Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alice Monroney, Mixed Media Fiber Artist, Tells Her Story

I am amazed at how many people say, “Oh, I am not creative at all. My sister, daughter, etc., is the creative one.” I believe we are all creative in our own way.  If not with a paintbrush then acknowledge your creativity with a frying pan, arranging furniture or a beautiful artful wardrobe.  I did not have my creative awakening until I was 40 years old, after decades in the corporate world. Then one fine day I fell madly in love with a tapestry fabric at a local fabric store. 

I was living in Denver, Colorado then and I decided to make two bags, one for each of my grandmothers, for their birthdays. The bags were well liked so I made 20 more -- for my mother, my sisters, and my friends for the holidays. Suddenly everyone wanted one and I didn’t want to make them anymore! I was not paying attention at all. It was when I made a bag for myself, finally, everywhere I went, store owners would ask, “Where did you get the great bag ... I would buy those if you made them, “ that I started paying attention.  

I hired a friend who is a great seamstress and we designed an entire line of bags from eyeglasses, checkbook covers to wearable art briefcases, duffle and large and a small handbags. Each was embellished with a button, beads and a tassel. The buttons and beads were store-bought (at first), the bags were durable, functional, and the fabrics were fun. We made a lot of bags for each design and I threw them in the trunk of my car and went calling on stores all over Colorado. I drove all over the State, staying in cheap hotels while loving the gorgeous drives. When I got home at the end of the week I had a stack of checks and sold all the bags to the stores! That was the beginning.

Then I hired stay-at-home mothers and retired women to sew the bags. We cut the patterns, packaged up the zippers and accessory items, sent them to the moms, and a week later they brought the sewn bags back, ready to be embellished.

The store-bought buttons didn’t last long because they were way too limiting. I heard about a woman who worked with polymer clay and hired her to teach my us how to make buttons. My creativity blossomed with this new element.

I created a homemade brochure with pictures of fabrics, bags, and a line sheet and set off once again calling on stores all over the country.  I went to stores my friends told me about and then found a book that listed boutiques throughout the country. I called many places and sent letters, following up and a week or so later and often got orders. Then I started doing shows, local arts festivals, and  graduated to selling in Los Angeles and New York City.

I followed my intuition and my heart and used my sales and marketing background. With my design and sales experience, it never occured to me I could not do it or that I didn’t know what I was doing! I just did it.

Ultimately, I sold 60,000 wearable art bags internationally, becoming the “…matriarch of Colorado handbag designers,” according to The Denver Post, and won awards I did not expect --  Best of Denver,” “Best of Santa Fe” and more.

Creativity comes from deep within. The process, I have come to understand, is called divvying -- short for divination, I expect, and was first used by antique dealers who spotting a piece of furniture and knew it was valuable. They wouldn’t know why, they just felt it. This is what happened when I got the fabric, the buttons, the beads and the tassel just right. Something actually happened deep in my body. No one ever returned a bag.

I can always tell when someone has found their bag. At shows or in my shop, women would go through the collection of bags and when they had found “it”, invariably they would just instinctively hold the bag right next to their heart.

Creativity is different for everyone, but I encourage everyone to explore it for themselves. It is a visceral process of being lost in the journey of creating and experiencing a deep contentment while doing it.

Going wild in my studio, making the buttons and beads for the bags -- it is this element, which I like to refer to as “Alice unleashed in her studio with no supervision,” that brings magic to my day, my life and to the bags.

Be inspired, don’t look left or right and don’t worry about what anyone will think! You never know where it will lead.

Lots of Love, 
Alice Monroney

Of note: Alice's Tapestries duffels were chosen as the gift bags for the 2012 Emmy Award nominees and the 2013 Academy Award nominees. Her bags have been carried in The Smithsonian Institute, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The National Textile Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art, and The Denver Art Museum.

This is Week 41 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Alice’s story today. 

You can see Alice’s work at the following links: