Where the Art Is
Online sales for crafty Vermont small businesses
by Virginia Lindauer Simmon
Katharine Watson of Shop Katharine Watson in Hyde Park makes block-printed items inspired by traditional textiles and folk art.
We liked Laura Hood, our 2004 summer intern, so much we have followed her career. So we weren’t surprised when she recently updated her LinkedIn profile to indicate she had left her job at Google to move east and become Etsy’s senior product marketing manager in Brooklyn.
Etsy.com — since 2005 a site for the sale of handmade or vintage items and supplies — appears to be the service against which, for now, others are measured, and we’d been planning a story about how Vermont crafters were using it. Seredipity!
Created by Rob Kalin, a painter, carpenter, and photographer who couldn’t find a place on the Internet to exhibit and sell his work, Etsy has become a trusted outlet for an immense number of artists and crafters — often the smallest of small businesses — for marketing their handmade products. Shopping local (or international) is made easy.
“Etsy has more than 22 million members,” said Hood. “Community sales grew 71 percent in the last year and new buyers grew 83 percent.” The site was founded as an unjuried, open marketplace and remains that way.
We asked six Vermonters who sell their products on Etsy how things are going.
Katharine Watson, Shop Katharine Watson, Hyde Park
Watson sells block-printed items made from her hand-carved linoleum blocks, with inspiration from traditional textiles and folk art. Her items include calendars, scarves, coasters, and cards. She opened her first Etsy shop in 2009, but switched about a year ago to her current shop name.
Born in New York, Watson grew up in London and Hong Kong, where her parents still live. She studied art at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and began doing print-making. Her studies took her to India, where she studied linoleum block printing.
Her parents bought a house in Hyde Park about 10 years ago, says Watson, who was living in D.C. at the time. She was headed back to India to do more research on block printing and decided to come to Vermont when she returned, to figure out what was next. “It was such a great place, I decided to stay here.”
Watson works full time on her craft. “Until three years ago, I was doing it on the side while I did other jobs,” she says, “and it got to a point where I couldn’t keep up with both. I chose to go self-employed full time. It was a good choice.”
She says she and her work have appeared in several magazines and a lot of Web articles. “I was in the running for the Martha Stewart American Made award and made it into the top 100 out of several thousand applicants.”
Business is so good she was able to take three months off last year to do more research in India, “and I was still able to grow better than the year before,” she says.
Joanne Kalisz, Happy Fantastic, Burlington
All of the designs on Kalisz’s T-shirts, change purses, magnets, tote bags, and onesies begin as original graphics and ink drawings, which she silk-screens in her basement. She’s particularly fond of her hedgehog and pug images.
Kalisz, a 1998 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, began using cute animal figures in a way to express or illustrate social issues, she says. “I would use them on artwork that’s about prejudice, racism, sexism, and oppression of women. Then after I graduated from RISD, it was hard to get a really good-paying job in the arts, so I decided to study psychology. I came to Vermont to go to grad school and give up art.”
Joanne Kalisz of Happy Fantastic in Burlington silk-screens her original graphics and ink drawings for her T-shirts, bags, magnets, and onesies. The retro robot is popular.
To sell off her existing inventory, she participated in art shows and farmers’ markets. “But I found that people in Vermont resonated more with my stuff, where back home in Massachusetts, there just wasn’t the audience that appreciated handmade, one-of-a-kind work.” She registered as a Vermont business and joined Etsy in 2007.
She also experimented with selling through shops on consignment, but found that unsold items would come back dirty or damaged and unable to sell. “Doing wholesale orders is lots easier,” she says. “Right now I sell pins and magnets at the Vermont Butcher Block & Board on Church Street.” She participated in the Vermont Artisans’ Craft Gallery in the Burlington Town Center over the holidays. Although it was an educational experience, Kalisz was shocked by the theft of small items, including hers, that occurred. “It was a reality check,” she says.
Craft sales are best in the summer and the month of December, and Kalisz is faced with a common dilemma. She now has her Ph.D. in psychology and is exploring possibilities that would allow her to continue doing her craftwork while earning a living the rest of the year. Currently, she’s substitute teaching for extra income.
She says she gets really excited when she sees one of her bags being carried down Church Street. “And Eva Sollberger [of Seven Days] made a video about me last summer for “Stuck in Vermont.”
“One of the hard things about being creative and an artist is your mind is always filled with all these ideas, but there’s not enough time in the day to do it all.”
