Art for the Masses
Pickering Rothamel, a spunky sixty-three-year-old artist and entrepreneur with a shock of purple in her hair, leads a tour through the 12,000-square-foot building that formerly housed a machine shop. "I don't know where to begin!" she says. She grabs a bottle of Perfect Paper Adhesive from a shelf in the art supply showroom and explains that the glue was her first patented art product more than twenty years ago, when she started what at first was a home-based business. "I just kept stretching--offering products I thought artists could use," she says, including art instruction videos, brushes, and paints--many, like the adhesive, of her own invention. She now sells to some 700 retailers as well as online and at the store.
When she heard last year that Ann Arbor's Creative Papers Online was going out of business, she purchased its inventory--half a million sheets of art paper--and has devoted part of the building to it. She walks along row after row of meticulously sorted paper--"tissue weight to cardboard"--from all over the world, in varied hues, patterns, and textures. There are leather-like sheets that she says interior designers use for lamp shades, raised floral patterns that are popular for wedding invitations, and standard card stock that kids can use for school projects. "This just makes your heart sing!" she says, as she pulls out an Indian silk-screen print in a bright blue and gold design. Each sheet of handmade paper is about twenty-two by thirty inches, and most sell for from $5 to $7; they're popular with bookmakers and "traditional crafters," she says.