An eclectic collection -- by moms

A new boutique offers women a chance to sell their creations

March 01, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The way Suzanne Wright remembers it, she was selling her photography at a craft show at Historic Oakland in Columbia when a fellow artist, Martha Nguyen, approached her.

"She kind of looked at my work, and in my memory, she did ask if I was a mom," Wright recalled.

When Wright replied that she was, in fact, a mom, Nguyen asked her if she would like to be part of a new boutique, called Mama Made, which would be opening soon in downtown Ellicott City.

Wright said yes, and she is now one of 18 artists selling work at the boutique, owned by Nguyen and Carol Silver.

Mama Made, which opened Dec. 10, features a number of items, ranging in price from a few bucks to several hundred dollars. Wright's photographs of calla lilies and stripes of light in a forest are sold alongside handmade dolls, bridal headpieces, jewelry made with crystals, buttons and vintage beads, dresses with matching purses for little girls, soaps, lampshades and other colorful items.

"Everything in the store is hand-made by local moms," Nguyen said.

Artists pay rent to have their items sold in the store, and then pay a small percentage of their profits to the owners. But Mama Made isn't arranged like a typical consignment shop, with each artist's work displayed separately. Instead, everything is mixed together, and Nguyen acknowledges that she likes to adjust the displays often, keeping the look fresh as items are sold and new pieces come in. "I'm Tinkerbell," she said.

The small shop, which is behind Fisher's Bakery and overlooks the Tiber River, is carefully arranged so that there is plenty to see, but also space to move around. The goal, Silver and Nguyen said, is to create an upscale boutique. They are picky about what they will sell in their store, and have no qualms rejecting artists who are not suitable.

Nguyen said she was teaching art to home-schooled children and making purses and scarves, which she sold at art shows and on line, when she noticed one day that the space was available for rent.

"I was walking down Main Street, and I saw it and I said, `Oh, my gosh, this is my chance,'" Nguyen recalled. She began calling artists she knew, telling them about her plan to open a boutique featuring items made by at-home moms.

One of those artists was Silver, whose grown children live in California. Over coffee one afternoon, the two moved from talking about the store to deciding that Silver would be a partner.

"We balance each other out very well," said Nguyen. "I can be very aggressive, and she's just a softy."

"I was going to say the other way around," said Silver.

Either way, the women say, they've been in agreement on the big things -- which artists to accept and how to display the items. "We really do think very much alike," said Silver.

In fact, their only disagreement, they say, has been over the store hours. Nguyen wanted to open at 10:30 a.m., Silver at 11. Nguyen won, in part because she is the one who takes the earlier shift. Nguyen, who has young children, leaves the shop in time to meet the school bus at the end of the day. Silver has specified that she will need time off to visit her children and grandchildren in California. The schedule seems to work.

Items for sale in the store include embroidered head pieces by Joanna Lyon of Silver Spring; watercolors by Lana Carolan, who used to live in Ellicott City and now resides on the Eastern Shore; beaded jewelry by Denise Martin of Millersville; and colorful ottomans and lampshades from Donna Wallace of Columbia.

Silver sells jewelry made with vintage buttons, and Nguyen sells her bags and scarves, as well as dresses for little girls.

The women have many plans for the store. They may host wine-and-cheese parties or stage artist demonstrations once the weather gets nicer. And they probably will extend their hours, too.

Silver said the goal of the store is to provide a venue for mothers who create artwork at home, but motherhood isn't really a requirement. They would accept work from women who aren't mothers, and even from dads, they said.

Wright, who has two teenage daughters, said she sold plenty of photos at Mama Made in the two weeks before Christmas, but last month and this month were slower. She noted that fewer people walk around in downtown Ellicott City when the weather is cold, and the store's location makes it difficult to spot.

But she likes the idea of selling her work in a boutique.

She has been selling her photos for more than three years, and she finds the routine of traveling to craft shows weekend after weekend wearying and expensive. She plans to reduce the number of shows she attends, she said. "I'm not willing to travel as much because I do have a family," she said.

Mama Made is at 8147 Main St., Ellicott City. 410-418-8577. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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