While surrounding Warsaw is perhaps most famous for its speed traps on the highway leading in and out of town, the Winona Lake area is bursting with small businesses and charm.
While their space is small—by choice—it’s a fascinating canvas for their collective and collected artwork. (Plus a retro little kitchen where they both churn out amazingness.) There’s a painting that Nicole did as a little girl, quirky salt and pepper shakers, some of Ben’s Star Wars paraphernalia and a beautiful array of crosses that Nicole has picked up in her travels around the world to train women to lift themselves and their families out of poverty through commerce.
It’s also home to their studio, a small room at the end of the hall that doubles as Nicole’s closet. Somehow it all works; there’s even a desk at the window with a view of the birdfeeder. This is where Ben has set up his press and his Mac, the duo with which he creates his clever prints with deep-thinker phrases wrapped into iconic objects. His style could be stark but for the warm, hand-drawn, not-perfect feel, a look that he has to work to cultivate—roughing up the prints a bit.
A supporter of Water For Good (more on that later), Ben uses paper from French Paper Co. just north of here in Niles, Michigan. French Paper was a pioneer in recycled paper manufacturing; it’s been powered by fully renewable hydroelectric generators installed in 1922 (and saved more than 1 million barrels of fossil fuel to date). Ben uses water-based inks for his prints, and even the screen cleaner is eco-friendly. These black-and-white prints are as green as they come.
The quotes embedded within speak to my soul and the heart of Local Universe. I asked him why he chose those particular ones:
“They just stuck out to me,” he said. “I would read through books and websites devoted to quotes, and eventually I would stumble upon a quote, and it would be like finding a prize. It would just click in my head, and I would say yes! Also, my wife has been incorporating quotes into her artwork for years, so she will send me quotes that she thinks I will like as well. She is a huge resource for me.”
A graphic designer by training and digital media and marketing coordinator by day (he designed the Local Universe logo!), Ben is cultivating a partnership with Nicole that allows them to use their talents for good, even beyond the good that they do by traveling to places like Uganda and by baking for Nicole’s Sweet Exchange, in which she trades her goodies for goods needed by the less fortunate.
Together they’re working on One Love Exchange, through which they support girl empowerment programs in Uganda as well as Water For Good, a program providing clean drinking water for the people in the Central African Republic. In fact, for every one of Ben’s prints sold, they donate a dollar to Water For Good.
We’re also huge believers of using your talents for good here at Local Universe. I can’t draw or paint or print, but I can write and tell stories and sell goods. So when you purchase one of Ben’s prints, Local Universe also will donate to a cause: $1 from every sale will go to Matthew 25, which provides free and low-cost medical care to less fortunate residents of Fort Wayne. My mom, a nurse, gave her time there for years, so we know the good that they do.
Ben’s bee print perhaps best expresses the entrepreneurial and creative spirit that Ben and Nicole embody through their work and outreach, as well as the abundant love for fellow man that results:
“And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anais Nin)
Things are blossoming in their little studio in Winona Lake. And they’re awesome.