Artists Thrive, 7 of 7
Healing was the motivator. Healing and the power of touch.
When Sheryl Putnam’s father passed away, she wanted to work closely with her mother on a project. “We grieved and celebrated my dad’s life as we worked,” she explained. Dispensing their creations as gifts, each pillow was handmade and filled with dried lavender, she told during our interview in July. “We made over 100 in two months.”
When antique malls near her parents’ home in Grenada, Mississippi began offering the pillows for sale, the duo could hardly keep up with the demand. From pillows to purses, the mother-daughter team designed the small purses with antique fabrics, lined with silk and added their personal touch of lavender. Although simple in design, the purses captured the eyes of women and the business grew. “At one time, we were selling to 14 stores in cities such as Houston, Memphis, Jackson (TN), Oxford, Jackson (MS) and
New Orleans,” she explained.
“I had an idea to create a knit wrap, but I didn’t know how to knit,” she told. So she learned and the first store ordered 74. Finding someone to knit for her, she incorporated ribbon, beads and hand-dyed silks into each shawl. Soon custom skirts from antique linens were added to the line.
“About seven years ago, I thought about shutting down. A friend called with a prayer request for a child. I was burdened by it because I knew the child and the parents.” Taking a needle, thread and small pieces of fabric, Sheryl began designing a prayer pocket.
“Inside was a piece of handmade paper tied with a silk ribbon. I sent it to my friend. She was a journal-er and it appealed to her. I made one for her and one for me.”
Affixing antique beads, Sheryl instructed her friend to “wear it over your heart.”
“At the end of the day, I don’t want to put it in the closet with my other jewelry. And I find myself wanting to touch it all day.”
“I am in stores and find women approaching me. They don’t look me in the eyes but stare and say ‘What is that?’” As Sheryl explains the concept, the response is most often, “I want one. You don’t understand.” And the stories of loved ones begin to unfold.
Collecting names and needs, Sheryl takes her needle and thread, designs the prayer pocket and sends it. In four and one-half years, over 450 prayer pockets have been sewn.
“I was looking back and realized it was all about the prayer pockets from the beginning.
The greatest part? The stories of the people who have bought and shared and who have become friends now,” she said.
Antique rosary beads are among her preferred for the prayer pockets. “They have been touched before me with prayers. There is something about touch,” she continued.
A partner for 23 years to her husband, Norbert, Sheryl reflected on the music and how it touches people. “Music is a conveyor of emotion. I tie it in because it is a hands-on craft.”
Norbert Putnam was part of the first Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and produced Joan Baez, Dan Fogelberg and Jimmy Buffet, to name a few. Norbert played bass on 122 Elvis Presley tracks, she shared. “It is all very interesting to me in our economy and our world of mass production. And even music. It doesn’t all last, but the impact it makes on people is substantial and life changing.”
“The creative process lives in the medium, whether music, art, fabric or wearable art,” Sheryl reflected. “True artists are the ones who can create art of things they can find or are available to anyone,” she added.
Now from her home in Columbia, Tennessee, Sheryl offers her pieces via trunk shows.
Among Sheryl Putnam’s latest creations are heirloom collars, hand knitted and containing trinkets dear to the wearer. Equally interesting, hunting vests with an amazing array of items.
“Before I ever started doing any of this–30 years ago–when I was going out, I would place a piece of lace or antique linen in my pocket just so I could touch it,” she admitted. “That was part of what all of this became.”
Contact Sheryl Putnam by email at email@example.com.
Text by Becky Jane Newbold
Hannah Rowell works from her home studio in Bon Aqua, TN. The woods and wildlife
on Bear Creek inspire and fuel her creative spirit.
Four year old twin girls and a one and a half year old boy keep her studio buzzing with sounds of kids at play. “They tend to want to make something along with me, similar to what I’m making. If I’m drawing a bird, they draw birds. When I’m using vine charcoal, we all use vine charcoal. It’s definitely not the most relaxed time in my creative life, but, we are making it work. As an art teacher, I see a lot of value in the experience for them. And, I really appreciate their interest in what I’m doing. It feels like family time. Kids this age have amazing imagination! They are truly inspiring. For the record though, I also do a lot of work after they go to sleep. Then I can really focus.”
