On Searching For home: An Interview With Our Founder
FEATURED: SAMANTHA SHAW
WORDS: WALTER CABAL
pHOTOS: SAMANTHA SHAW
Sam is the Founder of Maker's Movement, a platform where she shares her passion for storytelling through the lens of art and design. She's interested in the way we experience, observe and internalize the world around us, and how we can take those thoughts and express them through art.
If you try, you can find the back of her head, a line drawing of her, and maybe a picture of her hand on the @makersmovement Instagram feed—on which she’s shown her face a whopping total of 4 times since its founding in 2014. The Founder and Chief Editor of Maker’s Movement and Maker’s Magazine, Samantha Shaw, may be as elusive to many of you as one of those small yellow butterflies you see peripherally while walking to your car. The kind you can’t seem to pin until you slow to squint your eyes.
It goes without saying that Sam is, to the core, committed to providing an international community for creative people who work with their hands, a home to share together, and a place to tell stories. She’s spearheading a platform of nearly 90 thousand Instagram followers and its counterpart print magazine five issues in. I wanted to interview Sam, because her own personal experience of re-evaluating home in moving from her childhood hometown and her wanderings across country in a van the past year were exactly the things we are exploring in our most recently released Issue 5: Home. I was not interested in allowing such a rich and contemplative voice to remain overlooked, or hidden in plain sight. I proposed an interview with her and after sitting on it for a long time, I was overjoyed when she agreed, even if reluctantly.
So when that little yellow butterfly surprisingly finds itself on the back of your palm, it may be wise to provide a space, a momentary sense of home for a beautiful wanderer many have overlooked. Drop into the heart of our conversation…
What about leaving home, living in a van, running a business while travelling across the country… How would you describe the timeline for this last year? The followers just kind of know that first you weren’t in a van, then you were, then you weren’t.
Ha! Well, the cross-country trip itself was like 6 or 7 months, but I think the journey as a whole was the full year. We left at the beginning of May, but really we had been thinking of this trip for so long. From January to April we were pretty heavy into daydreaming what it would be like, forming our route, finding a vehicle to live in, and figuring out the logistical aspects of the transition. I look at that as part of the journey, too.
We left right from our apartment in Toronto the day we moved out, and spent a couple nights in Oakville before making our way to Quebec. We travelled for just over a week and then met our good friends Lauren (ceramicist @fromtreetosea) and her boyfriend Brett, who were living out of their vehicle too. We actually ended up travelling with them for the entire east coast. We spent some time in Quebec, traced the St Lawrence River all the way to Gaspé, and then followed the coast into New Brunswick, PEI, and Nova Scotia. We did every province on the east coast; we even made it out to Newfoundland, which was—
Sorry, Sam, you cut out—did you say Newfoundland was… horrible?
No—incredible! It was probably one of my favourite places.
[We burst out laughing!]
Vanlife is a dream world that many want to enter, and you’ve lived it. Can you share a little bit about that with me?
Casting aside the challenges for now, I think the dreamiest part for me was the freedom to use my time as I wished—to wake up and have the freedom to do what I wanted, and to go where I wanted.
Do you think that van life is needed to use your time to do what you want?
I don’t think it’s needed, but at that particular time I kind of felt like it was. I was working full-time, so after a 9-5, plus commute time, I was coming home exhausted, only to spend my evenings and weekends pushing Maker’s Movement. There was little balance between my work life and—everything else that wasn’t work. It felt like a good time to shake up that routine. I definitely don’t think you need to live out of a van to take command of your days, but it allowed me to spend more time doing the things I love, which I wasn’t prioritizing the years prior.
It’s also worth mentioning, I imagined a lot more balance working on the road, but what vanlife ended up being was a lot of me time: hiking, snapping photos, campfires, good friends, more hiking... and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it still wasn’t a whole lot of balance.
Were there any personal challenges for you during this transition—especially challenges that relate to your sense of home?
