Kabage Karanja had one of his earliest and most profound experiences when, as a teenage member of Hodari Boys, a youth mentoring club, he camped in the Suswa Caves, northwest of Nairobi, Kenya.

It was a special memory for Mr. Karanja, now an architect, partly because “I remember waking up in the middle of the night,” he said, “and there was a Maasai warrior just standing there, watching us sleep.” Read more

LONDON — The global pandemic has struck hard at countless institutions, among them most of the world’s museums. Forced to close their doors to visitors, a major source of revenue, and to cancel or postpone exhibitions, they have struggled to stay alive.

But some help is coming soon, from a perhaps unlikely source. This year, Masterpiece Online, taking the place of the now-canceled Masterpiece London 2020 art fair, has a philanthropic bent, one that is knocking down an old wall between two spheres of the art world.

The online fair, running from Monday to June 28, is focusing its newly created Masterpiece Cultural Fund on helping a number of art museums forced to close in the coronavirus pandemic. Its programming will include panel discussions, virtual tours and private viewings, where attendees and viewers will be asked to donate to the fund via a third-party website.

Those proceeds, along with a contribution by Masterpiece of 25 percent of the amount raised through donations until July 31, will be distributed to almost 20 museums in four countries. The list includes the National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum, both in London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris and the Hong Kong Museum of Art (the last two are now open), all of which are taking part in the talks and lecture program.

“There is a recognition that things were not exactly rosy for museums before Covid-19 happened, not just for large museums like us but small ones as well,” said Letizia Treves, curator of the National Gallery’s 17th- and 18th-century Italian and Spanish paintings, who will take part in a discussion on women in the arts. “Looking into the future, this is a really interesting model that Masterpiece has introduced,” given the historic separation between museums and the world of art auction houses and galleries.

Even after museums open, she added, the number of visitors will be down because of factors like social distancing and the absence of international tourists.

For museums worldwide, the challenges have been substantial. Two studies released in May by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums found that 90 percent of museums had to close their doors during the crisis, and almost 13 percent of the more than 85,000 that have shut may never reopen because of heavy financial losses.

Those losses are in part a result of missing admissions fees for museums that had them, at-the-door donations and gift shop revenue, and on a larger level, cancellation of “blockbuster” exhibitions that would have provided sponsorships.

The institutions operate with money from several sources. The National Gallery in London, for example, has separate funds for acquiring artwork and, as a charity, receives about half its funding from the government. But it has to raise the rest of its budget, which is over £45 million, on its own. It does not charge an admission fee to its regular permanent galleries.

While the good news is that a majority of European museums have not yet had to resort to layoffs, a substantial number have put contracts with freelancers on hold, stopped their volunteer programs entirely and delayed long-term infrastructure projects because of concerns about the budget.

“Most museums have changed completely their programs for this year, and also next year as well,” said Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture. “So this whole ecosystem around the museum, like tour guides and service providers, are suffering from this new situation.”

Over the years, Masterpiece has supported initiatives by cultural institutions focused on arts education and restoration projects, though this will be the first time they have actively raised funds that will be donated directly to a philanthropic cause. Now its organizers hope to raise £50,000 over the next 12 months through online giving and other methods.

And Mariane Ibrahim, a gallerist in Chicago, helped develop an idea for an online auction to aid the Museum of the African Diaspora, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, in San Francisco. The auction, run by Artsy, an online art platform, raised over $450,000.

Other sources of support, like the Los Angeles-based Getty Foundation, have also sprung into action. Getty’s $10 million fund is offering emergency and recovery support to nonprofit museums and visual arts organizations in the Los Angeles area. “We understood quickly what a devastating impact Covid-19 would have on our region’s arts organizations, particularly the small and midsize ones that often have no cash reserves,” Joan Weinstein, the director of the Getty Foundation, wrote in an email. “We need these institutions not only to survive the pandemic, but to come out stronger and more resilient if we want our future to be more just and equitable.”

Andras Szanto, a consultant to organizations and institutions, including UNESCO, said these initiatives send a strong message. “The moment is calling out solidarity and collaboration in ways that are impressive even if it is only symbolic,” he said, adding, “the crisis has also brought out some of the best instincts in the field.”

That’s why philanthropic initiatives like Masterpiece are important, even if, as Philip Hewat-Jaboor, chairman of Masterpiece London, concedes, the amount raised may initially be modest. “When you start looking at what support mechanisms there are for museums in terms of general philanthropy, there is not very much out there,” he said. He added that it’s more than the money. “Not only the financial support, but also recognizing how important all the different strands of the art world are to one another, and it is that mutual support that is so important.


Cover phone: National Gallery in London, Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

LONDON--Thirty years ago, while Erika Lee was an undergraduate student, she made her first visit to her paternal grandfather’s village in Guangdong Province in southeastern China. Her grandfather — who had not been back for six decades — and other relatives organized the trip and took her along to see where his home once stood. Read more

KAREN, KENYA — In this suburb of Nairobi, the ubiquitous rust-red dirt is kicked up and splattered onto the banana tree leaves by the intense rains that sweep across the hills.

