Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Behida Doli?. I live in Hudson, NY and I am a milliner and shop owner. I was born in a small village in northern Bosnia. In 1998, I moved to the U.S. with my brother and two sisters as a refugee of the Balkan War. I sometimes feel that I have had two lives: my life in Bosnia and my lucky second chance in America. My early childhood was sweet and simple. My mother and father did not have much, but they were very creative and happy people. Everything we had was handmade, that was just the way of life.
Then the Balkan War in the ’90s changed my life and the lives of most Bosnians. My mother passed away when I was ten and my father died in the war when I was twelve. During the war years, life for me and most Bosnians was quite chaotic and always on the go. But then something magical happened, and we were given a chance to start a new life in America. At first it was difficult to adjust, but I slowly learned just how resilient we really are. Thanks to many episodes of The Golden Girls, I was able to learn my first English words. So, that is how it all began. Word by word, I put myself through school, worked and made new friends. I can proudly say that I have created the life I now have and I could not be more grateful for it.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I play my accordion, work in my shop and take my dog, Dancho, on long bike rides. I recently moved to Hudson, NY from San Francisco and everything is new and exciting. Hudson is a really small town on the Hudson River, full of creative people and beautiful old architecture. On my days off, I stroll around to explore and admire its beauty.
What would be the title of your memoir?
The title would be Make Magic With What You Have. This title illustrates how I go about crafting my art and my life. I learned early on how to make things out of very little. When I was a kid, we did not have any toys so I made my own out of mud, young corn and whatever else I could find. Throughout my life, this skill has come in handy. It has made me feel that in every place or situation, there is great potential for things to become what I need them to be.
That is how my millinery business began. I had only one balsa wood block. At that time, I could not afford the millinery tools and other types of blocks. My only option was to make magic happen with the one block I had. I believe that not having everything a milliner is supposed to have has pushed me to be creative in how I go about making hats. That balsa block is now a sad looking thing, but I always have it on my work desk to remind me of how I started and what I can push myself to do using just the bare minimum. It turns out that even after I did finally purchase a few other blocks and a millinery machine, I still hand-sew and hand-drape most of my hats.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from old films, hats, cars, furniture and art deco architecture. These things are like candy to me. Sometimes I just go to antique malls and flea markets to see all the beautiful handmade things from a hundred or more years ago. I am always amazed by the quality and craftsmanship that went into making these objects.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade to me means a reaction from a stranger that goes something like this: “Oh my God, where did you get that beautiful thing?” Then we both smile and the answer is mutually understood.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
The list of people who have influenced my craft could stretch all the way from Bosnia to New York, but I must say that my sisters are a huge influence on where I am today. Especially my younger sister, Besima. She has always cheered me on and encouraged my creative journey. Her support is especially important to me because she understands what it means for me to have a career as an artist. We came from a place where most women don’t have any education, and definitely don’t make their living as artists.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I never knew how to be anything other than a maker. It took me a long time to realize that there are people who don’t like making things, but the word “artist” did not really enter my vocabulary until I was in America. It was liberating to finally have a word for my compulsive behavior.
How would you describe your creative process?
Ideas come to me at random times, and I’ll sketch them out so that I can remember them. Then, after closing my shop, I rush to my studio where the process starts with a strong cup of tea, accompanied by some pins and felt. From there on, I have no idea what will happen. All I know is that at 3 a.m. I have a hat that I think is the best one yet. Occasionally, the next day I realize that maybe it’s a little too far from being the best hat ever, but then I just start all over again.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
I would pay a visit to the fabulous Edith Head. The woman was brilliant in so many ways. I would love to have coffee with her so I can ask her all sorts of questions.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I have inherited a beautiful handmade 1800s loveseat from my dear friend. I love this piece of furniture for sentimental reasons, and also for its appearance. The beautiful red upholstery, which has faded over time, tells a story. I will definitely cherish this work of art all my life.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
When I feel uninspired and in a rut, I know it is a time for me to do something nice for myself, regardless of what must get done. I go on a run, make food, watch movies. I make a point of making my home nice and cozy because if there is chaos around me I don’t feel very inspired to do anything creative.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I would like to make sure that I feel strong and happy. I would like to have two sheep, five chickens, my dog, a small home and my lovely hat shop. And perhaps the love of my life.