No two snowflakes are the same. And Linda Studebaker knows it.
Studebaker, 59, is a Sumner artist who has created and sold thousands of hand-painted ornaments and other household items during the past 35 years. From Santas and Christmas flowers, snowmen to cats and holly to reindeer, she follows the same patterns yet uniquely sets each one apart from the others. Including snowflakes.
“You can have the same design and use the same paint,” she said. “But they will always turn out different than any other.”
She may be an expert now, but Studebaker seemed far from showing signs of displaying artistic talent when she took her first tole painting lesson.
“I took a painting class at the old Ernst Hardware store in Puyallup and I was the worst painter in class,” she admitted. “But I continued.”
Her persistence paid off through the progression of her designs. With careful brush strokes her talent improved, one design at a time.
“I painted a year and then started selling things at Daffodil Elementary to the staff,” she said. “The teachers thought it was the greatest thing since sliced pie.”
As Studebaker’s talent grew, so did her confidence. Soon she was teaching painting in her home. Two of her first students, Carmen Blankenship and Mary McBroom, developed their talents and continue to meet weekly to paint at her dining room table. But now, rather than students, she praises them and refers to them as her “friends who both paint so beautifully.”
“It’s a coffee klatch,” Studebaker affectionately said. “They paint and I serve them coffee.”
It’s that kind of warmth that has attracted the community to her painting and made a ready market for such products as recipe boxes, ornaments, napkin holders and lap work desks.
With her work well-received, she hosted several open houses and soon discovered another avenue for her designs.
“I was on vacation in Leavenworth in the ‘80s,” she said of the Bavarian-themed Washington town. “I visited ‘The Little Shop’ and asked the lady who owned it if she’d like to see any products that featured apples painted on them. She thought about it and said, ‘oh, I don’t know, Dear.’”
Studebaker returned home and for the next eight months creatively set her brush to the task. She returned a variety of finished products to the shop’s owner, who was eager to place orders, along with another Leavenworth business.
Then, back problems forced her to take a six-month sabbatical from her work. The time off gave her plenty of opportunities to plan such designs as daisies, strawberries, chrysanthemums and cherries on everyday household items. Her strength renewed, she applied each of them onto items and sold them once again to educators, who were eager to buy personalized gifts.
“I like to paint on useable objects,” she explained.
Of all her paintings, Studebaker said the one that brought the most challenge occurred a few years ago when one of her students sought to paint a mailbox as a gift to her pharmacist.
“She wanted to paint an open-mouth bass,” she said. “We worked hard on that. I didn’t even know what the fish looked like. So we had to study pictures. We painted it jumping out of the water; it was absolutely beautiful.
“I knew after that, I could paint almost anything,” she said.
And she does – from old, discarded sleds and student chairs to antique school desks and even old metal Crisco cans, Studebaker has added a personal touch to everything she sets her brush to. That kind of artistic effort has come to be appreciated among surrounding communities. One of those is Buckley, where her hand-painted round ornaments are sold each holiday season at Rose’s IGA in Buckley. The public’s response continues to amaze her.
“It still surprises me that people purchase so many ornaments,” she said. “It just tickles me. Everybody in Buckley must have one of these because I’ve sold hundreds of them.”
Behind the sales, the five coats of base paint and the details poured into each item, come intimate stories; like the angel ornament she painted last year that was later presented to a mother grieving at the loss of her daughter.
“The woman thanked me,” she humbly said.
Studebaker keeps the buyers’ budgets in mind when she sells each ornament.
“With the economy the way it is, Christmas ornaments are not a necessity,” she said. “For one ornament you can buy some food for your table. So I’ve always priced them so they can afford it.”
She shared the philosophy behind her artwork and offered sage advice to those who desire to work with handiwork.
“Anytime you start with anything, it takes time to learn,” she said. “You have to learn to laugh at yourself and not take yourself so seriously. You have to have a love for what you do. Otherwise, you need to find a real job with benefits.”
For more information on Studebaker’s hand-painted designs or to place orders, call 360-829-0810.
Reach Judy Halone at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-802-8210.