Sometimes you just know that you are going to meet a kindred spirit and that is how it felt when I got to talk with Crystal, the designer of the Vintage by Crystal line of folk art figures. Crystal and I have lots of things in common, from our parents inspiring our collecting habits at a young age to our love of gardening and growing foods that sustain us throughout the winter. I was introduced to Crystal by Johanna Parker and after a few attempts we finally were able to connect. Now just a few months later, we are thrilled to carry these exclusive designs at Traditions and of course through our website. These patriotic figures are just the first group of exclusive designs, so get ready for Halloween and Christmas coming soon... And don't worry, the spring holidays will be right behind them!
The lasting friendships we have cultivated with the artists we feature in our store is what makes this business so special to us at Traditions, and after 26 years, I am thrilled to tell you that we consider most of the artists good friends. We still exchange phone calls, texts, holiday cards and life stories. To this day, many of the hours long conversations I have had with the artists remain very special to me. Even if the artist is no longer creating art for our store, they are still a part of Traditions and our history. I wanted to interview Crystal because I wanted to begin a new lasting friendship, and I think it's always fun to know the inspiration behind the creations.
So sit back and enjoy the interview with Crystal! We love featuring women with the talent, drive and creativity that she has, but as you can see from the picture above she looks like she is also a lot of fun too!
As I said, Johanna Parker introduced Crystal and I, so of course I wanted to know what lead her to the path of making spun cotton figures and ornaments. As you will see, it is a winding path that still influences her today!
Much to my surprise, Crystal grew up on a dairy farm where her daily chores were not her favorite activity. After being home schooled until 10th grade, she then entered school and was two years younger than her classmates. She was always known as the creative one, so it probably won't surprise you that upon graduation she was bestowed the "Most Artistic Award". Crystal knew after many years spent on the farm that her life would eventually take a different path, but she learned many life lessons there, including how to look for different ways to fix things. That skill was especially honed when watching her dad problem solve by making his own tool for a specific task out of bits and pieces he had laying around. She now uses her own problem solving skills along with her creativity to create her figures and ornaments. The roots of Crystal's folk art style came from her mom however, who was the collector in the family. Having been a military baby born in Germany, Crystal's mom was exposed to holiday decorations at a very early age. Vintage German style decorations influenced her mom's love of collecting and that traditional style now inspires Crystal today. She is a true melding of her parent's skill sets and we are so lucky that she has combined them in the perfect recipe to create these fun figures that harken back to a century ago in feel and aesthetic.
So many of the artists I meet never work a 9-5 job, so I was curious to know if Crystal had jumped right into creating instead of joining the traditional work force.
Crystal actually did work in an office setting, and believe it or not she loved it! Well, to be more specific she loved the people and the environment, but the boring job, not so much! She spent four years using her graphic design degree to design flyers and brochures for a real estate company in Boston, which was challenging but not as fulfilling as the creations she was inspired to make on her off hours. She was envious of the old vintage, spun cotton figures that she would see online, but at those exorbitant prices, collecting them was not gonna happen! So, her creative mind always working, she set out to try and make them on her own. After posting some of her animal and people figures on Etsy, eventually the response was good enough to nudge her toward the direction of really going out on her own and designing full time.
And so, Vintage by Crystal was born!
Would you believe that Crystal's first "spun cotton" type creation was from toilet paper?! She then tried cotton balls (yep you know the ones we all use them to remove make-up or fingernail polish!), but she really wanted to master the art of spun cotton. She eventually did embrace the old techniques and even invented a few tweaks of her own. After some trial and error and a lot of market research online exploring what other artists were creating, Crystal went full time and established Vintage by Crystal in 2004. She was inspired by the dreamy one-of-a kind collectibles from Ashley Carter of Goldbug Studios, another fabulous east coast artist that created gorgeous pieces from the things she had collected over the years. We sold Ashley's work at Traditions and couldn't keep them in stock! Like Ashley, Crystal is also a gatherer and treasure seeker, finding delight in many things that most people would toss in the trash! She sees the potential of using repurposed items to give her figures life and a different feel than a store bought or mass produced piece. She has drawers and bins full of the found treasures that she has collected over the years, so when you buy an original design by Crystal, know that she has probably included one of her found items as a little token of her love and passion for what she creates.
That lead me to think, chicken or the egg?! Crystal, which inspires you: the idea of a creation or a found treasure?
