When he envisioned his very first "Hon," illustrator Glen Hibline was no stranger to the sassy Baltimore archetype. That beehived, ornately made-up woman with the cats-eye sun-glasses could have been his mother. It was his mother. And his grandmother, for that matter. He had the memories to prove it. Growing up in Essex, Hibline had a knowledge of Hon culture that extended beyond immediate family to the commercial corridors of Dundalk and Highlandtown, where Hons of all ages shopped and had their hair done.
As much as he loved her, Hibline, a free-lance illustrator, never imagined that he would draw a livelihood from the Hon, already celebrated in John Waters' works and at Cafe Hon in Hampden, home of an annual beauty pageant in which locals try to out-Hon one another. But after potential clients responded enthusiastically to his acrylic Hon renderings, Hibline recognized an opportunity, and in autumn 1999 the Hey Hon line of home-made greeting cards was born.
A good decision. "It was shocking" how the cards took off, says Hibline, 29. At about $6 per card, thousands have sold in gift and museum shops around Baltimore as well as in outlets across the United States. Boston, it turns out, has a strong affinity for the Hon.
Hibline's cards, accessorized with tiny duck pins, sea shells, or big pink, fuzzy hair (snipped from an enormous bathrobe), make light of the Hon stereotype without making too much fun of her. He goes all out for the holidays, creating a Hon with Christmas-tree hair made out of artificial turf, and a Hanukkah Hon card. "Wonderfully tacky," is a description he likes to apply to his Hon interpretations. "I represent [her] in the best way [she] can be represented."
Clearly, Hibline has penetrated the Hon mystique. His grandmother is convinced that one of his Hons is a dead ringer for her sister Helen, whom he barely knows.
E-mail from card recipients around the country also express their gratitude for his creation. "One woman thanked me for adding spice in her life," Hibline says. Another fan waited for hours to meet him at an Annapolis craft show.
When he's not producing Hons, Hibline works as a studio assistant for Baltimore artist Sandy Magsamen, who has parlayed a line of whimsical ceramic tiles into a giftware empire. An apprentice to her genius for commercial synergy, Hibline now produces Hon photo albums, journals, magnets, ornaments and unembellished boxes of cards. In hopes of being juried into the huge annual gift and stationery shows in New York, he's also developing Hon T-shirts and tote bags. In the works as well are an African-
American Hon (think the Supremes at their sartorial peak), and a guy Hon (think pompadour and Hawaiian shirt).
Rebecca Meyerhoff, founder of the American Visionary Art Museum, is a big fan of Hibline's Hon cards, available in the museum's gift shop. She has also helped establish a Hon market in Washington. (Locally they are sold at stores including Mud and Metal in Hampden, 2910 on the Square in Canton, Nouveau Contemporary Goods in Baltimore and Canton, and Pleasure of Your Company in Lutherville.)
Hibline perfects his Hons in the basement studio of the Northeast Baltimore home he shares with Sutisa Mullinix, whom he met at Kenwood High School 11 years ago. Mullinix is also an artist who creates funky picture frames and other home-design items she sells at craft fairs and through a catalog called Art Elements.
The couple's home is a retro paradise, awash with fun-house colors and filled with found objects used in unusual ways. The dining table is a refinished door, and the liquor cabinet is an unplugged vintage ice box. They've created an ideal ambiance for imagining the Hon in all her glory.
Still, creating just the right Hon takes an intuitive sensibility as well as a gifted hand. Sometimes she springs quickly to life in an early draft. Other times, Hibline has to put her down for a while. "If she's not right on, I won't send her out," he says.
And, he knows his Hon etiquette. While he has made an art of the Hon, he doesn't claim to speak for her: "I let her do the talking."
To find out more about Hey Hon products, e-mail Glen Hibline at firstname.lastname@example.org.