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Banquet Atelier & Workshop: Inspired by the Art of Ancient Egypt

An inside look at the Vancouver design studio celebrated for its bold, graphic cloth and paper goods

A darling of design magazines and lifestyle blogs, Banquet Atelier & Workshop is noted for its high-quality screen prints, stationery, and textiles. In conjunction with the Met Museum’s special exhibition Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, The Met Store collaborated with Banquet on a collection of playful, Egypt-inspired designs. Banquet’s Sarah Edmonds shares her thoughts about her company and this exclusive project.

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Sarah Edmonds (left) and Tammy Lawrence in the Banquet Atelier & Workshop design studio, Vancouver

Tell us a bit about your background.

I have a fine arts background with a specialty in textile design, and worked for commercial galleries and artist-run centers here in Vancouver. My partner Tammy Lawrence worked with nonprofits and in television.

What motivated you to start Banquet Atelier & Workshop?

We were looking for a way to work creatively while raising our young children. In the beginning we wanted to create educational and affordable art and other items for families of every kind. The company has evolved but this initial inspiration still rings true.

How big is the studio staff?

Banquet is just the two of us plus Amber, our newest staff member and studio manager, who currently keeps it all together as we go down the seasonal holiday rabbit hole. We also have a group of brilliant women who come in to help during our busier times, and we all talk motherhood and books and politics while we sleeve cards and roll prints.

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This drawstring backpack was inspired by the gods of ancient Egypt

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The Lotus Journal and the Egyptian Fish Journal showcase popular ancient symbols of rebirth

Where do you look for design inspiration?

It’s really everywhere. Vintage books, conversations with our children and friends, contemporary art, antique textiles, the community at large. Recently we saw the Vancouver Mycological Society’s show at VanDusen Botanical Garden, and are newly obsessed by the amazing variations of something as simple as a mushroom. We’d love to do a toadstool print, but a lot of the times things manifest themselves in a less literal way, like in a new color way or a silly fungi card. 

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The stylish Egyptian Princess Top bears a striking design

What was it like creating imagery derived from ancient Egypt?

Endlessly fascinating. I could have kept going and going with this, it was really hard at the end of the project to clear my workspace and look in a new direction! The level of detail, the powerful iconography and incredible stories. Myth and magic seemed to imbue every detail of life for the ancient Egyptians and I find that richness totally mesmerizing.

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The Egyptian Figures Mug is one of the most popular pieces in the shop

In the digital age, what are the benefits of using such a traditional method as screen-printing?

Everything we do starts with a hand-drawn sketch and the screen print is a logical extension of that. Sometimes it’s very subtle, but the tiny variations of a made-by-hand process bring a kind of humanity to the product that we aren’t willing to compromise on.

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Banquet’s handmade screen print highlights the distinctive blue hue of ancient Egyptian faience

Do you do the printing in-house?

No, we work with local printers who have been with us since the beginning. They are true artists and experts at what they do, and we follow their lead in many ways. It’s a real back-and-forth process, and we love that their studio is just 10 minutes from our own. Screen-printing has the potential to disappear (in the digital age!) and we love supporting these craftspeople in what they do.

Do you follow any particular design blogs?

We don’t generally follow design blogs. (It’s too easy to be confused creatively by what other brilliant people are making and doing!) But we do have a few favorites we return to: Textile Systematism is great for snippets of carpet, pleated origami silks, and antique embroidery. We probably wouldn’t be here without Design Sponge and Grace Bonney’s beautiful eye and powerful influence. And South Willard News for great ceramics and a little bit of politics, science, and current events. Lately we look at Instagram and Pinterest more. We are loving Micah Lexier’s feed and Jennifer Higgie’s [writer and co-editor of Frieze magazine] posts on woman artists that we’re not always familiar with. I also love @dulldiamond’s beautiful snapshots of her daily domestic inspirations. Her color palette and formatting are just about perfect.

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This delightful onesie features Banquet’s drawing of a jerboa, a tiny desert animal found in Egypt

Any favorite artists or role models?

Countless. And always changing. We love Ruth Asawa’s work and her commitment to her family. The layering of color and patterns in Gunta Stölzl’s weaving provide endless inspiration, and we’re both a little obsessed with the writer Elena Ferrante and her determined commitment to maintaining a life and practice outside the public eye. Also looking a lot at David Hockney’s landscapes, and his glistening puddles of water under trees and sky. We’re especially inspired by a close-knit group of fellow creatives and moms in our daily lives. This community is vital to our own creative practice, but also as the foundation to keeping a work-life balance, not always an easy thing!

Does life in the Pacific Northwest influence your work?

Definitely. Vancouver is on the very edge of one of the greatest rain forests in the world. We can be walking in the woods in a matter of minutes, or better still beachcombing at the water’s edge.

Anything else you’d like to share? Favorite music, food, museum, tree?

On repeat in the studio is Destroyer’s new record “Poison Season.” Pomegranate quinoa with halloumi makes the best winter salad. When in New York City we love El Rey for a fresh and healthy lunch. As for museums we love the Museum of Anthropology at UBC here in Vancouver. It’s our first recommend to out of towners, and we go back again and again. Their collection of Coast Salish woven baskets is unbelievable, and to see Bill Reid’s work close up is endlessly powerful. And if I were a tree I’d be a wizened pine on the edge of the beach. So much personality for a tree!

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The goddess Isis spreads her wings on our singular tee

Banquet’s exclusive designs for The Met Store are available in the Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom special exhibition shop at the Metropolitan Museum, or find them here.

[Editor’s note: Ben Richmond also contributed to this Q&A post.]

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