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by Patricia Fry

Country Business Magazine — 2001

Artists on the Move

American consumers are buying more art. In fact the latest Unity Marketing Research Report shows that art sales reached $33.7 billion in 1998—a 35.6 percent increase over the previous year.

Home décor items are also selling briskly and much of it sports designs by well-known artists. The fact is that even folks who don’t consider themselves art collectors may actually have a lot of art around their homes. The flower design on your favorite vase and the motif on your new bookends were most likely designed by artists who have licensed their work to manufacturers for use on home furnishings.

Licensing means that we don’t have to visit the artist’s studio or attend a gallery show to see and purchase his/her work. We can enjoy their art on our sheets when we make the bed, on the cards we send and receive and even on our dinnerware. Lovely art has become a part of our everyday lives.

The practice of licensing is growing in popularity, which means that Country Business readers are being exposed to more fine art in their home furnishings, decorations and gifts. In light of this trend, we have decided to showcase some of the artists who license their work. Watch for our Artists on the Move feature each October.

In this issue, we profile three artists. Joy Marie produces inspirational artwork for everything from desk accessories and lampshades to decorative flags. Cheri Blum has developed a technique of painting pictures of flowers and related items so that they look worn and weathered. Her art graces linens, photo albums and rugs, just to name a few. Suzan Riggsbee White’s work reflects the natural world and appears on items such as ceramics, furniture and throws. Meet this year’s featured artists on the pages to follow.

A Celebration of Blessings

According to Joy Marie Heimsoth, her paintings reflect her Christian faith, her love of family and her appreciation for nature’s bounties. She says, “The stories I tell with my art are about inspiring others to look for the good. It’s easy to be too pessimistic, too sad and hopeless. I hope my art and messages remind others of the blessings of everyday living.”

The messages she mentions are present in verse form on some of her paintings and are written mostly by T.J. Mills. She talks about this woman who happens to be her aunt, “I love her expressions and poetry. She has a very unique voice. She can make you laugh and cry with a few words. I’m fortunate to work with her and to be her niece.”

Joy Marie has always been interested in art. She says, “I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to paint or draw. It’s just part of me.”

She believes that her upbringing influenced her art. She explains, “I grew up on a small farm in rural Missouri. I loved to be outside, to walk in the woods and to try to see something different than the time before.”

Joy Marie majored in art at Central Missouri State University. She taught art for a while, but she didn’t really launch her career as a professional artist until 1993 while staying home and caring for her first child. In 1998, she signed with CP Licensing and has over thirty licenses now representing a wide variety of products including calendars, greeting cards, gift books, desk accessories, tapestry pillows, needlework kits, rubber stamps and keepsake boxes.

Joy Marie still lives in a small town in Missouri with her husband and two small children. She spends most of her day in the 1885 circa general store that houses her studio, the Joy Marie offices and a gift shop. Joy Marie says they didn’t plan the gift shop. “It started as a display area so we could easily see all of the products on the market. But we had requests for purchases, so we bought a cash register and hired a gift shop manager.”

Joy Marie explains how licensing works, “A manufacturer may contact us or our

agents expressing an interest in my art. After they review my portfolio, they will select artwork that they would like to use on their products—be it greeting cards, pillows, calendars, journals, etc. We then supply them with the art, they fit it to their products and the program is off and running. This manufacturer then becomes a Joy Marie Licensee.”

According to Joy Marie, her licensing agents, Chris Peterson and Peter Spader, do all the legwork involving negotiations, meetings and shows. Her husband, Chris, works with the agents and the manufacturers. “This allows me to spend most of my time painting,” says Joy Marie.

When asked on what items she most enjoys seeing her artwork displayed, she says, “I love Christmas, so I love to see winter and holiday products created with my designs. Christmas is the coziest time of year. It brings thoughts of family and feelings of love and hope. These are things that I think of often when I’m painting.”

What does it take to grow as an artist? According to Joy Marie, “Time, patience and a lot of persistence. Time to develop a style, to watch trends and to allow creativity to develop. Patience to keep you going when things don’t seem to be working right. And persistence in working toward a goal.”

While this artist’s customer base includes a number of mom and pop gift shops, Joy Marie products are also available in large chain stores and through catalog companies the likes of, Hamilton Collection, Wellspring, Dimensions and Goodwin Weavers/Mohawk.

When asked what she is trying to accomplish with her work, Joy Marie is quick to answer. “Art that creates joy in people’s lives is my underlying theme. I try to incorporate this in all my work. I’ve also worked to develop a style which allows people to see a piece and say, ‘That looks like Joy Marie.’”

Timeless Blooms Are Blum’s Forte

Much of Cheri Blum’s art celebrates the beauty of flowers in a style that depicts something old, weathered and worn. She says, “I think there is a comfort level with my art that I like to achieve—I mean comfortable for me and those who view it. I am a great believer in celebrating the intrinsic value of an object that is flawed or worn.” To describe her art she uses phrases like, “ Muted beauty.” And “Appreciation or celebration of imperfection.”

She says, “Floral images come very easily to me but I have also painted objects that are sympathetic to the garden—iron furniture, garden paths, fences, bird baths, rustic objects and even birds and bees”

Having achieved her Fine Arts Degree from the University of Delaware, Cheri. left college with the idea of going commercial. In fact, even as a youngster, she seemed destined to become an artist.

Like Joy Marie, Cheri has always had a love affair with art. She says, “When I was a child I remember hoarding pencils and pens and writing and drawing with them to experiment with their properties. I have always been drawn to art and artists.” She talks about one of her first art teachers. “I used to watch her hands move with fascination. She was influential in opening my eyes to the world of art.”

