Friday, January 1, 2010

"We pause this programming for a commercial break....LONG commercial break"

OK, don't hit me but this is a preview of Christmas 2010, yes Christmas 2010 which will be available at America's Mart in Atlanta, January 6-13th, as well as all the other regional markets that are held around the country during January. Since the catalog has been mailed, I decided to post the styled shot for the catalog....there are MORE cute pieces in this collection.

Yes, I am engaging in a bit of shameless self promotion.  Skip this post if you skip commercials on TIVO.  Won't bother me ONE BIT.  NOT ONE BIT.   And this is a LONG post.

I have another story to tell.  One of the most interesting, adventurous, eye opening stories of my life.  A story of courage.   A story of taking a chance.   Enough of that.....but in the spirit of another great story, I'll entitle mine......


Many of you know that I am a licensed designer with a company called Midwest of Cannon Falls, recently merged with another company CBK, henceforth known as MWCBK.  This is a company that makes things overseas and then imports for sales in stores like Dillards, Anna Kate and Co., Bow Regards.  I make the original prototype, it is sent overseas for reproduction, and end up in stores like the above.

Some of might not have known that, but now you do.  For those of you that may  have been wondering how I make all those things in the stores, there ya go.  I know some think I'm making all of those at my house.  Jonathan surely does, because our house is more studio/storage/etc. than a house sometimes.  But, I digress.

As an only child, I spent lots of time imagining things, making things, learning to sew very simple doll clothes with my grandmothers, that sort of thing.  My mother and father provided me the things I needed with which to occupy myself.

I am also sort of obsessive-compulsive and have always said "Hmmmmm, I can make that myself".  Not all have been successful, but what the was fun.  And, most often, I was teaching myself how to do it, either by just "studying" on it or reading directions from a book.

One of the first stages was the huge crepe paper flower stage.  All over my room.

Next, the wooden bead necklace phase, where my mom just shook her head at how much acrylic paint cost in 1960 something.  But still, we headed to this store and that to find the "perfect" string or the "perfect" paint color.

Lest we forget, the painted lunchbox purse phase, where I perfected the art of swirly monograms on the side.  A neighborhood idol, the late Carolyn Flanagan Whitfield, beauty and style queen at Tuscaloosa High school bought one from me.  WHAT AN AFFIRMATION!!!

There are more...needlepoint phase, (learned how to do it while sitting under one of those sunbeam hairdryers so I could pass the time quickly) later, the cross stitch phase, where I still marvel at the fact I could make a tiny stitch like that.  Oh wait, I had 20 year old eyeballs then.  More phases, too numerous to mention.

I continued to play with this creative gift while doing things like creating very simple backdrops for events.  One year it was a "Peter Max" styled backdrop for one of our THS proms.  It was not so great but I was proud. One day Jonathan and I were looking at old prom pictures, each with other dates.  He said, "I hated that background."  I said, "I painted that background."  He said, "I still hated that background."  We laughed and moved on.

Later years,  there were more backdrops, table decorations, thinking of impossible things to do in a short amount of time.  (Hmmm, making paper mache life rafts about three days before a themed party?  Jean Gordon and I were frantically trying to dry them in her oven and not let them burn up)

Oh, there are so many, many more.  If you want to hear about them, you'll just have to buy my Oprah's Book Club selection book when it comes out!

SO, big jump forward.  (I have a good Okra Santa story to tell, but again, you'll just have to buy the book.)

After 25 years employeed in one school system, I change to another one.  Whole different atmosphere.  My creative brain, which had not been totally dormant, especially the prior six years to "the jump" began to flourish.

NOTE:  At this point, I'm sure Jonathan is channelling his music mantra..."Don't bore us, get to the chorus."  J, my love, that's for you to do with the songs in your heart.  I have to be what I am.

My friend, Beth Roberts, who has always gotten my quirky sense of humor and art (along with many other folks) had shown me a copy of a 1999 Halloween issue of Mary Englebreit's Home Companion. (May it rest in piece....greatest mag out there, IMHO).

I had seen the issue but had been more focused on the fact they had featured a home full of southern folk art, as well as the private backyard retreat of another southern woman whom I had known back from an earlier first marriage life.  I had NOT noticed what Beth was showing that day......

There were these adorable figures.  Quaint, quirky, vintage, cute, huggable.

She said, "I bet you could make these."

"I can't do anything like that!  I've never sculpted a thing in my life!  Besides, I don't want to make them, I JUST WANT THEM!"

Off to the internet to search the artist out.  Debbee Thibault.

Off to the phone to call local stores.  They never heard of her.

Off to the internet again, to find who sold them.  Then found out I couldn't afford them.   Sigh.

But I would drool on my keyboard over them.  DROOL, people, DROOL.

Fast forward again.  Christmas comes.  We are ready to put up the old lights that have burned on my tree for nearly 80 years. *Note: they burn for 15 seconds, but we count it anyway.  The cord has broken.  I am sick.

Again, off to the internet, where I locate a guy who collects this stuff.  I explain my dilemma and the nice man sends me TWO new "old cords".  Christmas can continue.

How to thank this man?  Aha!  I'll make a papier mache Santy Claus, holding a string of lights!  I do, send it off, and he is thrilled.

Next, I want to do something for my aide at school.  She loves snowmen.  Ta Dah! A snowman.

Then, two more Santas, one for my mom, one for Jean Gordon, my best friend who has accepted and loved everything I've ever made for her.  (Of course, so has my mom!)

I find myself overwhelmed with ideas, so much so that I am popping out of bed at 3:30 a.m.,  working until 6:00 a.m. and then getting ready for school.  Crashing on the couch at 7:00.  Wasn't I a fun wife???

