The Happy Traveler
Edmonds artist curates vintage cocktail travel bars for the perfect gift.
By Ellen Hiatt
Photos courtesy of The Happy Traveler
The thrill of the hunt. Refined tastes. An appreciation for fine art. All come together in neat little vintage cocktail packages for artist Kim Parsley.
A retired global studio director, she is shifting her artistic passion from the encaustic prints of her personal artistic endeavours to vintage travel cocktail bars. They are, by nature of their creator, tied together by a fascination with the curation of old things. The encaustic pieces are bits and pieces from her travels and thrifting finds, fused into wax.
The “Happy Traveler” cocktail kits are along the same lines – carefully curated vintage and artistic finds, fused by aesthetics and a recipe.
Take the Negroni set in a 1930s era picnic case, complete with vintage record album covers converted into placemats by Seattle artist John Carroll, Long Play Art Studio, and a handbook of field botany. Whatever she pulls together, it is carried by a theme – whether it’s a bird watching book to pair with the two cocktail shakers that, side by side, mimic a pair of binoculars, or the lemon drop kit in a train case (a vintage, hard covered toiletries case), with an artist-created tea towel with lemons. The Negroni case with cut crystal glassware includes two thin leather bound books, a vintage flask fitted snug next to a bottle of campari, and a Troy’s Choco Lonely bar, wrapped in orange to draw your eye to the left side of the case, and the two oranges tucked into wine glasses.
Often she is inspired by a custom order, creating around a theme that is meaningful to someone. Many of the cases are special ordered as a gift: a group wedding gift, for example, or the perfect something for the man or woman who has it all.
Parsley seeks out the finest pieces, like a set of dessert plates designed by 1950-70s legendary glassware designer Georges Briard, Heloise’s tips for being the perfect housewife, or a Charlie Brown book.
The shift from encaustic artwork to the Happy Traveler vintage travel bars came one lazy retirement day when she was kicking back at a cabin. Having retired, she was fulfilling her “what are you going to do when you retire” plans.
“My ‘plan’ was ‘I have no plan.’ It’s a good plan,” she said.
A campfire conversation with a friend gave her the idea to be the trail angel for hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. She reasoned she could show up, as trail angels do, at a particular point and time on the trail, and offer a welcome cocktail.
But how, she wondered, would she be able to schlep all the fixin’s up a trail without it being too cumbersome.
“Because I am a second hand junky, I go to the thrift store every time I have a chance,” she said. There, a book with 750 cocktails and some vintage cases and barware proved inspirational
As she pulls open a vintage case, she explains the “puzzle” that keeps her engaged. How the tiny bottle of bitters has to find its own special place in a case, and the glassware must have its own little straps to hold them. In her first versions she experimented with old cases, adding a velcro strap to hold something in. But velcro was below her standard, she said. She will only use cases that don’t need repairs and already have all the needed straps.
She is a curator, not a crafter, Parsley explains. She doesn’t want to fix the cases; she spends her time in search of the perfect set of glassware, the loveliest of silver plated flasks and shakers, the most perfect fused glass stirrers. It’s the collecting, the pairing, and the creating of the perfect set that holds her attention.
It helps that her two sisters are artists: Krista Swanson, of Shop Dog Screen Printing in Bellingham, and Kersten Hubbard, maker of the fused glass stirring sticks.
Travel bars aren’t a new concept. Many of the cases Parsley uses are original 1950s or ’60s travel bars. But Parsley takes even those the next step – finding the perfect piece and curating the perfect cocktail glass for the missing pieces, adding custom art, a fun book, and the perfect combination of all things color and concept around a cocktail theme.
She is also experimenting with recipes for alcohol-free cocktail kits
“The focus isn’t just spirit forward cocktails. There’s a whole group of people who choose not to drink. I have been loving mocktails for many years. But as of April quit drinking alcohol for health reasons,” Parsley said.