Hamline-Midway artist driven to ‘Do the most good’ with design

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When Hamline-Midway artist Suyao Tian thinks back on her childhood, she remembers the freezing cold of winter. Tian grew up in a province of Northern China, near the border with Tibet. Her city, Xining, which sits at an elevation of 7,200 feet, was rugged. She said, ”The children of many poor families had red cheeks, and dry, cracked hands because of the harsh winters.”
When Tian moved to Minneapolis in 2014, her first winter here brought back that childhood memory. While brainstorming for her MFA thesis project at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), she thought, “What if I could use my design skills to help kids who are suffering from the cold?”
Tian had long been interested in the line between fine art and commercial design. She was ready to challenge that, using mittens as her vehicle.
She used the time at MCAD to build her own social impact company, called Modern Cover. Her mind and creativity were engaged in every aspect of small business development: from initial concept and design, to branding, to managing production in China, to marketing, and, unexpectedly, delivering the first pairs of mittens herself when they arrived just days before Christmas.

Cover hands, warm your heart
Tian has a deep interest in how art, immigration, and identity are all woven together. She said, “Not only should design be about making things that are beautiful, it should be about solving societal problems.”
The problem, in this case, was suffering from the cold.
The solution was well-designed, warm, playful mittens. Modern Cover offers one style of children’s mittens made from four different fabric patterns. There are sizes to fit ages 1-13 years.
The mittens are made of breathable nylon. Tian conducted her own quality control research on the issue of whether the mittens were waterproof. She said, “I soaked a pair mittens in a bowl of water, and after three hours – the seams finally began to leak a little.”
The mittens are waterproof.
Tian said, “At Modern Cover, we strive to do the most good with design. Our focus is on helping kids in as many difficult situations as possible – poverty, homelessness, hunger, abuse, and neglect– by contributing a percentage of all sales to various organizations which work to benefit children.”

Free mittens to organizations serving children
In this most difficult year of COVID and economic hardship for people everywhere, Tian is taking the sale of her children’s mittens one step farther. She would like to donate pairs of her children’s mittens to organizations serving children.
Twin Cities’ school groups, households of faith, and non-profit organizations are encouraged to contact Suyao Tian by email at suyaotian@moderncover.net with a description of how they work to better the lives of children.
In addition to her design work with Modern Cover, Tian is a new mother, an independent art curator, an accomplished musician on the Guhzeng (a 21-stringed traditional Chinese instrument), and a watercolor artist.
Her watercolor paintings, as well as her mittens, speak to childhood memories. Tian explained, ”I am of the one-child-only generation born in China in the 1980s. I grew up in an intellectual family, and there were many strict rules. I didn’t have siblings or pets; even the kind of friends I could make was limited by rules. I was quite lonely.”
She said, “When I was little, I collected everything interesting to me – from things found in nature to objects found in the street. I put these things in jars, played with them, and talked to them. This was the way I connected to the world. These small creatures and elements appear in all of my paintings, along with other surprising characters. When I am painting, I let my imagination be free.”
Her original watercolors and prints are available on her Instagram site at https://www.instagram.com/suyaotian, and also on the “Art to Change the World” artist registry (see sidebar).
For more information on Suyao Tian and the design work of Modern Cover, visit www.moderncover.net.

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