FISH CREEK – A few months ago, Amy Wilde didn’t know how she was going to make a living.
The henna body artist and jewelry artist had spent over 20 years bringing her creativity and talents to the tent she pitched at festivals and art fairs.
Doing this over 40 weekends a year – almost every weekend from February to November – over the past seven years or so has enabled her to become a professional artist. She has also set up shop at several weekday farmers’ markets (including the one in Baileys Harbor) and has taught library classes on the art and use of henna.
But with nearly all of those festivals and fairs first postponed and then canceled this year by the COVID-19 pandemic that started sweeping across the country in March, in addition to losing its in-person classes and some of its farmer’s markets, Wilde lost almost all of his income from his art. This included an invitation to the Victory of Light Psychic Festival in the Cincinnati area, which draws thousands of visitors over its two days and which Wilde was invited to this year after two years of trying to see it also canceled.
So, as Wilde saw the cancellations stretch into late summer and then into fall, she knew she would need a new way to present her work to the public.
This new way has turned out to be a bit old fashioned in today’s business world – a brick and mortar brick and mortar store.
Wilde opened Castle Art & Import LLC on July 3 on Cedar Court in Fish Creek. After a quiet first month, during which Wilde worked as much on the shop’s layout as on the sale of her art, it is now open seven days a week until the end of October and is currently holding a sale of early opening which started on August 5th.
Inside, she and occasional guest henna artists decorate clients with henna designs, and Wilde also offers henna supplies and sells her jewelry. The shop also offers works by other artists and craftsmen on consignment, including Smartz Cards greeting cards by Tyler Smarzinski, fabric masks by Denise Larson of Wisconsin Sewing Co., and paintings by Heather Peterman of Good Energy Art.
Castle Art has had a website for some time, but Wilde cannot apply henna art – a design drawn on the client’s body with some sort of paste made primarily from the henna plant – to a client via Internet. While selling her jewelry online, she said her rings are her biggest sellers and they are hard to sell without the ability to try them on. Thus, the store offers the possibility of offering everything that Wilde would normally offer in his festival and fair tent.
For Wilde, this definitely follows the old run-down idiom of making lemonade from the lemons served to him by the pandemic.
“Who would have thought that this pandemic would help me establish a physical store?” said Wilde. “I’m just lucky to have a place.”
Wilde, who earned an International Certificate for the Arts of Natural Henna and touts the plant’s health benefits, uses all natural ingredients in his and notes that many store-bought henna dyes, especially black henna and other colors, use chemicals and dyes that can damage the skin. Reddish-brown body art, the usual color for henna dye, can be covered with colorful glitter that sticks to the pattern.
âIt’s like a temporary tattoo (which) lasts a few weeks,â Wilde said. “It’s sort of a unique art form. Many cultures use it. In India, Hindu brides had their hands and feet done. That’s why she’s most famous.”
She said her clients span all ages and all demographics.
âWe mostly get teenagers, but we get a whole range (of ages),â Wilde said. âThe elderly, the children. Often, when parents receive them, so do their children. “
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Wilde got into henna products around 1997 and ran a business for a few years with her husband at their Green Bay home while working part-time with the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. As this business grew, it began to take hold at weekend festivals and fairs in the region.
Then Wilde was dismissed in 2010. She went back to school and got a degree in graphic design, but after graduation she quickly found out that she could make a living on weekends from her design skills and henna expertise.
âI was trying to find graphic design work (while) trying to find more shows to do, and (fairs and festivals) became a full-time activity,â Wilde said. “Nothing was going on (in graphic design), but I could have these shows on the weekends.â¦ It was like a full time job.”
The vagaries of the Wisconsin weather eventually led Wilde to add jewelry to his wallet. She designs and manufactures rings and pendants that incorporate moonstone and labradorite.
“I had so many festivals when I was just doing henna, one of my suppliers said to me, why don’t you make jewelry?” said Wilde.
But this spring and early summer has seen all of those events, along with courses and farmers’ markets, swept away by the pandemic. Wilde hoped to be able to return to work during these events.
But as the end of June rolled around and more events were canceled earlier in the year, she realized she needed to take action.
Wilde recalled that a friend of hers, Amy Maras, told her in January that she was closing her Stargazers store in Fish Creek’s Founder’s Square and that it would be available for rent. Wilde contacted Maras to ask if the space was still available, but someone else was renting it.
However, Maras told Wilde that the space is open on Cedar Court next to the Touch of the World gift and accessory store. Within a week, Wilde was in his new store and ready to open just in time for the July 4th vacation.
Well, mostly ready. Castle Art did not have any display cases, not even a cash register at the time (both are now installed).
âIt was kind of like having our tent in the building. It was so last minute,â Wilde said.
The store’s first month of operation “went pretty well,” Wilde said, although some slower days caused her to question her decision. She said the advice from her mentor at SCORE, a national small business resource organization with a chapter in Green Bay, gave her confidence.
âOn slowing days, I would sit here thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’â Said Wilde. “But my mentor said (to) rent, a mortgage is too high. Rent first and see how it goes. The rent is high, but so is the traffic. People walk by and stop.”
She also paid tribute to the government grants she requested to help her decide to take the plunge. She learned that 40% of the loan given to her by the United States Small Business Administration’s Salary Protection Program would be forfeited if applied to a storefront rent, and she also got a loan. Economic Disaster (EIDL) from the SBA and “We’re All In” Small Business Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., funded by the federal CARES Act.
âI’ve applied for so many grants, I feel like I could be a professional grant writer,â Wilde said with a chuckle.
But Wilde is operational. She still lives in Green Bay and commutes to work while planning to put down roots next summer.
And she is grateful that she is fortunate enough to be able to do so with the help of her family, friends, business partners and partners, as well as the funds she has secured through the COVID crisis. 19 who otherwise could have closed it.
âThe benefit is the ability to work during the pandemic,â Wilde said. âNow I can sleep through the night. “
for your information
Castle Art & Import is located at 9422 Cedar Court, # 4, Fish Creek. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday until October 31. For more information, call 920-737-2995 or visit castleart.com or facebook.com/castleart.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]