By Jill Rozell
When Gay Howe opened The Jasmine Tree in 2000 her goal was to offer beautiful items from around the world to feed and inspire the soul. She aimed for a boutique atmosphere that makes people feel good just by walking in.
The name comes from two quotes that represent what the store means to her. The first is from an old proverb relaying the following sentiment: If a person has only two coins left, one should be spent on bread to feed the body and the other on jasmine to feed the soul. The second quote is from Thomas Hyll who felt that the fragrance of the jasmine tree “yieldeth a delectable smell, much refreshing the sitters underneath it.”
“I describe the store as an eclectic mix of items that represent a diversity of spiritual paths,” Howe said. “Everything you find here relates to the relationship between mind, body and spirit.”
The exotic colors, textures, fragrances and sounds of the store — located in Burlington’s historic Chestnut Street Loop — take patrons on a journey to different corners of the world. Patrons can find straw hats from Haiti, 100 percent wool and sari silk items from Nepal, hand-cast bells from India, silk kites from China, soaps from France and a variety of products from cottage industries in the United States.
A full line of bath and body items, soy candles, handwoven and sewn clothing items, soy-ink greeting cards on recycled paper, and handmade jewelry are artfully displayed in the boutique, which Howe restored to its historic character after it was used for years as a wood refinishing shop.
“I have so many interests, it’s hard for me to specialize,” Howe said. “But fair trade is a very important issue for me.”
Howe has been supporting the fair-trade industry since the early ’70s when her family opened its first gallery and boutique in Burlington, The Country Mouse. Art from around the world was displayed at the gallery along with the works of her father, Earl Gustaveson, a reknowned wildlife artist.
Like then, Howe’s handmade jewelry also can be purchased at The Jasmine Tree. Howe began designing and making jewelry and clothing while studying art and anthroplogy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the 1960s, before she traveled to Europe and lived for a time in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Her pieces range from delicate and classic to bold and contemporary.
“I especially love the timeless beauty and feel of natural gemstone material because of the rich variation in color, texture and shape,” she said.
Howe sells merchandise on the main floor at The Jasmine Tree and she transformed the basement into a spiritual reading nook. Both new and used books — some hard to find — line the walls. It is an important aspect of the store for Howe, who views the written word as an art form.