Here, away from the capital, there is space for designers to set up workshops and, green and lush, it offers inspiration for artisans. “When you work at your desk, you see in the garden birds and flowers,” said Gus Chaumont, a Frenchwoman who with her mother, Lilo, run the French-Kenyan interiors brand L’Équipée.“You just cannot get that in a normal office in Nairobi.”

Karen, said to have been named for the Danish writer Karen Blixen, who published works like “Out of Africa” under the pen name Isak Dinesen, has become a home to both expats and wealthy Kenyans, with stately villas and a few five-star hotels for travelers who want to be luxuriously situated close to the airports for safari excursions or beach holidays. It is also home to some of the city’s most intriguing and exclusive places to shop, for items like statement silver jewelry, hand-carved chairs and locally dyed and sewn fashion

“Karen is an incredibly inventive place,” said Sasha Horner, the director of House of Treasures. “The shopping aesthetic here is creative and of excellent quality. Most of the artisans are renowned for their attention to detail and the use of local labor in collaboration with imported goods to create their pieces, and a lot are eco-conscious too.”

Ms. Horner and her mother, Janet Hurt, decided to open a shop here 19 years ago. Located in a charming garden at 70 Dagoretti Road, the shop, House of Treasures, is both a concept store — they highlight local design and find items for their shop in places like Bali, India, Mexico and South Africa — and something of a mini-mall, where local vendors rent spaces to sell their designs.

One of those vendors is Linda Camm, whose workshop is a stone’s throw from here. She has worked for over three decades with Maasai artisans who create stunning beadwork on leather pillows, ottomans and belts.

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, wore one of her shell belts on a tour of Canada in 2011. In the last few years Ms. Camm has focused much of her own design on mosaic mirrors and painted mirror tiles.

“Our dyeing and coloring is done locally, all the hardware I source here, aside from zippers, and I work with independent workshops that work with recycled brass,” she said, adding though that because the textile industry in Kenya is so small, she gets much of her cloth from India.

Bush Princess shares its space with L’Équipée, which sells hand-carved chairs with kanga prints and funky sculpted lights in the shape of animals like hippos and giraffes. L’Équipée also does some design work for Kazuri Beads (Mbagathi Road), a nearby shop that employs over 300 women who craft vibrant midsize jewelry.

Across town is the cheery bright boutique and workshop of the designer Anna Trzebinski (94 Tumbili Road), one of the trailblazers here in integrating Maasai beadwork into high fashion products like handbags, suede jackets and Nepalese-woven pashminas. Over the years she has worked with high-end fashion brands like Donna Karan and Paul Smith, and sells her accessories in stores across the United States.

Ms. Trzebinski’s exquisite tiny details set her work apart, with soft- as-a-baby suede bags that include design details like cowrie shells on the handles, or draping shawls trimmed with vibrant peacock feathers sewn onto the ends. “I have been working with the same people for the last 20 years, we are all together still and it’s a bit like a Parisian couture house,” said Ms. Trzebinski, whose daughter, Lana, is also a Karen-based designer and ceramist. “We often have the opportunity and choice to use raw materials that are much cheaper, but we don’t want to because in every single facet of what we do we want to uphold traditional craft.”
The studio also displays jewelry by Ms. Trzebinski’s daughter, Lana.
Credit…Photographs by Nichole Sobecki for The New York Times

Elizabeth Warner, who was born in America and raised in Kenya, infuses a similar vibe into her brand Maasai Collections, which has a small outpost at nearby Langata Link (Langata Road South). Founded in 2002, Maasai Collections sells both the creations of Ms. Warner, who designs jewelry made out of cow horn as well as woven beach bags with beaded straps, but other Kenyan pieces including Kapoeta by Ambica’s feather jewelry and flowing embroidered blouses by Aman Lamu.

Local designers and artisans rent spaces at Langata Link and sell everything from sweet children’s dressing gowns in pastel striped kikoi cloth to velvety skin care products made from macadamia nuts. “It’s pretty cool because you have a mishmash of designers here,” said Ms. Warner.

She was enthusiastic about the high-end crafts and antiques shop Utamaduni, nearby on Langata South Road, which sells hand-carved masks, figurines and statues from across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as items like Ghanaian leather and straw baskets covered in cowrie shells and elaborate antique wooden headrests adorned with silver from Somalia. “They have an enormous collection of things going on at Langata Link. It’s like an African bazaar with eclectic designers all doing their thing.”


A version of this article appears in print on , Section S,

PLAILLY, France — Dressed in a white lab coat with blue piping and sporting a trimmed goatee, Nicolas Guignaud stood in front of an industrial gas hob. He took a plastic bottle of green liquid, squirted some of its contents into an aluminum pot of boiling water and began stirring the concoction with a hard white plastic spatula.

Taking a thick teardrop-shaped piece of clear resin about three inches long, Mr. Guignaud — a tinting technician with Maison Desrues, which manufactures high-end buttons, jewelry and accessories — dropped it carefully into the pot. After a few minutes of constant stirring, he used a colander to retrieve the resin, now a dull green. He dipped it in room-temperature water, put it back in the boiling liquid, added some yellow tint and repeated the same procedure all over again before pulling out the now deep-emerald piece of resin and setting it on a side table to dry.