I wasn't so surprised when Crystal told me, "Both!" She lives in a fabulous (and might I say, enviable) four story home in upstate New York, and she tells me that she has stored her personally collected treasures in four different vintage cabinets, one on each story of the house. Wouldn't you just love to poke around in those! I am sure we would all find things to covet, but we would also see where some of the inspiration for her own creations comes from. She loves old German toys, old crepe paper or chenille figures (ME TOO!), and of course old handmade spun cotton figures. Like me, Crystal also prefers to stumble across a 'find' in an antique store, swap meet or yard sale rather than scouring Ebay or the internet. There truly is something rewarding about the 'hunt'! Her favorite thing to run across when 'hunting' is a big bag of something that will inspire her next creation. When there is a lot of 'things' in that bag, Crystal loves that she can make a group of the same items rather than just one so she can then sell them on Etsy or to a store like us! She honestly prefers to use old, vintage embellishments instead of the plastic or store bought things you find on mass produced items because it gives her creations that 'treasure hunted' feel that today's collectors love!
And now comes an exciting collaboration between Johanna Parker and Vintage by Crystal through Johanna Parker's Partners in Craft!
Johanna Parker's folk art just continues to grow in popularity, but she can't do it all herself! Partnering with other artists to let them use Johanna's iconic designs within their own crafting or artistic medium is another fantastic way that Johanna shares the fabulous designs that she bring to her own art. Crystal and Johanna Parker partnered a few years ago, and in doing so, Crystal amplifies her art by using paper scrap prints of Johanna's fan's favorite faces, applying them to her wonderful spun cotton creations. The exclusive designs that Crystal made for us at Traditions are a representation of this partnership and are a celebration of the collaborative melding of each artist's different medium.
When you are that talented, rest assured magazines, TV shows and even Martha Stewart are going to find you!
In the 2000's, you would be hard pressed to pick up a craft oriented magazine where Vintage by Crystal wasn't featured! Crystal's designs have been featured in all of the best, including Martha Stewart and Mary Engelbreit's magazines. Mary Engelbreit, whom Crystal greatly admires, honored Crystal by asking her to teach a workshop at Mary's studio in Saint Louis. Another thing Crystal and I have in common is we both miss Mary Engelbreit's magazine! But if you want to be even more impressed, you should check out this link here to read a feature on Crystal in Martha Stewart's magazine! Crystal was invited to be on the Martha Stewart show twice for Easter projects, but on the 2nd show, her future husband Ben actually came on the show to surprise Crystal and propose marriage to her! As a result, their wedding was featured in the Martha Stewart Weddings magazine! Now that is cool! It was a gorgeous, DIY wedding that anyone would love and it definitely reflected Crystal and Ben's style!
Stay tuned for more!
Well, I could go on forever about Crystal! She is a truly remarkable artist and such an enjoyable person to talk with. Stay tuned for many more exclusive designs to be featured at Traditions. If you are looking to start an American made folk art collection, you could do no better than Vintage by Crystal!
But for an added bonus, here are some random facts about Crystal!
RANDOM FACTS ABOUT CRYSTAL OF VINTAGE BY CRYSTAL:
- People have always called Crystal an old soul, or an old woman in a young woman's body. They always said things like, "She likes to collect things that just collect dust!"
- Crystal is inspired by Tasha Tudor, an American Illustrator. Crystal hopes that she too one day, will be revered like Tasha and will be out in her garden pulling weeds having lived a wonderful and productive life.
- Crystal grows a lot of her own food (I knew I liked her then and there when she told me that!) and she cans a lot of it to sustain her family of four with homegrown fruits and vegetables throughout the winter months. The day we were talking she had a dining room table filled with recently harvested strawberries, one of her favorites, that she was going to preserve.
- Like many other artists, her favorite holiday is Halloween because she can make something macabre and get away with it, but Christmas is a close second. However, as she continues talking about the holidays you will also hear that she adores Easter, because she just loves using pastels and flowers in her art. She is not fond of bright colors though, and likes limited color palettes.
- Crystal's husband Ben began to work full time at Vintage by Crystal after leaving his job as a therapist. She does all the creating and as she likes to say, "he does everything else!" They work in a fabulous room at the top of their four story home that they call the "tree house," because the view from the windows overlooks the tops of the trees! A magical view for a magical, creative environment... it just doesn't get better than that!
In closing, the thing that surprised and thrilled me at the same time was that Crystal used to use OUR website, Christmastraditions.com, as a source of inspiration. Wow! Such a compliment and so nice to know that our love of all things holiday and tradition has a far wider appeal than just selling holiday decor. Here at Traditions, we are a family business and family is important to us, so it was wonderful to hear how important family is to Crystal too!
Check our website for the Vintage by Crystal exclusive designs.