Hannah discovered an affinity for charcoal as a medium when she became pregnant with twins. “I had always used oils. I just loved the buttery consistency and the rich colors, but wanted to get away from the toxicity of the materials. I started using charcoals during my pregnancy and realized this was a great fit. I found that they could be very versatile–ranging from very thick and rich to fine and delicate, even fading and disappearing into nothingness. I think most of us think of charcoal as a really messy medium. If you’ve ever taken a
drawing class with charcoals you might remember coming out looking as if you’d spent the day in a coal mine. My technique definitely has its messy moments, but I vacillate between the chaos and control. I leave a lot of white negative space in my work, so that has to be preserved through planning and vigilance.”
Hannah graduated from MTSU with a degree in fine art and has been teaching and exhibiting steadily. Themes in her artwork usually revolve around nature with a twist. Rather than seeing nature from an ordinary perspective, Hannah’s work dives way below
the surface and calls up dreamlike scenarios and subconscious release. You’ll often find snakes, crows, roots and unexplained lights. Metaphors of growth and ascension abound.
Hannah has been teaching art for 12 years and currently offers classes with children and adults at The Renaissance Center in Dickson, Tennessee and teaches pre-school through elementary at Casa dei Montessori in Bellevue. She also does commissioned portraits and commercial illustration work. Her work can also be seen at Wild Duck Soup Emporium on the Centerville town square. Learn more at www.hannahmaxwell.com
Text by Antonia Meadors
It’s called “outside art,” taking throwaway items and putting them together to create art. And for Theresa Gifford, her talent for taking clothing labels and turning them into intricate works of art is also a way to merge the big, wide world she knows into small, meaningful vignettes.
As a young girl, she spent time with a beloved grandmother who taught her to sew and
sparked her interest in using fabric and particularly clothing labels to construct unusual, one-of-kind creations. As an adult, Theresa joined the Air Force, serving mostly in England and Germany. While in the military, Theresa noticed large bundles of rags were often shipped to the military posts, and she was able to rummage through them for unusual labels, which she added to her collection. An interest she had developed in childhood, sorting and categorizing clothing labels and turning them into fabric artworks like pillows, maps and stuffed animals, filled many off-duty hours and became a creative outlet for Theresa.
“It is amazing how many clothing labels are actually like small works of art,” she said. “And they can tell a story, pinpoint a place or time, and when assembled, can be used to make a very personal treasure.”
“The first piece I created using clothing label, which was over 30 years ago, was a stuffed pig for Betsy, my best childhood friend,” she said. “It turned out to be a favorite plaything for all three of Betsy’s children, and it survived 30 years of their carrying it around and playing with it. She still has it today.”
Locations where Theresa served and visited while abroad, such as Germany and England, have been artfully turned into maps that now hang on the walls of Theresa’s Hohenwald home. Pillows personalized with unique labels are tributes to special people and events in her life, adorning her home, and are often created as personalized gifts for such people.
After she retired from the Air Force, her parents, who lived in Florida, bought property in Lewis County and she decided to move there as well. Taking her extensive collection of labels she amassed while in the military as well as those she inherited from her grandmother, Theresa moved to Hohenwald and began studying the city’s streets, its layout and its historical sites. Over the next 10 years, she began her Hohenwald collection, eventually attaining enough labels to create a large-scale “map” of Hohenwald using clothing labels for its streets and points of interest. The map is on display in Hohenwald’s Strand Art Gallery and remains a focal point among the other works of art there. The only other map of a city Theresa has created celebrates her time in London.
Collecting the thousands of labels it takes to create the maps and other special items Theresa needs for such pieces takes time and forethought. Friends provide some of the labels, but Theresa finds her treasures many times among the castaway clothing that is donated to Hohenwald’s Food Bank and other charitable organizations. The actual creation of a large piece of art takes even longer. She says that she collected labels for the map of Germany for over 20 years before assembling it, and the map of Hohenwald meant collecting labels for over 10 years. Add to that the fact that typically it requires her to have 60 labels for every square foot, it is no small feat to complete even one of her smaller works.
Whether it is an inherited trait, military training or an acquired habit, Theresa is highly organized. Literally thousands of labels are carefully sorted and filed by subject, color
and other categories, and she always knows precisely what she is looking for when she begins a project. She has a large assortment of labels, some very rare and old. And many are just “fun,” like the ones she has collected from the period of the 1960s-1980s which artfully reflect those times with their “groovy” names.