I reach a stage where I have so many things I've made, I can't do anything with them, so I try selling them on eBay.  Slowly I build a following, enjoy some success, make a little money because what I really want to do is buy a Debbee Thibault piece.

Another flash forward...I'm sitting in my PJs (spent one whole spring break never moving from the work table) and have one of my "flashes".    "Hmmmm," I'm thinking to myself..."wonder how much it costs to get one of those little "Editor's Picks" pictures often found in the front of magazines?   "Hmmmmm"

Thinking it cost 10K or something, I decide to forge ahead and call the first number I find in the front of Country Living.  No pain, no gain.   Find out it IS actually editor's pick.  No cost.   My head is reeling.

"Why do you ask?" responds Matt Holm, associate art director or assistant or something.
"Well, I make these little things and thought you might be interested in seeing them, ummm, ya know?"
"What kind of things?"
"Well".....and I am still trying to struggle to describe them when I realized I had a new digital camera and had taken pictures of some sold things.
"What issue are you working on now?" some voice whispers in my ear to say to him.  I realize I can send him Halloween pieces.

So off go the pictures.  Forty five minutes later, I get a response.  They like them, and want them up there.  OMG.  These were sold pieces!  I had to get busy to make more!  It felt like the scene in Julie/Julia when Julia Child is on the porch and opens her advance check.  Jonathan and I were jumping up and down in the ironing/computer/art room!

August 30, 2001.  The magazine comes out.  There are the figures.  It is real.

Are you tapping your feet, or fingers wondering about when in the hell I'm going to get to MIDWEST and ME?

Ok, here ya go....

Spring break, 2002.  Complete repeat of the above. Pajamas all day, working on things.  Another "flash".  "Hmmmmmmm, wonder what it would be like to have these reproduced more easily?  Wonder if one of these import companies would be interested?  But how would they find me?

Yes, the "internets", folks.

I pick two companies, only because I liked their products.  Dept. 56 and Midwest of Cannon Falls.  They have contact info for folks like me who might bring new, fresh products to their line.

Dept. 56 responded right away...."Interested, but give us a week to really look at them."
Nudged them with a couple of other emails and then said..."Oh well, at least I tried."

A couple of weeks go by and I've almost forgotten about the Midwest email when I receive an email from someone named Cassandra Hatten, MW licensing co-ordinator.  They liked what they saw and wanted to see more.  More pictures are exchanged.  Ideas start to flow.

An agreement is reached.  AGAIN, Jonathan get to do the Paul and Julia child jumping up and down scene.  It is surreal.

That was in 2002, and since that time I have designed things for Midwest, now MWCBK.  They have been, and continue to be, some of the most kind, wonderful, enthusiastic, supportive  people I've ever met. They "got" me.  They "got" my art.  They stretched my abilities to do things I didn't think I could do,  like sculpting small things.  They have been as important to my life as my family and the blood that flows through my body.   I am better, because of them.   Many of my "first contacts" are now gone from MW...Cassi, Shantelle, Margo, Angela, Ingrid.  I miss them a lot, because they were good to me.  Very, very good.

Susan, the designer I work with, is still there.  Kari, my new contact with the company is there...and probably wondering "Who IS the crazy woman that doesn't recognize pale colors?"

But I have one more dream.....and am stating it publicly.  My dream is that somehow the "powers that be" at MWCBK and I can work out a deal where, together, we share in making a donation to the Lymphoma/Leukemia Society of America, from the sales made at the markets that are coming up.  So that people who buy my products in their local gift shops know that they are not just buying a gift for someone, a happy for themselves, or something to decorate their homes for the holidays.

I want them to know they are helping fight a disease that knocked me off my feet, literally, on December 10, 2009.


P.S.  I am having SERIOUS stove envy in the picture at the top.  SERIOUS.


  1. wow, all I can say is wow Penny...keep up that attitude, it will make you well and many others! love ya lots! hugs, robin
    I will be attending the Jan 2011 atlanta show rooms (keeps her fingers tightly crossed) and can't wait...see you there!

  2. what a great life story you have Miss Penny! This little "C" detour is gonna bless so many people! You are a passionate lady with a heart of gold and I KNOW your wish will come true! mind still spins with ideas for your Christmas Village booth every time I see this picture!! I cannot WAIT! Let me know how Jonathan reacts when you tell him that you've found a real stove for your booth ;) cause I KNOW you are looking for one. :)

    Love you sweet friend and I'm a better person for having known YOU! Happy New Year!

  3. Penny, You are a famous designer and you like my blog? Well now I am speechless and humbled into embarrassment. For so many years I worked at Gooseberry Patch and loved going into our adorable art room to watch the artist working on next season's products. It was always amazing to see the finished products come into the sample rooms. Sigh! Talk about stove envy! Elizabeth

  4. Penny I remember taking some of that journey with you, and I remember doing all those things as a child also, I am so proud of your accomplishments, now I need to get

  5. that last comment was from Tammy Fitts, I dont know how these things work.........lmho

  6. So... did you ever get your Debbee Thibault figure? ;o)

  7. This is such a wonderful post, Penny, about the journey of an incredibly talented woman! It's so funny, because we had friends over last night, and of all of the items I have sitting out, your snowman collection from Midwest (girl with muff and red/white polka-dot scarf, with two other matching pieces) was the one she loved! (I do,too!)

    I want one of every item pictured in that photo! And, I'm still holding out on hope that you'll be going to Midwest in March!

  8. Penny! As your (self proclaimed of course) number one fan I am thrilled with the new collection! I would whole heartedly love to know that the things I purchase at market will be benefiting something so important. I know that it will be important to my customers as well. Thank you for all the new pretties!! I look forward to receiving Katie soon!

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