Crafting a career: Local artisans build their businesses

Local artisans, from seamstresses and carpenters to potters and printmakers, are proving that they can make a living doing what they love. Here's a look at 10 of Memphis' top crafty small businesses, helmed by entrepreneurs who are turning the fruits of their creativity into fruitful businesses.
The Memphis area has never been lacking in creative spirit, and some enterprising artists are creating big business opportunities with their craft. 

Elizabeth Holliday, De Novo Style
Couture Coat Maker

Elizabeth Holliday is a self-professed fabric addict. Bolts of fabric are stacked several feet high in her storage room, while walls are full of Post-it notes sporting possible design ideas. The Midtown transplant has taken her passion and turned it into an enterprise with her company, DeNovo Style. When Holliday moved to the Cooper-Young area in Memphis in 2007, she launched her business by focusing on creating couture coats. Selling mainly online through Etsy.com, her customer base grew dramatically in 2011. But she found she was lacking the opportunity for direct customer feedback, so Holliday began marketing her apparel at area trade shows and craft fairs. She has sold her coats in others markets in Chicago and on the West Coast for several years, and is developing a growing local following, especially after participating in the River Arts Festival in Downtown Memphis for the last two years.
 
Olga King 
Jewelry Maker 

Olga King turned a hobby into a career with her line of jewelry. Her handcrafted necklaces, earrings and bracelets of semiprecious stones and freshwater pearls utilize sterling silver and gold-plated wiring components. Each design is unique, and all are products of her free-form style that incorporates multiple stones from a wholesaler in Tucson, Arizona. As a teenager in Russia, King finished art school and went on to win a watercolor contest in Moscow. Upon moving to the United States in 2002, she took metalsmithing classes at University of Memphis. However, she decided to go a different direction and work with wire--which led to her love of jewelry making. Her work can be found at Palladio on Central Ave., in cases that she updates every month. New designs come out in the fall and the spring; all other shows are outside of Memphis.

Caleb Sweazy, Caleb Sweazy Works
Furniture Maker 
Furniture crafted by Caleb Sweazy
Caleb Sweazy likes to build things--as he says, "lots of things." Sweazy began making furniture when he found himself in an empty apartment after college, with little more than a mattress on the floor and a couple of guitars. Once he had constructed furniture for himself,  friends started requesting custom pieces. For a while Sweazy worked in residential construction, and when that industry was hard-hit by the recession, he moved into an administrative position at The Folk Alliance. He stayed in the nonprofit arena for several years, but when the organization moved out of Memphis it prompted Sweazy to revisit his options and think about what he really liked to do. The answer was to build furniture, and Caleb Sweazy Works was born. In 2012, Sweazy began constructing furniture and built-in pieces for others on a full-time basis. He still had most of his woodworking tools, and word of mouth brought clients to his door. He found it also brought great satisfaction to his creative soul. Sweazy says his most popular pieces are built-in furniture and bookshelves, because they can be artistically designed while offering a creative way to serve a practical function. He favors American hardwoods, especially those that are regionally sourced, like cherry, walnut and maple. He works with both residential and commercial clients. 
 
Patti Yancey, Kindred Spirit Style
Fabric Purses & Accessories

In less than five years Patti Yancey has grown her ideas for hand-crafted fabric purses and accessories from sketches to reality. After being downsized by a former employer, Yancey had an "AHA" moment and started translating her background in the fashion industry into products under the label Kindred Spirit Style. What began in her home garage is now in more than 200 retail locations. Powered by her own creative spirit and 20 seamstresses from the local community, Yancey crafts her reversible designs, which yield several different looks for the price of one bag. She operates out of a retail center in Oakland that affords her a retail storefront, a back office and a distribution center. She also works a variety of local venues in Memphis, such as The Pink Palace Craft Fair, The Holiday Market at The Agricenter and The Gingerbread House at St. Agnes. A selection of her items can also be found in the gift shop at St. Jude Children’s Hospital and on their website, where those proceeds are donated back to the hospital.

Stephanie Jones, Me & Mrs. Jones
Painted Finishes Artist 
Stephanie Jones, owner of Me & Mrs. Jones

What began as a way to dress up a hand-me-down nightstand has turned into a multifaceted business, Me & Mrs. Jones,  that teaches others the craft of painted finishes. Chickasaw Gardens resident Stephanie Jones traded an investment banking job for an opportunity to work for herself and exercise her creativity. While shopping her attic for pieces to furnish her children's rooms, she realized that with a little paint and patience she could turn her castoffs into useful treasures. As friends saw the results of her decorative painting genius, the commissions began to roll in--often with the question, "How do you do that?" Jones answered by moving from her garage to a small shop on Cooper Street, where she is able to offer workshops on various painting techniques. The business has grown into a DIY boutique offering everything needed to rehab a piece of furniture, including two specialty earth-friendly paint lines, stencils, brushes, hardware and a series of workshops ranging from basic painting to gilding to upholstery. Jones continues to provide custom finishes for clients but now has studios in Cooper-Young and Germantown, where her workshops help others learn how to restore furniture using decorative painting techniques. On March 1 this year, Jones has a how-to guide coming out called "Upstyle Your Furniture" that will be available in her shops, as well as on Amazon.
 
