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Erica Recto, owner of BES at 50 Main St. in Millerton. Photo submitted

Millerton Profile: Artist curates handmade gifts by local artisans

MILLERTON —  “Bes” is a word in Taglish—a mash-up of English and Tagalog, the most common languages spoken in the Phillipines—that means “best friend” or, more colloquially, “besties.” 

It’s the name that artist Erica Recto chose for her store, BES at 50 Main St., a marketplace of specialty curated gift items made by local artists.  

Recto started out in the fashion industry, designing clothes and accessories for various corporations—“all the shops you’d find in the mall,” she said. She said that while it was a good place to learn some structure and skills, the mass production and pace became anathema to her own creative process and vision.

“It was so far from the art that I wanted to make,” said Recto. “Everything gets watered down in [mass] production.”

Noticing her burnout, Recto’s husband, product and toy designer Greg Morris, bought her a gift card for an eight-week ceramic workshop to get her back to something tactile.  Enchanted with ceramics, Recto quit her job a few months later and began her own business, “for better or for worse,” she said.

Recto began selling her work at markets and working in wholesale. She even had a few international clients right out of the gate, but again found herself working constantly and struggling to keep up with the rate of production that wholesale requires. 

Recto and Morris decided moved from Brooklyn in 2017, cutting costs and allowing for Recto to have a home studio. Scaling back also allowed her to “start making things just for the sake of making things.” She was able to “get back to the basics and explore all the different ways of making stuff…and just slow it down.”

In 2021, Recto opened BES in the building behind Oakhurst Diner, now the spot of the zendo. She was a new mother and between the isolation that parenting can sometimes bring and being at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was deeply craving connection and community. 

She partnered with Stella Yoon, whose company, Hudson River Exchange, offers an online shop where local makers sell their wares. Recto provided the ceramics and Yoon filled in the inventory for the rest of the store. 

After a year together, Yoon had other projects in the works—she is now executive director of CREATE Council on the Arts based in Catskill—allowing her to “do what she does at a larger scale with funding,” said Recto. 

Recto now does the curating of the shop herself. Much of the inventory is her own ceramic and textile work “because I can’t stop making things,” she laughed. The store is about 60% her work and the rest is all work of artists she’s crossed paths with along the way. 

“Everyone in there is someone I personally know and almost everyone, except for maybe two or three people, are all local.” 

BES is open Thursday to Monday, and Recto offers workshops for adults and children during the week. She recently hired a few helpers to ensure she still has time for studio days. Her studio is still in her home.  

There is also a workspace at the back of the shop, so some of the items for sale are made in the BES location. There is a loom in the back of the shop, about which Recto said, “I’m dying to make rugs.” She buys wool from local sheep farm Caora Farm, and is hoping to get the loom up and running so that when there’s downtime in the shop, she’ll be able to work in-store. 

She also incorporates textiles from other makers in the store in her work, creating low-waste products and adding to the store’s overall collaborative nature.

Recto has also made sure to be involved with other stores on Main Street. She said all the other shopkeepers have been very inviting, even urging her to move to her new location when it became available.

As for her own practice, Recto said, “Lately, I’m really excited. I’ve seen my pieces change from really utilitarian. I’ve been making bigger and more sculptural pieces.” Recto said she’s most excited right now about a new connection with Millbrook School, where she has use of the gas kiln. The gas kiln differs in its abilities from her own electric kiln and is opening up a whole new world of surface exploration. A self-taught ceramist, Recto still delights in the trial-and-error approach.

“I make a lot of mistakes, “she said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s hilarious. Being self-taught, you don’t have the rigid, ‘can’t do.’ I don’t produce for other people anymore. I like to meander, and I’m just having so much fun.”

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