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A Fitting Tribute

By Katie Sloan
In Featured Slider
Sep 25th, 2017
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Article by Michael Devault Portrait by Abigail Berry

Tim McIlveene transformed a mission trip and a love of a new culture into a memorial for his globe-trotting sister.

At first glance, Tim McIlveene appears somewhat of a homebody. The Ouachita graduate attended ULM and earned an MBA before going to work for then-U.S. Rep. John Cooksey in his district office. That’s about the time wanderlust set in.

A Southern Baptist by faith and upbringing, Tim sought a mission posting through the church. The denomination’s mission office immediately shipped him off to Southeast Asia.

“I’d never been to Asia,” he says. “I had no idea what to expect.”

A tangential result of his travels to Asia and China became collections of vintage postcards from around the world, beginning with the earliest British colonies in Malaysia, known then as British Malaya. In traveling the world, working on missions for the Southern Baptist Mission Board, Tim had big shoes to fill.

His sister, Aimee, had touched every continent with the exception of Australia, worked for women and children in some of the poorest and most distressed communities on earth, and had even been to the Gaza Strip to work with kids there. In 2001, Aimee contracted a rare virus and passed away, leaving behind a legacy that Tim wanted to honor. He just wasn’t quite sure how.

Until inspiration struck him, he needed to earn a living. The three-year post with the Mission Board ended, and after a second stint with Rep. Cooksey’s office, he returned to northeastern Louisiana, this time to a job with CenturyLink in their governmental affairs department. It was here that he stumbled upon the way he would honor his sister’s memory.

While in Malaysia, he had taken up collecting vintage postcards from the colonial era. He brought his collection home, and he framed them.

“My friends and family loved them,” he said. “People just raved about them. I didn’t think that much about it, but a designer friend suggested I should think about marketing it.”

That’s when the idea struck him. His globe-trotting sister’s work could continue if he could find a way to generate a little income from his hobby of collecting old postcards.

“In her 22 years, she really packed a lot into it,” he says. “That’s one reason why, today, we’re trying to work with women and children. That’s what was near and dear to her.”

That was in 2016. Just a year later, British Malaya Shop is off and running, a thriving online boutique that’s carving out a noticeable following through its website, britishmalayashop.com,  Instagram and Etsy.

The company specializes in unique art, décor, and home goods carefully curated from around the world. Tim’s collections start with images from the Malaysian island of Pnang – the original British Malaya colony.

One item is a canvas-printed collection of façades, each of which has been carefully framed to highlight the unique architecture of the Malaysian people. Another photo depicts a playful mural of two children on a bicycle. A third captures a bicycle taxi driver’s brief moment of respite, his lined face suggesting that, at any minute, a fare could hop aboard and he’d be off.

From Thailand, British Malaya offers a line of Celadon ceramic elephants. A pair of petite salt and pepper shakers in a light jade would make a fitting and playful addition to the breakfast table, where the morning sun could play with the crackleature while adding just a touch of whimsy to the table. Cornflower smiling elephants continue the motif of Thailand’s sacred elephant, and the line also includes rabbits and monkeys, as well.

Wherever Tim travels, he continues curating a collection of products and objets d’arts. A recent vacation to Bali yielded a new line of textiles. He’s especially proud of the Balinese throw pillows and napkins.

“I went for vacation and found this line,” he says. “I ordered a bunch of them when I got back. I could barely wait to get them online. They pair well with many of our dinnerware products.”

When it comes to setting a table, British Malaya offers a collection of Japanese ceramic plates in several varieties of cobalt-on-white patterns. A tightly-grouped spoke pattern evokes images of an eye, while looser-spoked patterns evoke a spinning wheel. One pattern features prominent geometrics, while a fourth, striped dish evokes thoughts of bamboo in the wind.

“These plates just pop when they’re on the table,” Tim says. “They make quite a statement.”

While the company’s offerings continue to grow, the heart of British Malaya remains the collection of art prints. There are the postcard images he’s collected and curated over the years. Also, a series of stamps – enlarged to provide a better look at the artistry and detail – suggest a sense of writing home.

Another recent line of imagery Tim and company have begun offering are vintage maps. And by vintage, that is to say really vintage – as far back as the 1700s. A 1762 Vintage “L’Asie” French Map of Asia Art Print features exquisite detailing, including an intricately engraved title block and legend. Another print – an 1889 Malay/Singapore Peninsula Map Asia Vintage Art Print – takes a slightly more academic tone in its depiction of British Malaysia.

Each of the prints are offered in a host of sizes ranging from a diminutive 5×7 up to a statement-piece 18×24. They are printed on archival quality paper and are suitable for fine framing.

Another recently added line of prints features art prints from Africa and Asia. Just like a village bazaar in the Far East, it seems that no matter the corner you turn, you’ll find something new and exciting to catch your fancy at British Malaya.

All of the products British Malaya offers are responsibly sourced and curated. Postcards are in-domain images from 70, 80 or even 100 years ago, all drawn from the diverse postcard collecting community. The textiles and the ceramics are also responsibily sourced.

“They aren’t mass produced,” Tim says. “They’re all hand-done, fair trade items. That’s a really important part of what we do – that the artists aren’t being exploited for their work, and that we’re not contributing to bad things happening in their villages and communities.”

Spend a few hours browsing the British Malaya website, and it becomes clear that Tim has put a tremendous amount of effort into selecting each item. The result is a stunning amalgam of cultures that mirrors the blending of the cultures that occurred in Malaysia and China during the colonial periods, particularly in Pnang, for which Tim still holds a place in his heart.

“Malay, Chinese, Indians, and Europeans blended the region into a culture that mixed all of those elements together,” he says. “That’s reflected in their architecture, the food, the communities. It’s a wonderful place.”

Though not everyone can visit Pnang, Malaysia, or post-colonial China, they can bring a piece of those worlds to their homes through British Malaya. And though these beautiful products have traveled across the globe to get here, owning a small piece of the world isn’t particularly expensive. In fact, Tim works to ensure that British Malaya products are affordable.

For example, a set of dessert plates that could easily command $120 or more in a retail shop are available for just over $44. Art prints start at $13.80. Even the textiles are quite reasonably priced, with beautiful Balinese prints priced at $22.50 for a set of four. And those Thai elephants? Also reasonably priced, with items ranging from $23 to $54, give or take.

Though they’ve only been around for a year or so, Tim says the momentum the company has built so far is remarkable. Tim’s keeping his day job at CenturyLink, too. After all, even though British Malaya is growing, the primary purpose of the company is to support local artists and the communities his sister loved to serve. Still, he’s excited with the reception and the growth.

“It’s amazing to watch the web traffic grow, to get inquiries from around the world,” he says. “I’m only online, and so it’s been interesting to learn how all of that works. But we’re steadily growing, and I get smarter and better at this every day.”