We’re delighted to have launched three new product lines last week featuring the art of Canadian illustrator Leanne Theissen.
Leanne owns an art and stationery company in Lorette, Manitoba called Paper Canoe. We initially met Leanne a couple of years ago at the Scattered Seeds craft show in Winnipeg, so launching this line has me feeling nostalgic about our time spent at craft shows.
Before we met, my husband Don worked as an independent and well known set designer for Canadian theater companies. He was tasked with creating a flying bird for a production of The Little Prince and built a monumental creature, with wings and body that could be set in motion by the pull of a toggle. It was a tremendous success.
Empowered by this triumph, Don crafted a living room-sized prototype of his theater-sized bird which he gave to his brother for Christmas. Again it was a big hit, so Don put his woodworking skills to use, made a few more, and convinced some stores around Vancouver to sell them.
Then Don applied to be a vendor at Circle Craft, a Christmas craft show that at that time took place at the East Vancouver Cultural Center (fondly known locally as The Clutch). Today it's expanded and occupies the Vancouver Convention Center. It is organized and hosted by a fantastic artist cooperative of the same name. Formed in 1972, Circle Craft is one of the most successful promoters of quality craft in Canada.
The show was pure magic with craft lovers buzzing around an old atmospheric building creating an intoxicating pre-Christmas winter spirit. I met Don shortly after this first show. My initial impression of him was that he was one of the most exciting people I’d ever encountered.
After we met, Don and I decided to apply to be vendors at some national craft shows. We borrowed money to make enough birds to cover the cost of shipping, flights, and accommodation and then we hit the road. It was a game-changer. We sold all of the birds and Don proposed to me in the Ottawa airport on the way home.
The following year we went to even more shows. The year after that our first child, Erica, attended her inaugural craft show in a basket in our booth. Two years later our son Aubrey joined her. When our third child, Amy, was born we decided to let Grandma babysit, yet Amy was the one who grew up to share this uncommon passion.
We’ve recreated ourselves countless times in the last four decades but craft shows are the one constant in our yearly calendar. Over the years we’ve regularly attended shows in Victoria, Vancouver, Prince George, Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.
Being a craft show vendor is a strange pursuit that’s equal parts joy and toil. It’s nomadic for a time, unpredictable all the time, and always backbreaking work. We start every year by conjuring up a bunch of new product ideas we fiercely hope people will love. Then we spend months making what we hope is the right amount of products.
The craft show season officially starts in early winter and preparing for it is truly epic. We have to produce the goods, build or update our booths, pack up our products, and then organize shipping and travel logistics for twelve different cities. It’s intense and emotional with a year of financial well-being on the line.
Once at the show, setting up requires four strong people. Over the years our booth has grown into the equivalent of a well established retail outlet complete with walls, beams, specialized lighting, and complex displays. When the doors open, we sell, sell, sell for twelve hours a day. When the doors close we pack everything up and move on to the next city.
Sometimes we make money and sometimes we don’t. So many things can, and have gone wrong. We’ve had unexpected snowstorms that have killed attendance, booths, and or products shipped to the wrong city, injuries, illness, and every other manner of unexpected outcome you can think of.
However, no matter what, it’s worth it. Over the years we’ve become part of a community of makers that we absolutely cherish. It’s an intimate group of people who one hundred percent understand what each other is experiencing.
Other crafters know why you’re yawning before the first customer even reaches your booth. They, like us, have no pension, little savings, and live an unpredictable sort of life. They also understand that making beautiful things is how you feel alive.
We look forward to reconnecting with our community of crafters every year. We’ve known some of these folks for decades, and watched each other raise children and grow old. They inspire our craft as well as provide the wonderful uncommon products we sell in our retail and web stores.
The serendipity of reconnecting with Leanne Thiessen last year is a perfect example of how craft shows enrich our lives and business. I’d met her one time before and loved her work so much it literally stopped me in my tracks. We started selling her greeting cards and journals in our retail store last year.
I love her joyful, innocent, and whimsical style and think it is as sweet as can be. I feel enormous excitement and gratitude that Leanne agreed to let us license her work. I think it’s the start of something wonderful.
We’ve printed Leanne’s whimsical images on wood and are selling them in framed art with handmade cedar frames, on adorable miniature magnets, and on simple wall plaques. We love them and hope you do too. Shop our new Paper Canoe collection.
Sadly, this year will be the first time in decades that we don’t attend craft shows because they're all canceled due to COVID. We can hardly imagine a year without them. However, like always we’re sure something good will emerge and cannot wait to find out what it is.
Suzanne Zacharias, Co-Founder & Head Tea Drinker
Cedar Mountain Studios