After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design, I worked until I began having children. I started sewing just before my oldest child was born. I made her (and the ones that followed) room decor, clothing, toys and anything else I could for my home. Along the way I also operated a card company. Basically, my home was my studio. I always had projects going on everywhere in the house! I started showing my creations in small local shows about 15 years ago. It was something I always wanted to try. I didn’t know if I would be successful, but people seemed to like what I made. I made lots of different things, but they were always colorful and fun. When my kids were getting older and more independent, I branched out more.
I started doing prominent folk art shows in Chicago and Ohio, and from there I met Jen O’Connor, owner of Earth Angels Studios, who took me on as an artist making contemporary stuffed dolls. I was able to do many shows with Jen and her troupe for about eight years, and I loved it. But all of a sudden I knew I was ready for more. I just wasn’t sure what.
If Not Now, When?
I knew for a long time I had wanted to grow beyond selling just my own work. My daughter once asked me a question when I was contemplating running a marathon. She said, “If not now, when?” After I ran that marathon, (with her), I started asking myself that question a lot. Not getting any younger, with still so much I wanted to do with my life, I have been attempting to live with that question in mind.
After many years of wanting a studio of my own, my husband, John, was contemplating the fate of one of our farm’s outbuildings. It was an early-1900s corn crib, which housed our chickens for about 20 years. The choices were to knock it down or fix it up, and he decided to take on the project and make it into the gallery I had been wanting for so many years. Now known as The Crib, its new windows, new siding and a completely rebuilt floor with radiant heating allows me to work in it year-round. The rustic interior, with all original wood boards, was left alone. I knew that in this new space I wanted to have a place to not only work, but also display my work and sell it from that space. I love that the word crib has the sense of nurturing.
My first show in The Crib was my “Glad Tidings” show in December 2015. I also do a Halloween show, “A Hallowed Haunt,” and a spring show, “Rite of Spring.” In addition, I open my studio on certain days for people to come watch my work or shop. Trying to utilize the space and get people excited about it is what I am working on in these first years, but the response has been tremendous. I have plans to teach classes, host poetry slams and run a larger event with more vendors.
The Space to Make Business Happen
There were really no goals for the space when we started the adaptive reuse project, only that there would be lots of light and lots of room. I love the rustic feel of the interior. Knowing the origins of the structure really make me appreciate what is has become. It was a working corn crib at one time—a slatted barn-like building, in which corn cobs were stored to dry after being harvested. In more recent years, (along with the chickens), my husband used it as storage for soybeans. The semi trailers would drive into the center of the crib, the chutes would be opened, and the soybeans would fall down into the semi to be hauled away. The elevator that carried the grain to the top is still there, as are the chutes.
It is a solid building to be able to hold all that weight, so I knew it could handle anything. I like that it is open, and I can move things around all the time. I like the old wood slats, as I can hammer as many nails in as I want and it won’t detract from the look. I plan to paint the slats with flowers or words. It’s nice to think that my messes and mistakes add patina to the space. What I miss is having a sink so I can wash brushes, and do wet, messy projects. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Living on this farm for 26 years, I have fantasized about turning one of the out buildings into a studio. Luckily, I have a husband who can pretty much do anything, as most farmers can. He builds, welds, and is well-versed in electric work, plumbing, heating and cooling. He singlehandedly did this project as a gift to me, and, aside from my children, it is the best gift I’ve ever received. I am so grateful and love that I can share this gift with others by having a space to host their art too.
Artist and Manager
To me, creating comes first. I am a maker and creator. The selling has always allowed me to make and create more new things. I don’t like making the same things over and over, so I don’t. Everything I sell is one of a kind, and most of it I make in batches, and when that batch is gone, it’s gone. It may be years before I do it again. I am not great with the financial part of this, I admit. So, for me, just seeing people smiles as they browse or buy makes me pretty happy. This is what keeps me going despite any challenges.
The space has had successes in the first two years of my expanded business. With each show I do, I get more new visitors, customers and followers. I just want people to come see it, be a part of it, and make it more open to my community. Having shows and open studio days helps bring people in, and many times it inspires them just to come inside and look what it has become.
Be creative every day. But being creative is about more than just sitting with your drawing pad or paints or fabrics. It’s also about getting dressed, making lists, and especially the way you think about yourself.
For each of my three yearly shows, I send out hand-made date cards to my mailing list via snail mail because I think it’s the most personal. I also advertise on my Facebook pages. I need to do more networking and ask for my wider circle of artist friends to help support my new venture, but it can be hard to ask for help. I have, however, asked my kids for help. My kids are all professional string musicians now, and 2017 was the third year we’ve held a concert in The Crib. We push all the stuff aside, fill The Crib with chairs, and invite neighbors, friends, and the community to listen to my kids play Christmas music. The acoustics are amazing in there and it is just so magical with the colored lights and the beautiful sound. People come every year to hear it. So many say it’s the highlight of their Christmas season.
It can be tough that we are in a remote area. The roads are dark at night, and I am still having heating issues, but it’s all good. I always feel like I should do more and have more events but have to remind myself that slow and steady growth is the way to go.
Since this space is still young, I am trying to keep the community and my customers excited about what I am doing in the space. The Crib and my work have received a lot of support from my community and I am so very grateful. I had a fabulous write-up in the local farm bureau magazine in 2017, and an article in the Illinois farm bureau magazine will be coming out this year. I have also been asked to speak at a local woman’s club in 2018, which I am hoping brings more outreach and more opportunity. I am working hard to engage my followers on social media and find new ones.
I want the retail part of The Crib to always be a strong mix between small vintage and my art, because they compliment each other. I keep my ears open for good sales in my area, and I go to the flea market every month to look for things I like. Creatively, I do what makes me happy. I draw, paint, sew and make interesting things. I follow my heart. It hasn’t been wrong yet.
When I think about what holds my art and the business together, it is joy. I truly feel joy when I am in there. I am comfortable, and content, and happy. I think it’s just the magical way I feel when I’m in there, and everything else falls into place.
Many times, I get the best ideas during sleep, or just before I wake up. I get up and write them down, because if I don’t it will keep me awake all night trying to force myself to remember it. I also get ideas when I am running, and when I am in silence. It’s sort of meditative to me to be in silence, and then visions come into my head of things I want to make and new things I want to try.
I have always said this about women who want to have family, career, marriage, friends, etc….and you CAN, but often not all at once!!!
TIPS FOR FELLOW CREATIVPRENEURS:
▸ Be creative every day. However, being a creative person is more that sitting with you drawing pad or paints or fabrics. It’s also about getting dressed, making lists, and especially the way you think about yourself.
▸ Be willing to adapt and make the best of any project. Even when a project doesn’t work out the way you had first envisioned it, you can change it around to make it work, or take it apart and use pieces of it somewhere else.
▸ Beat frustration with patience. If you are frustrated with a project or idea, walk away from it for a few days then come back to it. Often times you will find a solution just by leaving it for a while.
▸ Many times I get the best ideas during sleep, or just before I wake up. I get up and write them down, because if I don’t it will keep me awake all night trying to force myself to remember it! I also get ideas when I am running, and when I am in silence. It’s sort of meditative to me to be in silence, and then visions come into my head of things I want to make and new things I want to try.