February 15, 2012

"Meet Mary Elder Criss of Meadow Fork Primitives"

Mary Elder Criss of Meadow Fork Primitives
My name is Mary Elder Criss, I am 49 years old and have been married for over 20 years to my husband Jerry. We live about 2 miles outside of a small town in Southern West Virginia and have 3 great kids. Jon, age 27, Emily and Erin, 20 and 16 respectively. I have been designing and creating primitives for over 6 years. I love to read when I can find the time and ride horse-back with my youngest daughter and sister. It is a true escape where I think of nothing else. I am somewhat of a night owl and definitely NOT a morning person. I thank God daily for coffee and flavored creamer. I love to sing and still occasionally perform with my 83 year old mom in church. I am very thankful to have been able to stay at home with my kids for the last 20 years and make a living at what I love to do and give God all the credit for the gifts he has blessed me with.
      Background—I am the youngest daughter of three, and am fortunate enough to still have my parents living. My mom and dad celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in August of 2011, and have always been my greatest examples of how to live my life. My parents are both very creative. My Mom, even at 83, still stitches and completes at least 3 crewel embroidery samplers every year, as well as designing and making many other items. My Dad still putters around with woodworking, and there is nothing I have ever seen that he couldn’t take apart and fix. I have lived in West Virginia almost all of my life, and the beauty of this state will always be a part of me. 
    I now live back in my hometown and have for about 20 years, in a rural area where I can go out on the porch early in the morning in the spring and summer and listen to nature wake up around me. One of my favorite early morning summer rituals is to grab a cup of coffee and walk around outside barefoot inspecting my flowers while the dew is still wet on the grass. J I love that early a.m. quiet. I create in my own home, although I would dearly love to have a separate workshop, or even a separate area in my house to work in. It is hard to be in the midst of the family home sometimes with all the mess I make creating!! My husband and kids used to get really excited when they smelled cinnamon and saw the oven light on, until they figured out it wasn’t a yummy dessert baking, but some sort of primitive creation!!!

I guess my artist style could be described as anywhere from whimsical to extreme. I aim to give a feeling of true old fashioned “folk art.” I would hope that it reflects some of my upbringing and the area in which I live, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains.
I was very young when I first discovered the “artist” in me. It seems I have always created something…from loving to color for hours when I was young, to sketching and painting, creating flower arrangements, practicing calligraphy, and counted cross stitch, and now my primitives, I have always been dubbed the “Creative” one in the family and anytime there is a need for someone to be an artist in any project for a friend or loved one, it’s usually me who gets called.
My favorite art media is working with fabric, which is really sort of amusing, considering my home-ec teacher in the 7th grade gave me an incomplete in sewing!

       I never received any formal education in my work. I guess I just love to create, and have picked up tips from other wonderful primitive artists who have been willing to share, but basically I have just learned by trial and error.   I draw inspiration from almost everything. I love the changing seasons, and love to create for them. The hues of Autumn are my very favorite, I just love the bright oranges, reds, and golds and the crisp fall air. If I had a favorite season to craft for, it would definitely be Fall. Basically, I just get ideas that pop in my head. I usually sketch it out on paper, but sometimes just go straight for the fabric, which often gives me trouble when I am asked to re-create something!!

      The skills I have found essential to my work are patience and determination!! Though they may not be considered skills by some, they are what gets me through when I have about 30 wholesale orders due out within a 2 month period. I have learned organizational skills are a big plus, and am still trying to find the best method of achieving this! My organization sometimes can simply be described as chaotic.
       I work at least 6 days a week, sometimes 8 to 10 hours a day, sometimes perhaps just two or three, but there is rarely a day I’m not at work either cutting, sewing, stuffing, or finishing projects. My youngest daughter, Erin, is my paid assistant. She is a whiz at turning and trimming, and often helps with staining and painting.  I am currently planning on adding some of my items to a couple of local shops in my area, and two in neighboring cities, but the majority of my pieces are sold in other shops all across the United States that I sell wholesale to. Right now, I am currently selling to over 30 different US shops, all proudly selling “Made in USA” items.
          I am not currently holding any workshops or art classes, but would like to do one at a local college if I can find the time. But, very proud to belong to a wonderful group of artists on Facebook, known as Primitives Wholesale Group, where I currently list my items to sell wholesale to many companies. I also sell in a shoppe at Lemon Poppy Seeds online, and have my own business page on Facebook.  I really don’t have time to do many shows. I am kept pretty busy with orders to fill, and there are quite a lot of other crafters in my area to compete with.
         In my career, the most significant decision I made was to start selling my primitives on Ebay several years ago. I started out small, making handcrafted pillows and stitcheries, and persevering, learning as I went. This decision has now led me to where I am today, and I am thankful and very blessed to be able to make a living at home, doing something I love to do.
Q: What makes you laugh the most?

A:  My kids and sister, we all have a warped sense of humor and fing the strangest things amusing. I find  that    the older I get, the easier it is to laugh at myself most of all.

Q: What are your favorite foods?

A:  Mexican, Chinese and basically anything chocolate.

Q:  Who is your favorite artist?

A:   There are so many women I have met through the years that I admire. I am in awe of a lot of their work. I would have to say that I have probably been the most influenced by Tennessee Ridge Primitives, Kentucky Primitives, and Crow’s Roost Prims. All of these ladies have a unique style that just speaks to my heart, they are all wonderful examples of what I believe folk art is about.

Q:  What would you do if you won a million dollars?

A:   I would first pay off my debts, buy a bigger home with more land, and a couple more horses. I would share the money with my family to help them out, and if there was enough left over, go to a fabric store and buy without checking the price tags!!! :D

Q:   What words of advice would you have for someone starting out?

A:       The best advice I could give to anyone just starting out is “Don’t give up!!” It is easy to get discouraged sometimes. I remember when I first started crafting, how envious I was of other more experienced artists who really seemed to draw in the big bucks with their goods, and I was lucky to make $10 off of mine. Get your stuff out there, to be seen..I started with ebay, and sold on there for about 4 years before I branched out. There are SO many selling sites now that are free. Join facebook, set up a business page, research primitive selling groups on there, research, research, research!!!! Get someone to help you create professional looking graphics and business cards. Go to Antique Malls and shops in your hometown with samples of your work. Many local shops love to carry handmade items of artists around their area. Just be diligent and persevere. It may take some time, but if you are persistent and willing to work hard, you can succeed!! You’re going do it anyhow, it’s in your blood!! Just commit yourself and reap the rewards!!

You can reach Mary at:

My contact info is as follows:
business page for FB is :
my lemon poppy seeds shoppe is:

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