Using something as common and ubiquitous as the label from a discarded shirt, jacket or dress, Theresa Gifford has created little works of art, bringing a big world into something tangible, beautiful and totally unique.
View Theresa’s work at the Strand Art Gallery, 100 East Main, Hohenwald. www.hohenwaldstrand.com
Text by Deborah Warrington-Baker
Handmade Soaps and Encouraging Young Entrepreneurship
Who doesn’t enjoy a handmade, lovingly prepared gift? Better yet, who doesn’t enjoy talking to the person who created the item you just bought? My name is Teresa Yoder and I am the owner of Proverbs 31 Crafts and we sell our soaps at the Buffalo River Artisans Co-operative (BRAC) in Linden. My husband and I, along with our five children, moved to Tennessee from Florida five years ago onto 75 acres. And of course, we bought all sorts of farms animals, looking forward to farming. We had several goats and lots of milk. We did not want to throw any away, so I was lamenting about “all my milk” when a friend suggested that I take my soap making skills and make goat’s milk soap to sell. And that is where we were born!
My girls, Zoie, Baesha, and I make over 33 different kinds of soaps, of those, six are non-goat’s milk. We strive to use all natural ingredients in our soaps that will benefit the skin
and smell great too. Most have essential oils, some have fragrance oils and in a few we use skin safe micas as colorants. We also purchase herbs for our soaps from a local herb supplier. Although we no longer own our goats we still use the fresh milk that we purchase from the folks who bought our goats. Why use goat’s milk soap? Here are some of the benefits of goat’s milk used in soap and other products:
• pH level-similar to human skin: It protects the skin from bacterial and chemical invasions
• Moisturizing: Goat milk will leave the commercial soap in the dust because of the natural creams in the milk
•Sensitive skin: Great for sensitive skin because it does not contain alcohol, petroleum or preservatives
•Acne: Proteins in the milk kill acne-causing bacteria
•Exfoliation: Takes care of the dead skin on your body because of the alpha-hydroxy acids found in the milk
• Eczema: Natural nutrients in the goat milk moisturizes plus reduces the itchiness of the skin
Some scents were experiments that eventually made our seller list. For example: I received
a sample fragrance oil for soap from my supply company. I opened the bottle and never smelled such an awful smell! It smelled like rubbing alcohol. Several times I opened the bottle, sniffed it, wrinkled up my nose and put it back on the shelf. Then one week I decided I had to do something with the fragrance oil or it would be wasted. So I went back to the web site where I found the fragrance oil listed. I was hoping they would suggest a blend of fragrance oils or essential oils for this one to make it smell better. To my surprise, others too had complained about the smell.
The company however encouraged all of us soap makers to put this fragrance oil in cold process soap for an amazing smell—and we did. They were right. The smell changed during curing process and soon became our Merlot.
I enjoy working alongside my girls, creating and dreaming up new recipes and ideas. Our
oldest daughter is launching her own line of jewelry when she is not helping me. Baesha, our youngest, is in the process of creating her line of mineral make-up. One motivation to keep expanding our soap and other products is to set an example to not only our young daughters, but the younger generation behind me as well. To show dedication, to find encouragement when we have a bad week and to rejoice in the small accomplishments is my goal.
There really is nothing more rewarding than to see young entrepreneurs answering questions about the essential oils or soap making process that a potential customer asks. And there really is nothing more rewarding when you see these young business people make their sales for the day! So many young folks have a talent and have never been encouraged to use it. Why work for someone when you can work for yourself? That is what I ask all the time. It is hard work to get a business off to a start, but what better way to encourage local business growth?
This young generation needs our encouragement as they venture into business while enjoying what they are doing. When they are in control of their time, they are in control of spending time with their families and their community where they may building relationships beneficial to their life and businesses. If you grew up in a small community, you probably remember the local baker, hardware owner and banker and remember that they were not “chains” but people who built their name with their hard work. Next time you are out at a festival or small shop and the owner is a young individual, engage them in conversation about their craft and encourage them.
Text by Teresa Yoder
Proverbs 31 Crafts may be found at the Buffalo River Artisans Cooperative in Linden.