It’s an art that hearkens back to the earliest days of humanity, when those who sought health and cleanliness looked to the natural materials around them. And now, it’s found a home in Franklin County.
“I a Bohemian — my parents are Czech, from Prague — I live on the prairie, and I’m an ‘alchemist,’ Janet Gutierrez said. “That’s how I got the name.”
Gutierrez is the owner of the recently opened Bohemian Prairie Alchemist, 4275 Finney Road, Lane. Through her store, located in a small wooden structure nestled in a meadow near her house off a quiet country road, Gutierrez uses her knowledge of herbalism and soapmaking to handcraft a wide range of personal hygeine products.
“This has been a dream of mine for about 10 years,” said Gutierrez of her shop, now heavily perfumed with a variety of her herbal wares.
Though it’s now her hobby and passion, Gutierrez’s nearly three decades of soapmaking experience began out of necessity.
“I’ve always been a crafter, and I’ve always kind of tinkered with stuff, and then went ahead and made it,” she said. “Soapmaking caught my interest probably 27 years ago. At that time there wasn’t a whole lot of information — there wasn’t much internet. But the reason I really got into that is I had skin allergies. When I’d use different products, I would break out, or it didn’t work for me. So it was really for that main purpose. And then just the sheer challenge of soapmaking.”
Gutierrez has honed her craft through years of persistence.
“The first time I tried to do it I thought, ‘I can’t do this, I’d need to be a chemist,’” she said “Then I bought some books, and I read and read. It took a lot of trial and error — learning, trying and repeating.”
Now, with Bohemian Prairie Alchemist, her persistence has paid off. Through the shop, Gutierrez offers a variety of soaps, teas, decoctions, bath bombs, balms, men’s shaving products, kids soaps, vapor rubs, bath salts, salves, insect deterrents -- even a proprietary, tested tattoo balm.
“I believe in what I do,” she said. “There are a lot of soapmakers. The difference with me is that I use all natural products — I don’t use fake colors, I don’t use micas, I use herbs to color. I use all natural products. I don’t use palm oil, because that is ravaging the Amazon rainforest. I use sheep’s milk yogurt, because it is the highest in calcium.”
A social worker by day now, Gutierrez has a history in education, and plans to leverage that background to offer the community classes in tea and soapmaking.
“My goal is to be able to educate people,” Gutierrez said. “I have taught classes from medical ethics to social gerontology; I’m an educator. I love to educate, and I like to make sure people know basic information so they can make good choices. When I do craft fairs, I have a lot of people come by, and I try to sit and educate them. It’s just the way I am — I want right information, and I want people to have the right knowledge.
“So that’s my goal here, is to offer classes in the years to come.”
For more about Bohemian Prairie Alchemist, visit their Facebook page.