I grew up in Metropolis, Illinois, where my father owned the local hardware store in town. I learned the entrepreneur spirit at an early age, but after high school, I wanted to go to art school. My father, however, told me “artists were crazy” and sent me to secretarial school instead. I went on to marry my high school sweetheart and had two children: John and Jennifer. By the time Jennifer was in school, we had moved from Metropolis to the country, where many summer days were spent on the family farm with their cousins. I remember many days of doing crafts, helping the kids collect rocks and paint them.
“Home is a place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
— Robert Frost
Jennifer went on to college and started a career that ultimately landed her as an accountant in Chicago. She became frustrated in her career and eventually found her way back home. This is when she and I started our endeavor as creative women, 30 years ago.
For as long as I can remember, growing up, there were always crayons and paper around. I loved coloring and drawing for hours on end and still have a lot of my “early creations” that my mom had saved for me. I also had a love for sewing, as did my mom, from an early age. I started by making clothes for my Barbie. Soon after, I began making my own clothing. I loved picking the fabrics and the process of taking a pattern and turning it into a one-of-a-kind garment for myself. Now, I have also found a creative outlet in cooking at Marcella’s Kitchen, a local non-profit community kitchen, and on many occasions, even lend a hand with designing promotional materials for them.
“God will help you overcome any hardship.”
We both love to find the unusual, discarded pieces — that most people would think of as trash — and breathe new life into them. We get excited when we find old items like cloth doll bodies that are missing a head or arms as this gets our creative juices flowing; and with our combined creativity, the sky’s the limit! It’s the thrill of beginning a project and seeing what we can create that keeps us going. When people see our creations and love them as much as we do, it’s just the icing on the cake.
One of my first memories of making doll clothes was in home economics in high school. We were to do a sewing project, and I decided to make doll clothing. My teacher told me I was wasting my time. Now at 79, I continue to make doll clothes that I love, trading old fabrics and ideas with several of my friends. Many of our dolls are dressed in antique children’s clothing, an inspiration of its own.
Many old objects have inspired us to create our German-American and Pennsylvania Dutch designs. We regularly comb flea markets for inspiration; a 19th-century papier mâché crescent man in the moon might be reborn in antique muslin, or a full-moon face of an old clock may be celestially transformed and placed between calico angel wings. Though we sometimes render old designs from new fabric, you’d never guess it from the cloth. We have developed a special antiquing process that softens, mellows and unevenly fades the fabric.
In our daily lives, we both gravitate towards other creatives. It’s only natural that our friends reflect creativity and a love for many of the same things. Together we have craft nights, which we have found helps us reenergize our creativity. During these events, we try to find a project that is outside of the norm of our usual. While all of us tend to create projects that will be gifts for friends and family for Christmas and Halloween and other holidays, each person has their own unique, wonderful style. It is so great to see these items they all created in the homes of friends and family.
Alongside creating folk art, buying and selling antiques is another aspect of our business. And with this, we always need more storage space to house our antiques, fabrics, buttons, thread and many other crafting supplies. As we find something that catches our eyes, it comes to live in the studio. Some pieces never leave; others are only here for a short visit, then on to a new home. The antique sewing machine (Jennifer’s great aunt’s) has been the one item that is a constant in the space, other than our collective four dogs that wander in and out every day!
As for designing our studio, finding a color for the walls that both of us loved was very challenging. The walls have been painted more colors than we would like to admit. This struggle was both our biggest challenge, as well as, our biggest accomplishment!
Functionality in your special creative space is important, as well as, comfort and loving where you spend your time creating. Be yourself and create the space you will love. It may take time to find your niche, but keep on and on and on until you realize your dream!