NXTHVN Holiday Market Spotlights Artists

Olivia Charis | December 22nd, 2022

NXTHVN Holiday Market Spotlights Artists

Dixwell  |  NXTHVN  |  Arts & Culture

DSC00694Reinaldo Cruz. Credit to NXTHVN High School Apprentice Ashlynn Topper.

Wood shavings sprinkled the ground under Reinaldo Cruz’s feet as his gouge dug into a wood block. Chips fell to the rhythm of his movements. His eyes were intent on the potential of his hands. Shaping the wood was more than just leaning against his carving tools; he was leaning into his talent. 

Cruz was one of a handful of artists, creatives and vendors who showcased their talents last Saturday, at NXTHVN’s inaugural Holiday Market at 169 Henry St. Hot chocolate, food and crafts filled NXTHVN’S gallery space, with assorted creations that ranged from wooden masterpieces and recycled clothing, to hand beaded jewelry and all natural skincare.  

“It’s about having talents and using them,” Cruz said. “As opposed to thinking about yesterday, tomorrow, this, that and the other.” 


Credit to NXTHVN High School Apprentice Ashlynn Topper.

Cruz, for instance, has been carving for around 15 years. For him, sharing his talent means being content in the present moment, rather than being anxious about what was and is to come. When he sits down to carve, he said he has no choice but to exist only in the present—paying close attention to each motion, each divet in the grain. 

Cruz’ main carvings on display at the market were spoons and tools with ancestral markings. Aside from carving, the Bronx-born father of three also plays the wood block for local Puerto Rican band Movimento Cultural and works as a construction manager for Emerge.

“It’s an inheritance from our Puerto Rican ancestors…a combination of African ancestry,”  Cruz said. 

For the artist, it was a welcome back to the space. Cruz recently partnered with NXTHVN to host a weekly cypher Wednesday nights from 5 to 7 p.m. in the gallery. He said he wants people to come and experience the event, a sensory performance complete with drumming and a lyricist, because it is full of “sazon,” he said.  


Credit to NXTHVN High School Apprentice Ashlynn Topper

“I’m 53 years old. So I can either waste my spare time or use my spare time,” he added when asked how he balances all of his artistic pursuits.  

“If we don’t do anything with the inspiration,” the potential to inspire more people is lost, he added. 

While his creations, like all crafts at the market, are certainly to be viewed and consumed by others, Cruz’s art is also a kind of gift to himself. 

“I do [art] when I need to feel better,” he said. “The longer I do something that keeps me in the moment” the less time he says, he has to put his energy towards negative thoughts and uncertainties.  


Credit to NXTHVN High School Apprentice Ashlynn Topper.

Melba Crowley of Designs by Melba was another vendor at the market who has found joy in her talent, and in sharing it with others. 

Like Cruz, Crowley has been perfecting her craft for close to 14 years. Her table displayed dozens of beaded pieces arranged by jewelry categories and stone types.  

When describing her passion Crowley said it is “A God-given gift.”

“I came into it by accident … then people wanted to start buying. I love beading so much I probably make something every day,” said Crowley. 

Surveying her table, Crowley had trouble picking a favorite. She says she sees all of her pieces in a special way. 


Credit to NXTHVN High School Apprentice Ashlynn Topper.

She proceeded to show off an assortment of her designs. First, a set of olive green beaded earrings with oval shaped pieces hangs at the ends. These oval shapes, she noted, are made of Czech glass. “They make the prettiest glass,” she said admirably. Next, a necklace made of pink pearls with a special coating that “gives them a 3 dimensional look”.

“I have turquoise. I have hand blown glass. I have a chameleon…” Crowley said proudly. She also revealed a necklace made with an ultra smooth stone called eagle eye among other examples of her “wearable art.”

“The beads kind of tell me what to do,” Crowley said, describing her design process. “Some days I think I have a simple design, and then it takes me several hours to make.”


Credit to NXTHVN High School Apprentice Ashlynn Topper.

Entrepreneur Candice Dormon was inspired after the hardship of the pandemic to reconnect the community with self-care. Before COVID, Dormon was making natural deodorants as a side hustle. Now, skincare and wellness products are her full time job, she said. 

Her brand, Ekow Body, seeks to “get people to start taking care of themselves again,” she said. 

She noticed that people often were not very invested in caring for themselves because they were not eager to use the self care products they had. This was a problem for Dormon, someone who would do her skincare routine at two in the morning if she had to. 

She wanted to impart the same enthusiasm and commitment to self care to others by creating “products that encourage you to build routine.”

A subtle, pleasant smell emanated from her table stacked with creams, butters, serums and oils.

Dormon’s top favorite products are her lavender oil and her honey almond body butter, she said. One of the best things about her products overall is their versatility. 

“I’m a mom of two sons so everything has to serve two purposes,” she said.  

Dormon then proudly showcased a video of one of her two sons using her products to care for his face. The brand is named after her son. In Twi, it is a day name meaning “boy born on Thursday.” 

Dormon hopes to teach people like she is teaching her sons the importance of investing time in oneself, in this physical way, in order to reap the mental benefits as well. 

“Self Care and wellness,” Dormon said, “has to be taught the same way you teach someone to ride a bike.”


Credit to NXTHVN High School Apprentice Ashlynn Topper.

Mother-son team Ros Johnson-Harris and Leighton Johnson brought their talents together for the community on Saturday with their business Black Seed Royal.  

Johnson-Harris didn’t quite know what she would be doing when she retired in October of last year. When her son bought her a candle making kit, her new found time was suddenly taken up. 

“Once I got started, it was infectious,” Ros-Johnson said, noting the impact of her son’s entrepreneurial spirit. 

Originally, she was only making candles for the house, until her son suggested she sell her work alongside him. 

Johnson has been selling his own clothing and custom designs for about three years. Now, the team sells soaps, body gels and butters, candles, hair products, and more. 

“I always wanted to start a clothing line,” Johnson said. When the pandemic hit, he said “Let me just do it.”

Now, he has had his designs in fashion shows in the city and continues to expand the business, making custom designs alongside his mother.  

Other community creators at the market like Tea Montgomery of Threads by Tea showed off hand-sewn designs inspired by scuba gear and animal skins. One suite in particular was from one of the artist's most recent launches “The Jungle.” 

The market was budding entrepreneur Angelena O’Connor first time selling her work at an event. In the past year, seventh grader O’Connor has transitioned from making slime in her garage at home to making and selling her own charm bracelets.   

The Youth lead non-profit organization Huneebee Project was also represented at the market this past weekend, selling garlic infused honey and sharing opportunities to get involved with their local apiaries.  

Creators and artists alike shared their gifts this holiday season not only to inspire, but to push the community to pursue passions fervently.