My good ideas seem to expand like foaming Gorilla Glue — starting small, sensible and manageable, but quickly becoming puffed-up monsters running their own show.
In the 1970s, I noticed all the orphaned lace and doilies at rummage sales. Nobody seemed to want this labor-intensive beautifulness. Idea! Buy it and make Victorian-style pillows! After all, you can’t just leave it there. People saw the pillows and wanted to buy them, so I jumped, feet first, into business, naming my new endeavor “Confections.”
This thoroughly confused people, who thought I made fudge. My pillows were “Cream Puffs” and “Jelly Rolls”; the pincushions were “Sugarplums.” OK, yes, the smells from a bakery can suck me in, every time. My Rorschach answers always have to do with hot fudge sundaes.
Pretty soon I was no longer making one-of-a-kind fun projects. I had two sales reps and was stocking 165 shops across the Midwest. I had just caught the beginning of the “Country Home/Habersham” look. I was gathering supplies, overseeing construction, shipping and bookkeeping. My family would wake up to the “CLECHHH” sound of the tape gun as I tried to keep a step ahead of the UPS man. I would get orders: “We would like two dozen pillows exactly like this one.”
There was a whole family sewing for me in Barnum and a University of Minnesota Duluth student coming in the afternoons to cut ruffles. My children were earning their spending money tagging pillows, making the inner pillow forms and going with me as I dumpster-dived for shipping boxes at the mall.
“Motherrrr! What if someone sees me?” The enjoyment and creativity had left the building! Well! That was fun while it lasted; let’s try something else. But what shall we do with all the fabric, lace and stuffing inventory?
I know! New idea! I’ll make up the last of the pillows and get some other craftspeople together and we’ll have a big sale. This was in 1984 — not a lot of craft sales, yet. My good friend was easily convinced to join me in this new project. She would be the business side, since she was the only person I knew at that time who was computer literate. I would be the other side — whatever that was.
And “The River’s Bend Sale” was born, named after our Victorian house. It was invitation only — and no crocheted potholders, if you please. We had lovely handcrafted silver jewelry, beveled glass boxes, kaleidoscopes, hand-painted clothing, beautifully lined baskets and handmade pottery. Twice a year, I would clear out my house, giving space to the vendors to come in and create their magic.
We eventually numbered 32 participants from Duluth-Superior and the Twin Cities. Some of the original Art Dock artists were with us from the beginning. We sold thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in a two-day period, twice a year.
The invitations were so coveted that, during an unrelated event that I was hosting, a neighbor, seeing all the cars, banged on the door and demanded to know why she hadn’t gotten her invitation! The last sale occurred when husband, Tom, looked out the window at the waiting crowds and noticed that the front porch was listing to one side. Time to call it quits and rebuild the front porch. Well, that was fun while it lasted. But, what shall we do with all the leftover stuff?
Up pops another big idea, right up there with putting all your money into a collection of Franklin Mint beer steins. This idea has to do with downsizing all your leftover “stuff,” so your kids won’t have to do it when you’re, you know, “no longer with us.” You’ve heard this before, right? So, in gathering my stuff together to get rid of, I noticed that most of it qualified as antique, or at least “vintage.” Most people, at this point, decide to have a garage sale. Singular. A one-time sale, maybe two days. All in all done!
Not me. “Oh, look! My favorite antique shop has a booth for rent,” says I. I have an idea. I’m thinking I could rent that space and sell all my interesting “stuff.” It’s just a very little space, it probably won’t even take that long. Period. Ten years later, I have roughly 154 square feet of booth space, own three glass cases, lighting fixtures, shelving and various display aids, plus my accountant is raising his eyebrows at my inventory of stuff all stored in half of my garage or in my storage unit that I had to rent to put all those things that have mysteriously multiplied themselves over the years.
Another puffed-up monster, you say? Yes, except that I happen to love this one and I’m keeping him as long as I’m able!
Next time: Whose big idea was this, anyway?
Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at the College of St. Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.