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How One Seller Rebuilt After Hurricane Irma With Aid From Etsy and CERF+

Dec 3, 2019

by Diana Keeler

It’s Giving Tuesday! Join us at Etsy in supporting the work of CERF+—the Craft Emergency Relief Fund. When disaster strikes, CERF+ is there to help safeguard artists’ livelihoods—and get them back into their studios. This year, we’ve partnered with CERF+ to create a relief fund that awards grants to Etsy sellers who have had their lives disrupted by natural disasters, and we’re matching donations up to a total of $50,000. To underscore the impact this financial assistance can have, we caught up with Etsy seller Sally Binard, who shared how Etsy and CERF+ helped kickstart her recovery after losing her home to a hurricane. 

Sally Binard had lived in the Florida Keys for 20 years when Hurricane Irma blew ashore in September 2017. Before spinning off into Georgia, the storm would kill 84 people, cause $50 billion in damage, and destroy thousands of homes. One of them belonged to Sally, a ceramicist and painter whose life, business, and art practice were upended by the hurricane. “My last Etsy sale shipped out on September 6, the day after I evacuated,” she says. “I remember scrambling to grab the pottery and wrapping it in my friend’s living room, and running around St. Pete trying to find tape.” It would be six months before she’d ship another order. 

Donate to The Etsy Fund at CERF+

Sally first came to the Keys as a field biologist, going on half-day dives to count reef fish for population studies. “It was a dream,” she says. “I got to work in a bathing suit every day.” While she was advancing professionally in the sciences, on the side she also painted and made pottery—arts that eventually blossomed into her Etsy shop Zebra Wing Studio

Portrait of Etsy seller Sally Binard, who rebuilt her business with an CERF+/Etsy grant.

By the time Irma hit, Sally was earning one-third of her income through Etsy. When she returned home 15 days after evacuating, her home, her studio, and her community were in ruins. “You’d walk down the street and literally everything from the inside of people’s houses was on the outside,” she says. “It was like every house was naked. All the trees were bare, and you’d see children’s toys, people’s underwear, forks—just piled up on the side of the road. No one could contain their emotions.”

Sally’s home and her ground-floor studio were destroyed. “The whole downstairs was flooded in two or three feet of water, and then tornadoes went through and just whipped up everything out of it,” she says. “My roof leaked. I didn’t have any windows. The walls were black with mold damage—I couldn’t live in that house anymore.” Unlike some of her neighbors, Sally was able to find a place to sleep thanks to a friend who offered a sublet in Key West, but in order to get her business back up and running, she needed help. “I lost a lot of money by not being able to create work,” she says.

One of Sally's fine art paintings
One of Sally's fine art paintings

That’s when she discovered the CERF+ Etsy grant on Instagram, and within 15 minutes she submitted an application. Soon after, Sally got a call from CERF+’s headquarters in Vermont, and the voice on the line said they’d be sending her a check for $1,000. “I cried when I got it,” she says. “When you lose everything, $1,000 seems like a million dollars.” The funds helped her purchase the one key thing she needed to restart her business: a small, easily transportable potter’s wheel. 

Today, thanks to resources from Etsy and CERF+, Sally has changed how she makes decisions that affect her art business. “I never had a plan before,” she says. “Now I have a flood insurance policy. I purchased a fire extinguisher. If there’s another hurricane, I can pack my car within four or five hours, grab everything I need to create my work, and get out.” 

Sally works on a ceramic cactus.
A set of Sally's ceramic ring cones.
A set of Sally's ceramic, botanical-inspired ornaments hanging on a wall outdoors
A collection of Sally's ceramic pieces laid out on a table
A miniature clay pot and painted portrait from Sally's recent exhibit at the University of Virginia.

At the same time, an even bigger transformation had been taking place for Sally as an artist. “When Etsy and CERF+ provided me funding, it bolstered my confidence,” she says. “It reminded me that what I’m doing has value, and my self-esteem grew.” Recognizing how fortunate she was to receive the help she needed to reopen her shop, she funneled all her creative energy into maturing her art practice. “Because of the hurricane, I actually got back into making more fine art,” Sally explains. “I started with the wheel I got from CERF+, and I began experimenting with incorporating little pieces of pottery into my paintings.”

In September of 2019, the University of Virginia displayed two of her compositions—works combining portraiture with small pots made of unglazed earthenware clay—in an exhibition entitled “Coasts in Crisis: Art and Conversation After Recent Hurricanes.” It’s a testament to how, with the right support, we can come back stronger in disaster’s wake. “I always say, a hurricane is one way to start from scratch,” Sally says.

A portrait of Sally Binard outside her home studio.

Photographs by Becca Borge Photography

Donate to The Etsy Fund at CERF+

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