Cheri licenses her work through Wild Apple Licensing. She says, “My first job out of college was with a stationary company so I was exposed to the licensing side of business early on. The really important decision was to go with Wild Apple. I recognized that their commitment to art and people far surpassed that of any other company that I either worked with or was contacted by. It is important to me to trust the instincts of the licensing agent. If his or her vision is in sympathy with mine, then everything else follows.”

This artists is still somewhat in awe of how many different ways her art is perceived and used. She says, “What I find interesting is how a large retailer can come up with new twists or designs or manufacturers that enhance the brand and offer quality products to their customers. Bed bath and Beyond is perhaps the most comprehensive program that we are involved with because they take the initiative to present the whole Cheri Blum image to their customers.”

Cheri doesn’t take her success for granted. She says, “I still haven’t gotten over seeing my art in people’s homes. I guess it’s all one huge complement. I don’t think I will ever get used it. But I do know that my art is an extension of me and I’m extremely thankful that so many people appreciate it.”

Orchids and narcissus are Cheri’s signature prints and they’re still some of her most admired. She says, “Those two prints were my first big break. When I painted them I loved them, but had no idea that they would become as popular as they have. They led the pack in licensing when I first started to get into that.”

Cheri doesn’t design art for a particular purpose—to adorn a headboard, for example, or for a line of clothing. Rather, she says, “I concentrate on painting. I generally have so many ideas in my head that I can’t paint all of them. But this process evolves and the ideas evolve. What actually ends up on canvas is a synthesis of everything around me. I’m not overly conscious of whether an image is good for a poster or wallpaper. I let the licensing experts work that out.”

This artist has a reputation for painting on unusual surfaces—cracked linoleum and other old items she finds. When asked what she sees herself painting on next, she says, “I will rule out nothing. I may someday paint on concrete or an old door or copper or any surface that inspires me and easily translates what it is that I am trying to say with that particular painting.”

From her historic farmhouse in Georgetown, Maryland, Cheri continues expressing her love of antiques through her work. She says, “I try to approach each project with dedication and inspiration. Dedication to the art of creativity and inspiration from all of the influences around me. I hope that everything I paint is a new expression. I want to keep moving forward. While I’m painting, I am at my most relaxed. It is a very calming and peaceful experience.”

She’s Inspired By Nature

Suzan Riggsbee White planned to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and become a doctor until a serious car crash dramatically changed her career path. She says, “After the accident, I realized that becoming a doctor was something I was doing to please my father and my grandfather who was a noted surgeon. Art had always been my first love.” According to Suzan, “The blow to the head must have knocked some sense into me.”

Having scratched the idea of medical school, Suzan began searching for a doorway into the world of art. She says, “I sent for information about the Vermont Studio Center’s Program and they sent me back an application for a Master of Fine Arts. I applied and was accepted and completed the program in 1997. That was my first step to taking art seriously as a career.”

How does she feel about her change of heart? “I am grateful to be doing something I enjoy. I was foolish to think I could really do anything else. Painting and drawing help my soul to breath. I feel most connected to something bigger than myself when I’m working on a painting.”

But Suzan’s challenges continued. Once established in her field, she developed an allergy to the paints she was using. She says, “Oils and acrylics disagree with my system these days, so I have wholeheartedly embraced watercolor. I’m also getting more comfortable manipulating images on my computer. I recently purchased a graphics tablet for the computer and it has opened up a new world for me.”

Nature and wildlife are this artist’s inspiration. She explains. “Reflecting on nature restores something deep within me. I spend as much time as possible outdoors. I am fortunate to live on an island in Vermont’s Lake Champlain and that allows me to take in the splendor of the molten sunset on the water or the quiet of a walk in the woods. I love being surrounded by animals. When I glimpse a loon on the lake, hear the hoot of an owl or spy a moose in the cattails, I feel as though I’ve received a special gift. Deciphering the crisscrossing deer, wild turkey rabbit and mouse tracks in the snow around the house, also gives me a thrill.”

Shortly after Suzan began taking her art to shows, she was approached about licensing her work. She says, “I met several licensing agents at the gift show in Atlanta. I liked Debby Leggat from Wild Apple and was thrilled to discover that Wild Apple was based in my home state of Vermont. I have enjoyed working with Debby and the other good people at Wild Apple.” Likewise, Wild Apple Licensing was wild about Suzan. They could see that the home décor market was trending toward the Big Sky/Lodge look and Suzan’s art fit right into that niche.

“Designing for the gift industry has been a lot of fun,” says Suzan. She describes her latest project. “I’m working on a new set of dishes featuring a nautical theme to be sold by Zrike. Mohawk Industries produces a number of throws and pillows featuring my work and they are expanding my designs onto tabletop accessories. Blue Ridge Designs has done a lovely job of adapting my work to their furniture and boxes. Santa Barbara Ceramic Design has a great collection of clocks, wall plaques and other ceramic accessories. I have designed a number of sets of coaster for Hindostones. In addition there are hooked rugs by Big Sky, greeting cards by Graphique de France, prints by Wild Apple Graphics and new projects are always in the works.”

When asked about her favorite art subjects, Suzan tells this story, “Once, while riding my bicycle I turned a corner to find a bobcat lapping at some trickling water on a rock face. The bobcat, startled, turned to stare at me for a moment before hastily retreating. I’ll never forget the piercing yellow eyes or the long hairs rising from the alert ears. A rush of adrenaline shot through me and I was transfixed. This type of momentary connection reminds me of the richness, variety and beauty in the natural world. Something untamed and free also strikes a chord in me. These are the things I like to paint.”

Patricia Fry is the author of A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press, 2000).

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