Shannon Cable, shoveIt designs  
Skateboard Repurposing 

Shannon Cable, owner of shoveIt designs, gives new life to broken skateboards as art. As a skater himself, Cable started to see boards beyond their original purpose. More than four years ago, while he was working at a local skateboard shop, he recognized that the boards' bright graphics and colorful wooden layers could be the basis for a different artistic canvas, as well as a different revenue stream. And so began his business of taking damaged boards and repurposing them into art. Cable eyes his battered boards, looking for each board's "story" and trying to determine the best way to present the wood, giving it new life. Combining his love of skateboarding, art and sustainability results in objects ranging from jewelry to functional art like Christmas ornaments, pizza cutters, wine stoppers, bottle openers and decorative objects like mirrors.

Yuki McNeil, Lavender & Ladybugs
Felt Artist
 
Like most artists, Yuki McNeil uses her imagination to craft her Lavendar & Ladybugs creations. But it was actually "imagination-based play" that led her to take up needle felting. About three years ago, when her daughter was born, McNeil discovered the philosophy of Waldorf education. The program promotes getting away from plastic toys in favor of using natural toys and alternative types of education and learning. The idea of making toys for her daughter that were handmade and heartfelt led McNeil to start working with wool. She learned her craft from watching instructional online videos and through information posted on the Waldorf website. In needle felting, wool is manipulated with a barbed needle to bind the fibers together so that the wool becomes a solid medium that can be sculpted into shapes. For McNeil, those shapes take the form of gnomes, cuddle dolls and other creatures that are aesthetically pleasing as well as educational. In addition to her figurines, McNeil makes playscape mats that easily roll up and travel with parents on the go. 
Melissa Bridgman of Bridgman Pottery
Melissa McGuire Bridgman, Bridgman Pottery
Potter 
Working from her home studio six hours a day, Melissa McGuire Bridgman is one of many local potters who makes a living with her craft through Bridgman Pottery. She began throwing clay after receiving several pieces of McCarty's pottery as wedding gifts. She was enthralled with the idea of making her own pieces and did it as a hobby while job-seeking, a quest that led to a three-year stint as a teaching artist for pottery with the Center for Arts Education. Subsequently, she began working from home on a part-time basis while she served as a teaching artist in the Education Department of the Brooks Museum of Art. In 2009, Bridgman switched to working as a full-time artist from her home studio and now focuses on functional porcelain tableware inspired by traditional blue and white china. 

Martha Kelly, Martha Kelly Art
Printmaker 

Since the age of 14, Martha Kelly has known that it was her calling to be an artist. She went to college as an art major and had her first professional show (pastels) in 1999. About five years ago she turned to a traditional art form that is rarely seen anymore--printmaking. Using a process that involves carving a reverse image into a block of linoleum or wood, then rolling ink onto the block, Kelly uses a printing press to transfer the image onto a sheet of paper. She has a 1909 press that is treadle operated, which she uses for smaller pieces, and a larger, manually operated table-top proof press that she uses for medium-sized prints. For her images, Kelly incorporates scenes from her own life. She paints watercolors en plain air that are finished on site, then chooses her favorites to make prints from her sketches. Her series include iconic Memphis scenes, such as Elmwood Cemetery, Overton Park and Chickasaw Gardens. She also captures scenes from her travels. For the fourth year in a row, Kelly has made a calendar using some of her images (available at Burke’s Book Store). 

Brian Maness, Midtown Glassworks
Glass Artist 

In 1993, as a college student at Lambuth University, Brian Maness was introduced to the art of stained glass through a three-hour elective course. Subsequently, he fell in love with the idea of working with his hands and found a respect for the requisite attention to detail involved in his craft. For Maness, the ultimate thrill is seeing the finished pieces emerge, watching the beauty of the way light plays off the glass.
Brian Maness of Midtown Glassworks
After college, Maness worked in the field of sports & recreation for 15 years, but always stayed involved in glass working. Through the recreational ministry work at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, Maness taught stained glass and fused glass classes. He started building his part-time glass business in 2010, and by 2013 his art was his full-time vocation at Midtown Glassworks. Now working from his home studio in Central Gardens, Maness does custom work, ranging from front doors and windows for bathrooms and kitchens to fused glass jewelry and candle holders. 

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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