Making Marabi magic heart felt

May 24, 2013

The outside of this little shop on a muted side street in Barcelona pales in comparison to the bright colors held inside. Mariela Marabi, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, grew up with this toy-making magic. Her mother opened the family toy store when she was young, and has since opened seven more shops in Argentina.

“I worked in my family’s toy shop for seven years,” shop owner Mariela Marabi said. “I saw the happiness of the people and knew it was something I wanted to do.”

While studying art and theater in Argentina, Marabi used painting and jewelry making as her main creative outlet. She started painting at the age of 10, but didn’t profit from her talent until she started selling painted clothing and jewelry in college. Her father worked in the textile industry when she was young and brought home fabric for her to sew, which led to her love of brightly colored felt fabric. She decided that painting was not enough to satisfy her creativity, so she began making small wire figures with a little bit of felt fabric around them. She said she loved to take pictures of these small “insects” she would make, so she decided to dabble in photography a bit. These were featured in many of her exhibitions in addition to her paintings.

“I think about my life, my work, my paintings and reminisce,” Marabi said.

In 2001, Marabi decided to expand from exhibitions and fulfill her lifelong dream of opening her own shop.  Inspired by the artist Alexander Calder, she started making ‘scooters’, which are stuffed animal figures with a hard, sturdy foundation.

She starts out drawing her next creation in her planner. Whatever comes to her mind at that moment is what she makes.

“I use iron as the bone and synthetic cotton as the muscle,” Marabi explained about her figures.  “I like to make them tough.”

Her wobble figures are made with paper weights or sandbags on the bottom to hold them steady.

Each of her scooters is made into art with brightly colored felt pieces sewn together. She has made animals such as an elephant, a hippopotamus and her favorite ostrich that is almost 6 feet tall.

Though this hobby of hers has become a living, she does not forget the reason for making them.

“I like to make these toys for the other people,” Marabi said. “I love the amazed look on their faces as they walk into the shop.”

Along with the scooters, Marabi makes themed felt finger puppet booklets with a pocket on the front for the main character and four pockets inside for the rest. She has made booklets with children’s story themes such as Pinocchio, Three Little Pigs, Wizard of Oz and Little Red Riding Hood.

Marabi continues to have exhibitions, but the focus is now on her scooters.

“I like to have options for my clients,” Marabi said. She has recently held exhibitions in Holland and her childhood home, Buenos Aires.

Her brothers have taken over Apio Verde, the family toy stores in Argentina, and her boyfriend is an illustrator for children’s books (a few of which Marabi wrote).

“I always fantasized about having a shop,” Marabi said. “I want to live in this work of art all my life.”