“The more colors I put in, the more intense the color comes out,” said Mr. Guignaud, who joined Desrues nine years ago after three years of technical tinting training. “I just feel how much I need to add for the color I want. It is intuitive, not scientific.”

That strong sense of intuitiveness and know-how is something that Desrues has built its reputation on since 1929, when Georges Desrues took over a jewelry and accessories company in Paris. In 1984, Desrues became the first of Chanel’s “satellite” ateliers, as Karl Lagerfeld describes them — the more than two dozen businesses that specialize in various métiers d’art, everything from lacemaking to jewelry design, and belong to the fashion giant’s Paraffection subsidiary.

Desrues, with its more than 230 employees, researches and helps design all the buttons for Chanel clothing, although it outsources some of the production for capacity reasons. It also is an integral part of Chanel’s annual métiers d’art show, which this year was scheduled for Dec. 4 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The great majority of Desrues’ output — it says 95 percent to 99 percent — is for Chanel but it also has a small division focused on market development and recently has done work for brands like Marc Jacobs. “We try to work for other houses,” Amandine Pâris, Desrues’ archivist, said, “to bring in something different, to stay innovative.”

Fashion houses like Vionnet, Lanvin, Dior and Balenciaga all came to Desrues over the years, not only because of its quality work but also the company’s ability to produce pieces quickly.

Nicolas Guignaud, a tinting technician for Desrues, demonstrating the process for tinting a resin cast.CreditMaxime La for The New York Times


Legend has it that the couturier Pierre Balmain came to Mr. Desrues the night before a collection premiere (the date is unknown), asking for buttons shaped like chocolates.

Mr. Desrues then “rushed out and found a chocolate shop that was nearby but it was about to close, with the register switched off, but the woman gave him the chocolates anyway,” Ms. Pâris said. “He worked all night to replicate the chocolates, delivered them on time to Pierre Balmain and we still have the drawings.”

It was in the 1960s that Chanel began working closely with Desrues on the buttons for its iconic bouclé jackets. By the early 1990s, after it had become a satellite of the fashion house, Desrues found it had outgrown its Paris atelier and moved to a nondescript industrial park in Plailly, about an hour’s drive from the French capital. Much innovation and development has been going on in button making since then.

For each collection, the process begins when Desrues’s collection director, Sylvain Peters, meets with Mr. Lagerfeld and his team to review ideas and themes. “One collection requires three or four weeks,” said Mr. Peters, who has worked for Desrues for 30 years. “That is from absolutely nothing to its presentation.”

Archives at Desrues.CreditMaxime La for The New York Times


He works with his team to interpret sketches and to determine the best ways to create the designs.

And if something seems impossible to make? “I can absolutely not say ‘no’; I just have to make it happen,” Mr. Peters said. “I don’t bother them with the technical side or the difficulty either. That is my problem, not theirs — and if, in the unlikely case that there is something we cannot do, I propose something that is within the realm of what they are looking for.”

That discussion begins with his marquetry team, all of whom trained in jewelry making before joining the company. While some of the marquetry experts sit at long tables and make casts by hand, others are in a glassed-off room, using 3-D software programs and electronic sketchpads to create button casts and molds that then are printed out for use in manufacturing.

According to Laure Courtel, the company’s director of business development, one of the techniques — handmade molds or 3-D printing — is chosen, depending on the design’s complexity, the amount of available time and the cost.

“Three-D is practical because, in terms of cost, usually we do several samples for the studio to approve the style,” Ms. Courtel said. “So making an entire sample by hand takes time and when you have to make it again, it’s going to be from scratch. In our context, there are a lot of steps of approval so it is more logical to use this technology.”

Sylvain Peters is the collection director at Desrues. He works with his team to interpret sketches by Karl Lagerfeld and his team at Chanel, and to determine the best ways to create the designs.CreditMaxime La for The New York Times


After Chanel approves an initial button design, a master sample is created: Either cut from metal (usually tin or brass) or cast (from metal or resin), it is used to program the metal cutting machine to make button bases. The button tops are lacquered or tinted and the finished product is put together by hand in the assembling workshop, where final touches are added.

Those can include anything from gluing — often using broken cotton swabs — the interlocking gold-plated CC logo onto a button top to using a needle with warm resin to add tiny sparkling crystals.

For each collection, the company presents Mr. Lagerfeld and his team with 50 models and, of those, 20 are chosen for use.

“Each model is going to be represented in eight different sizes and each model is going to exist in many colors,” Mr. Peters said. “And then I will deliver about 10,000 to 12,000 buttons for the show. That is one month of work.”

Innovation is constant, Mr. Peters said, like using Chanel cloth in resin buttons to modifying 3-D technology. “My job is to always find something new, the goal is to present something that makes people think, ‘Wow,’” he said. “For Chanel, the button is a little piece of jewelry.”

A version of this article appears in print on in The International New York Times.