Creative team in Camden:‘We’re friends in business’

Posted Dec. 22, 2008, at 7:52 p.m.

As the holiday craft fair season concludes, I looked in on two Camden women who are seasoned pros at selling their creative wares — and who worked together at midcoast Christmas craft fairs this year.

Not only did they tell us about the jewelry, Christmas ornaments, decorative figures and housewares that they make out of polymer clay and other embellishments, but they shared some tips on surviving and thriving as craftspeople.

“It’s not that we’re business partners,” said Chris McLarty as she sipped coffee in the company of her friend and fellow crafter Debra Thuss recently. “We’re friends in business. If you’re a lone crafter, you really have to be so motivated,” McLarty said.

“But if you have a friend to work with,” Thuss said, “you can talk together about crafting techniques and marketing.”

Both women agreed that working at craft fairs is doubly fun and perhaps even more profitable when done as a pair, since it is easier and less tiring for two people to engage with customers.

Together McLarty, who markets her clay creations under the Maridadi brand, and Thuss, whose business is called Star Dance, have combined forces to staff tables at craft fairs and also to sell their products through what they call “the breakroom boutique” method. This entails dropping off a selection of products at various workplaces. Then, after workers make their selections, McLarty and Thuss pick up their payments.

Over 12 years, the two have won many repeat customers who love the convenience of shopping for unique, handmade products without leaving their offices. McLarty also specializes in welcoming repeat customers and their houseguests to her home studio and gardens,

The work she and Thuss produce is different but complementary. While Thuss prefers the matte finish of the baked polymer clay, McLarty goes wild over sparkles and shine. Both produce jewelry, including earrings, beads, pendants and pins, and sometimes they work together to produce book-shaped jewelry that is sold at libraries and library conferences. With the book jewelry as with some other projects, the pair often likes to give back to the community by donating a portion of their proceeds to various causes. This makes good business sense, too, since it gives them access to new selling venues, McLarty said.

McLarty and Thuss cannot resist making items other than jewelry with polymer clay, too. Among McLarty’s handmade housewares are switch plates and salt-and-pepper shakers. She also makes Christmas ornaments that are nothing short of dazzling. Using steel wire and wool and feather embellishments, Thuss creates decorative figures she calls “Star Dancers.” These are notable for their delicately formed faces and for the imaginative flair with which she “dresses” them.

The versatility and colorful possibilities of their chosen medium complements the duo’s playfully creative personalities. “Some days, one of us just calls the other and says, ‘Do you want to get together and play?’” McLarty said.

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