Made With Love
By Rachel Hunter
Based in the music and art haven that is Asheville, North Carolina, Manafest Design offers handmade, unique, bone and antler carved jewelry. Manafest Design is the brainchild of 29 year old Anto Bear and his business partner, Rikki Guerrero. Anto Bear, (whose real name is Antonio, and the Bear he says he acquired during his travels) began his artwork unexpectedly while traveling the United States.
When I ask Anto when his interest in bone carving began, he laughs and replies, “I had honestly no interest in bone carving until I was a bone carver.” What sets Anto Bear’s work apart from others is the story behind how he began carving. In 2012, Anto was living in Harlem, New York City, working a normal corporate job when he decided to leave and travel the United States unexpectedly. “I honestly got tired of the disconnect between the human beings in New York, it was hard to say hello to a stranger,” he says. “I spent a long portion of my life in the inner city and it was really unfriendly, and I just wanted to find something else.”
During his travels, Anto ended up in Utah at a Rainbow Gathering. “I got lost one night on the way to my campsite and I came across this man sitting by the fire and eventually I learned his name was Jimmy Hornfeather,” Anto says. “He had been traveling and carving these feathers out of horns and antlers for a while, and I sat with him and drank some Old Crow whiskey and he told me some stories and eventually taught me how to carve a feather.”
Anto Bear left the Rainbow Gathering with a new skill, not yet knowing how much of an impact it would have on his life. After the gathering, he carved pieces for gas money to continue his travels. He had planned to travel from Utah back to the east coast and down to Florida. He stopped along the way in Pennsylvania to visit with his mom and to collect materials, “There are a lot of deer antlers in the woods of Pennsylvania during shed season,” he explains. After leaving Pennsylvania, Anto Bear and his traveling partner Simpu planned to make it all the way down to Florida. Along the way, the van that Anto was traveling in broke down in downtown Asheville, unaware at the time that it would later become his home.
Anto had never been to North Carolina before, but ended up falling in love with Asheville and decided to make it his home and eventually the base for his business. ”I’m from New York City and there’s no way I would be able to survive off a hand-crafted art there,” Anto says. “There’s so much support for local artists in Asheville that I’m able to eat and feed my dog and continue to do what I love.” After his van broke down, Anto says he focused on selling his jewelry in the streets of Asheville, and eventually got a vending spot at the Asheville Music Hall. Before he even got a place to live, Anto got a business license and LLC for Manafest Designs.
Anto is highly conscious of the materials he uses and how they are obtained. Deer antler is the material he works with most often because deer shed their antlers every year, so they are easily found in the woods. Other materials such as bones come from hunters and collectors, and crystals and stones come mostly from gem and mineral shows. Anto says he will not accept materials from just anyone. “If it’s just not a positive way of collecting things, like if somebody’s just hunting for sport, I won’t take their bones,” he explains. Most of the time, the materials just come to him randomly. “My buddy Allen went to Sydney and found a camel skeleton on the ground, and he brought me back some of the bones from the skeleton and I made jewelry with them. Things like that have been happening to me since I started making jewelry and I can’t help but feel like it’s the way it goes when you start doing something right, it kind of finds you, so I never have to look that hard.”
The other half of Manafest Design, Rikki Guerrero, is currently residing in Charleston, SC, but is planning on making her move up to Asheville soon. Anto says he met Rikki at a Nahko and Medicine for the People show in Pennysylvania through a friend he had met at the Rainbow Gathering, (which he finds ironic because Nahko has a feather from Jimmy Hornfeather himself.) Rikki was the first person he taught to carve. When Jimmy Hornfeather taught Anto to carve, he insisted that he would “teach anybody who wanted to learn.” As time passes, Jimmy Hornfeather’s bone carving legacy continues to grow. “There’s only a couple of us who have taken it seriously, but he’s taught hundreds of people throughout the years,” Anto says. “So there’s a long lineage of carvers out there and sometimes we bump into each other and it’s always a random cool moment.”
You can check out Anto Bear and Rikki’s work on etsy http://etsy.com/shop/ManafestDesign and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ManafestDesign/