Country provides identity for writer of series of books

November 04, 1990|By Lynn Williams

Don't use the word "fad" around Mary Ellisor Emmerling. The author of "American Country Classics," recently published by Clarkson Potter, has been fending off fad charges ever since her first book, "American Country," was published by Potter 10 years ago.

That book has sold over 160,000 copies to date, and the author, who was born in Washington and spent childhood summers on the Eastern Shore, has become so identified with the style that she is known as "Miss Country." American country, she said in a Sun interview five years ago, is not a fad, but "our lifestyle, our heritage."

It has also proven a very profitable cash cow for Ms. Emmerling, a former magazine editor who fell in love with the freshness of American-made wares in the mid-'70s. Country shows no signs of being milked out, either. In fact, according to Potter publicist Hilary Bass, two new books are forthcoming in 1991. "American Country Gardens" will be a small-format, slipcovered gift book, and is expected to hit the stores "before Mother's Day." Next fall will bring "At Home in the Country," a cookbook that was photographed at Ms. Emmerling's Long Island home and celebrates the kinds of meal she likes to prepare for family and friends.

This year's offering, "American Country Classics," which has a text by Carol Sama Sheehan and photographs by Chris Mead, has proven to be the fastest selling of the Emmerling oeuvre, Ms. Bass reports. Published on Oct. 19, it is already in its second printing.

Like Martha Stewart (who is affiliated with K-mart), Mary Emmerling also markets her signature style to the masses. She has designed a line of sheets, towels, and other home accessories for J. C. Penney for the past seven years and has created stationery and gift wrap for Hallmark.

Ms. Emmerling's books, all of which are still in print, include:

*"American Country" (1980): This ground-breaker taught home designers that such things as patchwork quilts and handmade baskets aren't just for Grandma's house, but have a place in stylish contemporary interiors.

*"Collecting American Country" (1983): This follow-up volume gives tips on finding, identifying, maintaining and displaying country pieces, illustrated with photographs of notable collections.

*"American Country West" (1985): Designs inspired by many facets of Western culture, including the pioneers, the Hispanics of the Southwest, the American Indians and the life (real and pop) of the cowboys is the focus of this book, which helped spread the "Santa Fe" craze.

*"American Country Cooking" (1987): For her first cookbook, Ms. Emmerling visited friends across the United States, collecting regional recipes and entertaining ideas.

*"American Country Hearts" (1988): A petite gift book featuring one of the country style's most enduring and lovable themes.

*"American Country Christmas" (1989): Another small gift book, a potpourri of holiday quotations illustrated with photographs of Christmas-themed collectibles and Christmas-decorated homes.

*"American Country South" (1989): This book focuses on homes belonging to friends below the Mason-Dixon line, and the special elegance of the region's interpretation of the country look.

*"American Country Classics" (1990): Ms. Emmerling's new book looks at the way the country style has evolved over the past decade into four classic modes: traditional, romantic, rustic and eclectic.

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