Jessica Schatzman, This Good Earth, Waterville
Schatzman says she has made and sold jewelry since she was 15, “but I like to be crafty with food, too.” It was food that led the Pennsylvania native to study culinary arts at the Art Institute of Charleston, S.C. She and her then fiancé (now her husband, whom she met in Charleston) moved to Vermont in 1997 “because he loved snowboarding and skiing and I said I want to live in Vermont.”
Her fiancé transferred to Johnson State College where he completed his studies in small business management and computer science. After he graduated, the couple bought a foreclosure in Waterville in 2000. Schatzman, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools their 8-year-old son, opened her Etsy shop in 2011.
She makes and sells beaded jewelry with a Native American influence. Her raw materials run the gamut from gemstone chips to freshwater pearls, from needle-felted wool to recycled bullet casings and skateboards. Yep, skateboards.
“I have a friend who was a Vermonter and now lives in Virginia,” says Schatzman. “He opened a skateboard shop in Virginia Beach. There’s a lot of broken skateboard decks, and decks people have discarded when they bought new ones. Somebody bought me a skateboard deck bangle bracelet a few years back, and I loved it.
“I’ve always held onto my old skateboards for no reason. So the next year for Christmas, I said, ‘Please, I want woodworking tools: drills, saws, etc.’ I have a band saw and started cutting them up. You get a board, it has tape and dirt and stickers all over it, and when you take all that off, they’re all different — one of a kind. I love working with it.
The bullet casing idea was inspired by another crafter who was putting crystals into bullet casings. “I took some beaded stuff and combined it with the bullets, and I make beaded bullets.”
She sells her work in local outlets such as Reclaimed Aura, a Jeffersonville shop opened by one of her friends, and farmers’ markets. Once a week for 12 weeks each summer, she sells to tourists at the Smugglers’ Notch Vermont Country Fair.
Schatzman’s only online outlet is Etsy, since giving up on eBay where she felt her items were being lost. “Being a stay-at-home mom and having all these things, I want to sell them somewhere, and Etsy it is.”
Leslie Fry, FryDay, Winooski
A third-generation Vermonter, Fry opened her Etsy shop just three months ago. As a sculptor with studios in Winooski and St. Petersburg, Fla., she has exhibited her award-winning, large-scale works in museums, galleries, and public spaces around the world. She has lived in London and New York and done projects in Montreal but, she says, “I love living in Vermont.”
Leslie Fry of FryDay in Winooski experimented with one of her sculpted images by casting it in tinted translucent resin.
Many of us drive past Fry’s work in our daily commutes on Shelburne Road; she created the sculptures in Pomerleau Neighborhood Park, affectionately (if not accurately) known as the Gargoyle Park at the corner of Home Avenue.
She earned her bachelor of arts from the University of Vermont in the mid 1970s, and after a stint as a book designer in New York, returned to Vermont and worked freelance for many years. “I’m not young,” she says, chuckling. To counteract the loneliness of working alone, she started teaching and, in the process, earned her master of fine arts at Bard in New York; came back to Vermont; and worked as an adjunct at area colleges. In 1999, she took a tenure-track job in Florida, but she wasn’t happy. She decided to jump into her art full time.
Capitalizing on the construction boom in Florida, Fry launched a website geared toward public art commissions. She’s retained her Florida connections, although things have slowed there.
Fry confesses she went into Etsy “kind of dragging my heels,” and with all kinds of assumptions regarding the audience. “It seemed like just making tchotchkes, and I thought it was sort of steampunk-goth types.” She hoped to find a market for some of her smaller pieces with darker themes. Her fine art website does not intersect with Etsy.
Most of Fry’s Etsy works are wall sculptures. She made molds so she could produce more than one of each, “like making an edition of prints,” she says, “but painting each one differently, so each one is unique.” She’s still experimenting.
One of those experiments involved a mold of what she calls “this little house I use a lot in my work.” She made one in a translucent gold-colored resin, took a photo of it in front of a window with winter light coming through, and it sold on Etsy in three hours.
This led to a piece called the Rainbow Row House — a row of four of these resin houses tinted in a spectrum of colors. She couldn’t put it in her Etsy shop until January 30 because of an agreement with The New York Times, which was to run a story about her in its “Home” section on the 31st. It was her second appearance in the Times; the first was two summers ago, featuring her garden sculptures.
