by Len Lear

World traveler Elayne Aion stayed still long enough to take over this charming shop, The Dovetail Artisans, at 105 E. Glenside Ave, in Glenside. For more information, call 215-887-2220 or visit www.thedovetailartisans.com.

Dovetail Artisans at 105 E. Glenside Ave in Glenside, which frequently has special fundraising events to benefit local community organizations, will stay open from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4, to host a fundraiser for Nancy’s House, comprehensive respite for family caregivers.  10-15% of the proceeds from the evening will be donated to Nancy’s House, respite for caregivers. Light refreshments will be available.

Nancy’s House, with offices in Wyncote, is a model of comprehensive respite for family caregivers.  Caregivers, whose own health and well-being is imperiled by caring for a loved one, come to Nancy’s House for two nights of undisturbed sleep, classes to better manage stress and to become part of an on-going community of support with other family caregivers.  Because caregivers are financially stressed as well, Nancy’s House subsidizes the cost of a respite session through private and corporate donations, grants and fundraising.

Elayne Aion, owner of Dovetail Artisans in Glenside, appreciates the need for Nancy’s House for caregivers and supports their mission. Ten percent of credit card purchases and 15% of cash or check purchases made during this evening event will be donated to Nancy’s House. (Dovetail Artisans is a gift shop featuring American handcrafted items — personal gifts like jewelry and scarves, household items like clocks and inlaid boxes, office items like letter openers and magnetic boards, Judaica, puzzle boxes, mobiles, etc.)

Other community organizations which have benefited from fundraising events held at The Dovetail Artisans are Free the Hikers, Breastfeeding Resounce Center, Friends of High School Park, Abington High School Band, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park and Rubye’s Kids, which provides Christmas patrties, school books and other necessities to impoverished kids in North Philly.)

Owner Elayne Aion, 57, is a pioneer in her own way. In 1974 the Cheltenham High School graduate became the first female bartender that Zeno’s, the Penn State University college bar, had ever hired. Not exactly like being the first person to walk on the moon, but it was symptomatic of Elayne’s iconoclastic spirit.

A social work major, Aion (the word is the pronunciation of the letter “I” in the Hebrew alphabet) could not wait to graduate so she could travel the world. (Elayne knows that Rome wasn’t build in a day, even though the general contractor promised it would be.)

Like poet Walt Whitman, Elayne found out she was “strong and content when I travel the open road.” She first went to Europe, where she stayed for eight months until she ran out of money. Since she was determined to keep traveling but was broke, Aion figured her only alternative was to join the Peace Corps.

After joining the Peace Corps, Elayne was sent to the Philippines, where she taught proper nutrition to a mountain tribe of headhunters in the province of Kalinga-Apayo for two years. “I learned Ilicano, which was the common language of the mountain provinces,” she said. “In one case, they told me this meat I was eating was from a deer. As it turned out, it was really from a dog … Later, I ate no meat for 15 years.”

After her time in the Peace Corps, Elayne continued traveling throughout Asia — India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand and Singapore — until her money ran out again. “I wasn’t shocked by the poverty I saw in Calcutta,” she recalls, “because I had seen similar poverty in Manila.

The biggest cultural shock was actually coming home and seeing how much chauvinism, arrogance and waste there was right here at home. I realized that’s what we are suffering from. Many Americans feel the entire world has to live the way we do. It’s a very narrow way to think. There are many other ways to live that are just as valid for other cultures as ours.”

Not only has Elayne traveled extensively in the world at large, but you might say her inner travels have been both extensive and intensive, as well. After 16 years of marriage and raising two sons — Justin, 29, a math teacher in Western Pennsylvania, and Myles, 23, an intern at the Kripalu yoga center in Massachusetts — Elayne realized she was gay. She split up with her husband, who now lives in California and with whom she still has a cordial relationship. “He is a fine man,” said Elayne, “but we just couldn’t continue the way we were.”

For the past 14 years Elayne has had a committed relationship with her life partner, Joan Liehe, 68, at their home near Glenside.

After her extensive travels in Asia, Elayne worked for eight years as a “headhunter,” recruiting engineers and computer scientists for the corporate world. “I was recruiting for the ‘Evil Empire,’” said Aion. “I don’t like to think about it.”

Elayne then worked for 11 years for her father, who owned the Berben Insignia Company in center city, selling police equipment like badges and handcuffs to police and fire departments and security firms. She then worked in hospice care for 10 years running a volunteer program for the Visiting Nurse Association.

Two days after leaving that job, she learned that the owner of The Dovetail Artisans, a gift shop at 105 E. Glenside Ave, in Glenside, was looking for a buyer. “I went in the next day, and we made a deal in no time,” said Elayne, who reopened the shop on May 10, 2007.

It helps that Elayne’s business ideas are as organized as a Mozart piano sonata. Her stunning variety of handmade crafts includes: hand-painted tiles with Native American themes, created by a Cherokee artist; hand-dyed silk scarves; Judaica items such as Hanukkah candle holders; colorful handmade cotton and wool socks; puzzles and mobiles; bubbling water fountains, and much more. Almost everything is under $50, and countless items are under $25. Almost everything was handcrafted in the U.S. or Canada, and the only exceptions are Fair Trade items. Many local craftspeople are also represented.

Aion, who was a long-time member of the Anna Crusis Choir, the nation’s oldest feminist choir, said about her gift shop, “I can’t believe how happy I am. Working for yourself is so much better than working for someone else. I am working longer, harder and more intensely than ever, but I’m very happy about it. There is definitely a learning curve, but I’ve always gone to craft shows and always loved American crafts anyway, so it’s a perfect fit.”

For more information about The Dovetail Artisans, call 215-887-2220 or visit www.thedovetailartisans.com