At the beginning of the year, I was getting ready to say goodbye to a childhood home. Oakville was … was… my hometown.
[She repeated that word, reminding herself to accept that an age had ended.]
My family had that house for over 25 years—my whole life at the time. It’s been really interesting to contemplate my experience of leaving that home at the same time we’re exploring the idea of home in the newest issue of Maker’s Magazine. Oakville was home; the places that I came to know in this little town were my home. I’d always go by the lake, along Sixteen Mile Creek, or down to Lion’s Valley. These places saw me grow up, and they saw me through many phases of my life—that’s the home that I know and love. So shortly after I said goodbye to that home and chapter of my life, my boyfriend Alvaro and I decided to move into our van and head west. It’s really shaken my understanding of home, but I think it’s a good practice to shake up how you look at things.
Is there anything about your sense of home and its essence that you discovered anew, or realized was already there after these big physical representations were peeled away?
I think the essence of home, for me, is an overlap between the physical, emotional, and spiritual. It's about being in a physical place—whether a house, a landscape, the arms of a loved one—and how your emotional and spiritual self interact with it. That's really the essence of home, for me—those things at work together.
Now being in a new city and province, I'm kind of searching for new little havens and nature nooks to grow alongside. Though it was emotionally taxing saying goodbye to a place I knew so well, a big part of me knew that I had outgrown that particular embodiment of home. And I think it's thrown me on a search for home—one that I'm still navigating.
How did you develop your spiritual connection with Oakville as a home?
I think for me it came with just being in a space for so long—over twenty-five years of my life. That same driveway where I learned how to walk, I later scribbled with chalk, then took graduation photos, and then drove down for the last time when I moved out. It was these little places that, over a long period of time, watched me grow. So for me that’s a pretty deeply spiritual experience—especially, letting it all go.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you would describe what’s unique to an emotional experience of home versus a spiritual experience? Of course there’s an overlap, but I’m curious about how you would distinguish the two.
That’s a good question. Hmm. I think spiritual—
has to do with shifts. An experience can be deeply emotional without necessarily shifting the way that you think. For me, spiritual has to do with shifting the way that I think.
[I thought of an ancient spiritual text: "We are transformed by the renewing of our minds". ]
That makes a lot of sense. It’s the history and nature of spiritual development and practice to consistently shift one’s being toward the good. The most spiritually mature people I know frequently frame their way of understanding in shifts of life seasons. I go toward the most spiritually mature people in my own life when I’m on the verge of a shift, a shift in making decisions, a shift in understanding, or shifts in knowledge, and it seems to be those people who really grow with me over a long period of time. To say that you can experience an emotion without necessarily having a shift shows that there’s something unique to what’s spiritual—that is profound. I’ve never heard that before, Sam!
[Together we laugh as one does at “aha” moments, and we are talking over each other, giddy, as we discover some kind of wisdom to the nature of home. It seems that home’s essence not only embraces our bodies, but it also embraces our spiritual shifts like a holy, invisible temple.]
I’ve never been asked that, so I never really thought about it.
Would you say you spend a lot of time contemplating?
[A pause—the butterfly is deciding whether or not to remain visible in this space—and then she chooses to feel at home in it.]
Yeah. I'd say so. And I think it goes hand in hand with my passions: art, curating stories, and hiking—all pretty contemplative things for me. I spend a lot of time in my mind thinking things over.
[Sam laughs. Shy, like a child caught in the middle of hiding.]
In this journey, what was the most turbulent part?
The most turbulent part was when Alvaro and I realized that we should stop travelling for a while. We had planned to live in the van for longer and travel down the west coast from Vancouver-ish to LA-ish. After spending a good chunk of time on the east coast and travelling across the country, we didn't want to be stranded with no money and no house. We planned as we went, knowing we would have enough money to get to certain spots.
We actually stopped in Kelowna, BC, where we picked apples, pears, and grapes, to make more money for the next leg of our trip. We made enough to make it to Vancouver Island. That’s where we had a shift—it’s hard to translate, but we had a pretty spiritual experience.