Berry Carroll, Moxie B’s Closet, Waitsfield
Carroll creates messenger bags, totes, purses, and accessories for her Etsy shop, named for her adopted cat.
She grew up on Lopez Island in the northwest corner of Washington state, and right out of high school hopped on the trans-Canada train to Montreal, a trip she calls “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” From Montreal, she headed south to Marlboro College to study English literature, graduating in 1993.
Berry Carroll of Moxie B’s Closet in Waitsfield makes messenger bags, totes, purses, and accessories.
Out of college, Carroll moved to Seattle with her then boyfriend, a Maine native. Eschewing city life, they returned east. “We did a lot of moving around,” she says. “I worked a couple of seasons on Hog Island, the Audubon birding camp, as an assistant cook, moved back and forth between the East and West Coast.”
The East Coast won; the last transition was a job with the Appalachian Mountain Club as a back-country campsite caretaker out of Gorham, N.H., where she met her husband-to-be. They moved to his native Massachusetts, and Carroll entered library science school.
Vermont wasn’t far from her mind, she says, and the couple moved to Waitsfield last summer when her husband was hired by the elementary school in Waterbury.
Her interest in sewing grew from the desire to make clothes for herself. “I’ve had a sewing machine for years. I’m a small person and can be hard to fit.”
She began making bags, took them to a couple of craft fairs, and toward the middle of December 2011, opened her Etsy shop. She’s surprised by this creative side — “I’m very bookish” — but says her mother was a talented sewer, a weaver and knitter who dyed her own mohair. “Once I started, it was an enriching experience for me,” says Carroll.
The Etsy shop is her only online outlet, but she sells at the Blinking Light Gallery in Plainfield and is talking with the Artisans’ Gallery of Vermont in Waitsfield. She’s hoping to be able to continue without getting a “day job.”
Using Etsy, she says, makes possible “something I couldn’t have done otherwise. How would anybody even find me?”
Emily Stoneking, aKNITomy and The Crafty Hedgehog, Burlington
Stoneking works in wool, paper, glass, fabric, and yarn. She describes herself as a “part-time college student [history and German at UVM] and a full-time crafter.” She has two Etsy shops.
The Crafty Hedgehog (opened in 2007) features her quirky knitted animals (e.g., a hand-knitted frog prince, an octopus, and a Jailbird in black and white stripes) and is where she sells her mini skeins of yarn, stained glass (she worked for several years with Burlington architectural stained glass artist Lawrence Ribbecke), and original knitting patterns.
Burlington crafter Emily Stoneking has two sites: The Crafty Hedgehog and aKNITomy, where she sells her knitted biological specimens.
“It’s a murky area,” says Stoneking, “but I feel you’re not supposed to sell things made from other people’s patterns, and it’s quite an issue right now. I decided to create my own, and knit small things that could be economically made. I decided to do toys.”
Stoneking moved to Burlington from Colorado with her parents when she was just out of high school. A self-confessed “serial crafter,” Stoneking took up knitting to keep her hands busy when she quit smoking. “I spent a three-day weekend with a ball of yarn, needles, and a one-pound bag of Twizzlers and haven’t had a cigarette since.”
Knitting small animals is what led her to open, in 2011, her second Etsy shop, aKNITomy, where she pursues her “interest in the intersection between art and science,” making biological specimens out of knitted fabric. First came a knitted frog, tacked to a tray as “the iconic dissection that people think of when they remember high school,” says Stoneking. Other animals followed. The earthworm is from her own experience with dissections in junior high.
She continues to expand her line; a recent piece features a hinged set of frames with a knitted brain on one side and felted neurons on the other. Prices are set where, she says, “the balance has worked out so I get as many orders as I really want for most of the year.”
The anatomical knits are “more weird,” she says, so that site draws more attention. It led to an invitation to submit two pieces to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in D.C. “They were interested in my work because it’s not only knitted animal fiber, but also the idea of muscle fiber and tendons — anatomical fibers combined together.”
She’s received what she calls “a lot of blog love,” and mentions Boing Boing, where she’s been covered more than once. Discover magazine featured her dissections online and in print, as did Wired magazine. A photo of one of her frog dissections appeared in a Twitter message by actor Nathan Fillion. “I’m pretty sure it’s the one I sold to Alan Tudyk, who played Wash in Firefly. That’s probably the most ‘nerdglorious’ one.” •