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Artisan Flair

Meet Four Talented Artists Based Right Here in the Louisville Area

Writer / Julie Engelhardt
Photography Provided

Crafters, weavers, sewers, painters, sculptors and woodworkers are, quite simply, amazing people. They have, as if by magic, an incredible ability to take raw materials like discarded bourbon barrel lids, skeins of yarn or scraps of metal, and turn them into beautiful, functional pieces showcasing their artisan flair. Some have gone through years of lessons to learn their craft, while others are essentially self-taught, learning how to sew or knit via instructions found on the internet.

The greater Louisville area is home to some truly talented makers. During non-pandemic times you can find them selling their items at in-person craft shows or vendor fairs. Some sell their products on their own websites, or have shops on Etsy.

We’d like to introduce you to four talented local makers to give you a glimpse into their world, to learn how they began crafting and what types of products they produce.

artisan flairOur first maker is Suzanne Smith, a local weaver who designs and creates beautiful and functional art. Smith was born in Louisville, but she now resides in La Grange. She attended Angela Merici High School, and after graduation went on to take classes in dentistry at the University of Louisville. She currently works as an office manager in a local dental office.

Smith’s adventure in weaving began more than 30 years ago.

“I was asked by a friend back in the ’80s to work for her,” she says. “She was a weaver and would sell to clients all over the U.S. I would follow her patterns and produce a weekly quota. After several years, life took me on a new adventure and I began working as a Jazzercise instructor. After that ran its course, I decided to get back into weaving. I purchased a used loom and began designing my wearable art.”

Smith weaves on a floor loom, as well as triangle and square looms.

“Various fibers are used to create my items,” she says. “The time it takes to weave an item varies. The time it takes to measure the yarn and dress the loom takes almost as much time as to actually weave the piece.”

Smith creates items such as scarves, shawls, ponchos, petite purses and handmade headbands. Her items can be found in a rainbow of colors such as lavender, turquoise, black and white, bright red, blue, and key lime green, to name just a few. Pieces range in price from $35 to $100

To learn more about Smith’s designs, visit finehandwovensbysuzannesmith.com.

artisan flairOur next skilled artisan is Karen Wyssbrod, who has lived in Louisville since 1989. Her expertise lies in creating nature-inspired mugs, cups, dishes, pendants and miniature animal sculptures. She also creates fitted cloth masks.

Wyssbrod holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Twenty years ago she was employed with Jefferson County Public Schools as an elementary art teacher, plus she taught youth painting at the Metro Arts Center, which is part of Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation.

“In 2009 I became a recreation assistant at Metro Arts Center, where I observed great art teachers that knew how to create fantastic learning experiences,” Wyssbrod says. “I made many valuable connections with community leaders and artists. I started experimenting with ceramics about a decade ago and made the move to do it full time two and a half years ago.”

Wyssbrod sells her products at farmers markets and at local festivals, galleries and boutiques.

“During the past 12 years I’ve been contracted for a variety of workshops with nonprofits including airbrushing, decoupage, painting, ceramics, sewing, mosaics, found-object sculpture, and drawing,” she says.

The process involved in creative ceramic pieces takes time and patience according to Wyssbrod. It often takes her a month to make her items.

“I throw basic shapes on the wheel or make slab-built dishes, then add hand-sculpted critters or details,” she says. “I have carved stamps from clay that I use, and I make my own tools. I work out of my home and am contemplating a local studio space. I fire my ceramics in a friend’s kiln, which is usually one to three firings per month. I make some of my own glazes, and also use commercial glazes and underglazes. I am constantly experimenting and have a plethora of ideas.”

Even though creating is a time-intensive process, there are many reasons why Wyssbrod enjoys making her products.

“I love color, design, and the act of creating with my hands,” she explains. “I feel like I’m retired sometimes because I definitely like being my own boss. The tactile act of creating something with my hands is gratifying, as well as extremely interesting, challenging, and a birthplace for ideas and innovation. There’s never a dull moment.”

To learn more about Karen Wyssbrod, go to karen-wyssbrod.square.site.

Marie Drain has always enjoyed crafting and is skilled in many disciplines, from sewing to woodworking. Her items include face masks, trays, baby blankets, burp cloths, coaster sets, napkins and artificial floral arrangements. This year she even branched out into making two of the Little Free Library buildings, one that looks like the Tardis from the “Doctor Who” television series, and another that represents “Alice in Wonderland.”

When Drain first started her business, it was called Marie’s Crafts ‘N Creations, LLC, but she decided to close her business, and the money she makes now is donated to the National Foundation for Transplants (NFT) in honor of her husband Brian.

“Brian has polycystic kidney disease and he required a kidney transplant, and was not able to work once he started dialysis waiting for the transplant,” Drain explains. “I started the craft business to assist in our finances, but in 2020 I closed the craft business and decided all crafts that I made would go to raise money to assist with his medical expenses from the transplant.”

Drain’s whimsical Little Library structures were commissioned by two friends. Drain took on the assignment, letting her friends know that the money would go to the NFT in honor of Brian.

“Someone else had seen the first library I made and reached out to me to make one for them,” she says. “I have a Facebook page that I post various crafts on that can be purchased by way of donation to the NFT in honor of Brian Drain. I went back to full-time work since Brian is stable, but love crafting, and it helps with his medical expenses so I still am active with it.”

To see more of Drain’s work, go to facebook.com/groups/2990544304366909.

Thomas Woodworking KY is the brainchild of Josh Thomas and his father Tommy, both of whom have served in the Army. Tommy is a Vietnam veteran, and Josh has served for 17 years including tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“One day Josh was sitting around his parent’s house and decided to try to make some craft-type items out of wood,” Josh’s wife Tara Jo says. “He bought a small wood-burning rod to burn markings into wood pieces. That led into the idea of investing in a wood laser machine. Tommy already had many of the tools needed for woodworking. Between this curiosity and a knack for designing, the two created a hobby. This hobby quickly turned into a small business.”

The Thomas family crafts a wide variety of products.

“We create wood-type items that are mainly used for home decor,” Tara Jo says. “We created a jewelry and accessory line, which has been the biggest hit within our shop. All of our jewelry and accessories are laser engraved from 100% reclaimed Kentucky bourbon barrels. This makes our shop unique in what we can offer and create, giving it an added flair for those that enjoy whiskey and bourbon.”

Over the years their wood products have grown in popularity and can be purchased from many different sources.

“We initially started selling through word of mouth,” Tara Jo says. “As more people were finding out about our products we decided to expand this by creating a Facebook business page as well as other social media outlets to showcase our work. We started to attend live events in 2018, and that was so much fun for me and friends to become involved in. With COVID-19, we decided to open an Etsy shop. I researched and began that e-commerce process in March of 2020. The shop has been more successful than we ever dreamed it could be.”

You can find their shop at etsy.com/shop/twwky.

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