Can you take me there?
I'll try my best... We kind of went to Vancouver Island with the thought that we'd wait out the winter there, and getting ahead of ourselves, thought it might be somewhere we could set down roots in the future. When we got to Victoria, we spent our days looking for seasonal work and accommodation, but once the sun started to set we would get anxious because there was no place to park overnight in the city.
We ended up finding a beautiful spot on the ocean about 45 minutes out from Victoria that we returned to every night to sleep, and then we'd head back into the city in the morning to continue our search.
Nights and mornings by the ocean told us it would be a beautiful place to put down roots, but every time we went into the city, we couldn't imagine ourselves living there. So we kind of started this 3-way tug of war in our mind—pulling at the idea of allowing ourselves time to adjust in Victoria, or calling it quits and going to Vancouver, or even going back to Kelowna where my family is.
And we just kept going in circles, driving ourselves crazy for what truly felt like weeks but was really only days, until we finally said: "Okay, we need to make a decision."
And that’s when we sat down—in a bar on Halloween night—and wrote out our five-year plan, which is something we had never done together. We just asked the bartender for a pencil, and each wrote down the things we want to achieve in five years (on the back of one of our resumes).
We looked at our goals and asked ourselves which place would push us closer to those goals, and right then we made a decision. It was to call off living in a van full-time, keep it as an adventure-mobile for weekends, and move to Vancouver to make shit happen for ourselves. At the bottom of the piece of paper, we just wrote 'Vancouver', and at the same time we wrote it in our minds. We turned off the inner-chatter completely and like—right then—something shifted.
We left the island the next day feeling light, like we had both just come out of an intense mental battle. We were staying in an Airbnb with this lady named Winnie, who was really in touch with her spiritual side. Right before we left, she insisted on taking us on a quick drive. “I just saw an eagle”, she said super enthusiastically. So she drove us over to this park side, and there was this massive totem pole, and there was an eagle just sitting at the very top of it. She was so excited about it! “Wow it’s still here,” she told us. And then moments after, it took off and flew away. Winnie was like: “Look at that! It’s taking off as you guys are taking off.” And that’s how we ended our trip. It was so crazy. Almost right after moving to Vancouver, Alvaro ended up getting his first full-time job as a Graphic Designer, which was high on his list of goals. Things started to happen pretty quickly, and we just felt like, yep, we made the right decision.
Does this spark any fresh inspirations or directions for Maker’s Movement?
As the whole landscape of the maker movement grows and changes, I need to continue looking at myself and the role of my platform within the big picture. Personally and professionally, I feel like I've really been lacking a sense of physical community. I’ve invested so much of my time into building an online platform (that I value deeply), but I want to see what I can do locally. I want real connection, genuine support, and good company. People play such a big part in my life and feeling of belonging, and I really realized that after spending half a year travelling with good friends.
I think the future holds more storytelling... and in some form, creating space... but I’ll leave it at that for now…
Ha! Big tease there! Sam, you’ve lived a dream but aren't choosing to remain in a dream. I don’t sense a disillusionment at reality; I sense someone who has rolled with the punches. That's a tough thing to do, in both senses of the word. Tough as in difficult, but also something a tough person does—somebody with fortitude.
[Silence, then a smile.]
Sam squeaks out a "thank you" reticent to accept… and mid-wondering on your own thoughts about home, the golden butterfly eludes you, leaving to continue on her search for home.
Enjoy the read?
Order our home issue to continue exploring the theme with us:
Walter gravitates toward the deep end of the pool. Many times he finds that depth in his conversations with people and many other times he finds it in the long silences at work as the product designer and craftsperson for Cabal Crafted. He tends to drive in the slow lane, talks to trees and animals, and frequently finds poetry in ordinary life. He earned his BA in philosophy from the University of California, Riverside. Walter and his wife Alicia live in southern California.