BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Creating art can change one’s life. Anyone who does not believe this sentiment need only ask Asira Mathew.
Now a Beachwood resident, Mathew grew up in war-torn Tajikistan
, where she learned that the act of creating can have a profound, uplifting influence on how a person views the world.
She recently opened a new business at Beachwood’s La Place called Cre8 Sparks DIY Studio, where people can stop in and get their creative juices flowing by personalizing and customizing their own tennis shoes, shirts, ceramics, aprons, wine and beer glasses, mosaics, gifts and more.
The unique DIY art studio, located between Diamonds Direct and First National Bank at 2101 Richmond Road, provides customers with art supplies and items upon which to create. It also provides the space to create and, if needed, a little help with the finer points of making a piece of art come to life.
Opening such a business is a passion for Mathew, who came to the United States in 2005 to attend college at Taylor University in Fort Wayne, Ind. In doing so, she left behind in Tajikistan her parents and six siblings, and the land where her creative spark was lit.
Known for its rugged terrain, the Central Asian country of Tajikistan is bordered by Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan had been a member republic of the Soviet Union until the USSR fell on Dec. 26, 1991. When that fall came, it hit hard for families in Tajikistan.
“When I was 11, the USSR fell apart,” Mathew said. “Tajikistan used to be one of the 15 countries under Russia for a long time (since 1929). Life during USSR was great. We had job stability. My dad was the only one (in the family) working, supporting a family of nine. He was an engineer. We had a very, very comfortable life. People had savings for retirement and all that stuff.
“Then, overnight, we wake up, and USSR is no longer there. I remember hearing it on the news. Everyone went into a panic mode. No one was sure what it meant. It wasn’t something that was in the works for a long time to prepare people. It just happened.
“The next day,” she said, “you wake up surprised they’re (Russians) leaving. Up to that point the government, everything, was totally controlled by Russians. Airplanes had all Russian pilots. Doctors were all people from Russia. Teachers, TV stations, government, everything. They just picked up and left.”
Her father lost his job because of the turmoil, but Mathew, the sixth in line of the family’s seven children, stepped up and asked her father to teach her how to use the family’s sewing machine. Though her mother was concerned that she would damage it, her father agreed to teach Mathew how to use the machine and its pedals. Soon after, the girl began earning money by mending clothes for her neighbors. As her skills grew, she taught herself how to properly measure fabrics to make clothes. Mathew’s services became invaluable, as those struggling through the three-year civil war were always in need of food and clothes.
Inspired by her ever-improving talents, Mathew left home at age 15 and moved to Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe, where she attended fashion school and lived with her sister, who was studying to become a doctor.
While there, she met a couple from New York who were in the country doing missionary work. From them, she obtained a Bible, written in English, and began to teach herself the language.
By 2005, she had moved, alone, to the United States to attend college. “It was difficult, because everything was different,” Mathew said. “The culture, the food, the jokes.”
In Tajikistan, where food became hard to come by after the fall of the USSR, Mathew said, “Food is sacred and respected. On my first day of college, my first day, they had a food fight.”
As for jokes, she couldn’t comprehend why her college classmates laughed when one of them would fall to the ground.
“In my country, we would try to help people if they fell. I couldn’t understand why they would laugh.”
Now married and the mother of children ages 5 and 7, Mathew has learned American ways and has even come to like some of the food, to which she was at first unaccustomed.
Still, she looks back on that time when sewing and creating clothing set her free as a person and, after working the past couple of years overseeing imports and exports for a Solon company, she decided the time was right to help others experience the joys of creating by opening her own business.
Cre8 Sparks is divided four sections -- Paint It, Mosaic It, Wear It and Gift It. In each section, customers have the opportunity to create. People, adults and children, can design their own shirts and pajamas or, like an NBA player, make their own design for tennis shoes. Gifts can be made using stencils, figurines can be given a special paint job and wine glasses can be made into unique objects of art.
Soon to open at Cre8 Sparks -- a large, clean storefront that was formerly home to Pottery Barn -- is a workshop area, where people can learn and work on specific projects. Mathew said the workshop area is also available for rent for birthday parties, showers and other events.
Planned for the afternoon of Dec. 18 is a grand opening to be attended by Mayor Martin Horwitz and Santa Claus. Call the business at 216-545-4010 for times.
Of the business, Howritz said: “Creative pursuits help to alleviate anxiety and bolster community. I am happy that Ms. Mathew has created a space where people can create art in a fun, no-pressure environment.”
Added Mathew: “Cre8 Sparks will be a destination for kids and adults to easily express their creativity, bond with friends and unleash the esteem of personal achievement. Art fosters community and self-care.