Cape Fear Living’s Ariana Fronti and Catrina Tomsich talk with Cara and Emilia from Mushpa + Mensa and their Magical Mobile Art Machine
How did Mushpa Mensa Begin?
Emilia: It all started in NYC with a tent and a table….
Cara: We started out as street vendors. We had to take the subway and carry our tents, tables, two suitcases and everything on our backs. There were hardly any elevators or escalators either so we just had to lug it all around. We spray painted our suitcases saying, “You wanna know what’s in the bag? Check out mushpamensa.com to find out!”
Then we went to Crazy Joe’s in Staten Island and got ourselves an airport truck and launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money and it was successful and then we built the truck, and now we’re killing it!
Did you guys create your mobile shop on your own? How did it come about?
E: It came into fruition in pretty much two places. We started this project in NYC but we needed a place to park the truck, and build it at the same time. Over in NYC just to park the truck is about 200 dollars a month, and that’s in a bad neighborhood! It’s crazy! So we came to NC and built it in Cara’s parent’s driveway. And we loved it here, so we decided to stay…
… As we said before, with the truck we did a Kickstarter and with that you need to know what you want to do. You need a budget and a plan. You have to know how much everything is going to cost and if you don’t raise all the money you end up with nothing concrete.
C: You have to hustle, you have to get every cent and you have to make sure you do a lot of advertising! You end up connecting with people you would have never connected with.
It was a lot of work building it because there are roadmaps to make food trucks or brick and mortar shops, but to turn a truck into a shop, there’s no YouTube videos for that. That is why if anyone is interested in building a truck like this we are always happy to help.
But in terms of how we built it, we did all the labor ourselves. We laid all the paint and plywood and wallpaper on the ceiling. We researched all the solar power and did all the electrical, with the help of Emilia’s dad who is a genius.
E: All in all we pretty much did everything. The only thing we didn’t do is roll the marmoleum floors down, we tried but it cracked so we had some friends help us out with that. It took us about three and a half months to build it all, just day in and day out. It was a good learning experience for sure… you know for DIYers… we learned a lot.
As far as art is concerned what is your background in art? And how did you come together to create Mushpa Mensa?
E: So neither of us were working in art back in 2012 when it all began. When we started, Cara was working as an IT director and I was working as a labor organizer for a community organization.
I’ve always loved art and to create things. I loved to sew and be crafty, even though I studied sociology.
C: I went to school for film at Columbia, so I had an artist background and I had a small side gig doing screen printing. I made movies and loved old films. I was a huge Ginger Rodgers, Fred Astaire, and Greta Garbo fan.
E: When we met it was just the right time to put our minds together and actually do something about it, so we combined forces and this is what came out of it!
C: Basically two minds that are amazing and creative got together to produce the Magical Mobile Art Machine.
We make things and then we get bored so it’s ever evolving. We’ve done everything from tablet cases to coffee cozies. We always try to switch out our designs every couple months with something new. We always have new things going on.
So since you guys are always changing designs can people do anything custom made?
C: If someone asks us for a certain design, we can do it in felt instead of printing it since the screen printing process is very labor intensive. For instance, we had someone who wanted a unicorn shirt, so Emilia will spent hours researching it and creating it.
E: But we always take from the conversations we have with people in the truck, and those conversations inspire us and lead us to create new designs. We also do custom work to the screen prints we have, so we can always customize our current prints according to the person.
Anything you want to add?
C: It’s been really rewarding in many ways. And a big challenge as well.
It can be difficult having an art truck because people get intimidated when they see something new. They think it’s going to take up a whole bunch of space or be competitive because we have a truck.
E: Once people meet us though, they feel our energy and see that we are friendly and we want everyone around us to succeed. The way we see it is if a market succeeds we all succeed, so if our truck attracts customers…it’s good for everyone!
C: Anyone can do this and build a truck and if you do, that is great! It’s a new way of doing business. Trucks are awesome; you can have everything compact into one mobile space. It’s a smarter way to do business. We want artists to succeed. We all feel the same struggle I think that’s really huge!
We had a dream and we worked hard to make that dream come true and we encourage others to do the same.
Mushpa + Mensa: Background
Mushpa + Mensa is the creation of Cara Reynolds and Maria “Emilia” Borja, also known to folks in Wilmington’s handmade/art scene as Cara and Emilia. They are a creative powerhouse that design and create all of their magic in a little cottage industry off the Cape Fear River.
Their mode of transportation to all their art shows and festivals? A Magical Mobile Art Machine. An old airport truck, transformed inside an out into an eco-mobile boutique. This shop on wheels is decked out with an all eco-conscious set-up starting with their solar panels in the roof to power all electrical needs, to the indoor up-cycled wine box display cases, to a unique rainbow marmoleum floor. Their mobility and self-sustainability allows them to park day and night, even in the smallest of spaces. They have partaken in events such as the Thalian Association’s Orange Street Arts Festival in downtown Wilmington, the Brooklyn Arts Center’s art shows like Made in NC, to other out of town gigs from the streets of downtown Raleigh to the mountains of Asheville, NC.
The amazing display and their unique booth is only a glimpse of what they actually create and sell out of their art truck. Their fabulous hand-printed organic cotton t-shirts all start with a drawing on a regular piece of paper, pencil and pen. Then, through a photo-emulsion process, they are scanned and printed on transparencies and the image burned into a silk-screen. They do not our-source any of their work, so all their art is handmade with their own hands from beginning to end.
Many of the screen-printed t-shirts, like their newest “NC State of Mind”, an homage to our state and the local brewery scene, are later adapted and turned into one-of-a-kind pieces via felt appliqués, unique stitching, and natural dying techniques. They update their designs every few months, so you can find anything from a Robot Girl, to a felt-made Unicorn, to a tuxedo cat with the name of “El Jefe,” a.k.a the boss.
But organic cotton tees are not their only canvasses. Cara and Emilia also thrive on small-batch creations of functional art. Pieces that are constantly rotating in their art truck, from hand painted cork earrings, to bow-ties made from curtains, to plush pets filled with fresh lavender. They are artists, not just crafters, as one of their iconic “Arts not Crafts” t-shirts states. They create from the heart, to people who support their art. Once an idea has come into fruition and spread to folks, they will move on to their next project as they are ever-evolving and always ready to create new art.
Since their shop is mobile, they keep their fans updated of Musha Mensa whereabouts through social media like Twitter and Instagram (@mushpamensa), as well as their events page on their website. But if you are around town and keep your eyes open you can most likely find the purple art truck at a local brewery, at the ever-growing Brooklyn Arts District, or at the local weekend craft show. This season you can always find the Magical Mobile Art Machine at Poplar Grove Farmer’s Market on Wednesday mornings every week.