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Artist no longer 'starving' thanks to friends

Paul Wiseman/ Midland Reporter-Telegram

Special to the Oil Report

Through history the issue of how to separate the word "starving" from the occupation of "artist" seems to have been ever present.

Vincent Van Gough, among others, was almost as well known for his poverty as for his art.

While poverty is not an issue for Anita Goudeau, she can identify with the struggle of how to make a living from being creative, as owner of Anita Goudeau Designs. Through the years she has moved from working part-time at home to owning her own inspirational retail store with a 2,000 square-foot sales floor plus approximately 150 wholesale customers across the United States.

"I first decided to go into business for myself working in my garage at home," Goudeau recalls. "In order to pay the rent and utilities, I would work at my workbench during the day -- making one-of-a-kind jewelry -- and at 5, I would go clean office buildings. I worked at that job until 10 at night cleaning desks and dirty bathrooms."

Cleaning up after other people gave her a different perspective on life and offered some motivation to get her craft to the point where she could leave office cleaning behind.

Goudeau's parents helped her when she was sick or otherwise unable to work. "I couldn't have done this without my family and friends," she says.

That group includes certain other jewelers in town, who would send repairs her way -- especially southwestern jewelry, which is mostly silver. Most jewelers, she said, don't like to work with silver.

For Goudeau, however, who received much of her training from Navajo silversmiths in New Mexico, southwestern jewelry was part of her passion.

During this time Goudeau began to realize that she could expand her sales opportunities by concentrating on the design of jewelry and letting others mass produce it. Her signature "Cross My Heart" design came about during this time and was among the first pieces to be so replicated.

She went back to the Navajo silversmiths in Albuquerque, among whom she had trained, for help in the production process.

"This (mass production) allowed me to build my inventory as well as giving me more sales momentum," Goudeau states.

She was also building her collection of needed equipment while working at home. She bought a buffing machine, stone cutting equipment and other machinery that helped her branch out into new areas of design.

Rather than trying to apply for small business loans, she used credit cards to make those purchases which, she adds, "I do not recommend."

She even sold a prized 1964-1/2 Mustang to pay some bills.

"I was not starving," she emphasizes, at least in part because of help from family. She was diligently working to gain exposure in the area, displaying her work at Celebration of the Arts, Septemberfest (at the Museum of the Southwest) and other local venues.

In the early 1990s she moved from her first house to another rent house, on Michigan Street, that had a concrete pad on which she put a 12-foot-by-24-foot metal building to use as a workshop.

Goudeau had saved filings from her buffing machine along with pieces of scrap metal, keeping it in bags. Sending those filings to a refiner, to be melted down, gave her the money to purchase the metal building.

More help came at this time in the form of the manager of the jewelry store in which Goudeau had first started working with jewelry after being laid off from a job in an oil company office. This manager stopped by the workshop every day to help string beads. "That helped out a lot in the early days," Goudeau recalls.

Though she was continuing to work and expand her business, Goudeau was not immune to bouts of discouragement during this time.

"I did think about 'getting a real job' sometimes," she admits, adding that friends and family kept encouraging her to continue. This encouragement was particularly vital during a season in which Goudeau had to take extensive time off for treatment of an illness.

Eventually, it became apparent that she could not continue to operate an essentially retail business in a residential area, so she opened her first storefront operation on North Big Spring, using half of a building owned by Ray and Libby Sharp. Libby Sharp had operated A Better Letter in this converted residence, then sold that business and opened a card business in the same location. Sharp only needed half the space for the newer line, so she let Goudeau use the other half.

Goudeau met the Sharps through Van Mabee, who has essentially handled the business end of Anita Goudeau Designs for approximately six years now.

"(Van) is an integral part of the business," Goudeau relates. "Because of her business sense and her business instincts, I can just be an artist. I don't have to worry about the other side -- I trust her."

More help came in the form of a group of ladies who stuffed 1,500 prayer boxes that had been ordered by a major TV ministry during the time Goudeau was ill. The ladies did the work without pay. Some of them now work for Goudeau for pay.

About the time she moved to the Big Spring Street location Goudeau began producing a catalogue to help promote both local retail sales and wholesale orders at trade shows. She does not track catalogue sales separately, partly due to the fact that many people who receive a catalogue still go by the store in person to buy, carrying a list they've made after browsing the catalogue for a few days.

Just over two years ago it became apparent that the business had outgrown its Big Spring Street spot. Goudeau said the move to the current location at Plaza Oaks entailed a "huge step," and every point along the way was a "huge leap of faith." Those steps included signing a five-year lease and having a sign installed with her name on it that "felt too big" when it went up.

At first she and Mabee didn't know how they were going to fill such a large (2,000-plus square foot) sales floor. Now they've added some merchandise, such as boxes, greeting cards and more, from other artists, to the point that the sales floor is again filling up. Goudeau may, at some point, have her office taken out for sales space and move her creative work back home. This move, she says, would be hard because, even though there are times she needs quiet, she enjoys the interaction with other people.

Sometimes people approach Goudeau and Mabee asking if they would consider opening another location of Anita Goudeau Designs in another city. Goudeau says her response is, "If you want to open an inspirational store and carry this line of merchandise, that's okay." But Goudeau feels it would be difficult, if not impossible, to really recreate the atmosphere of her store anywhere else.

While Goudeau has taken steps aimed at expanding her business, she credits the help of family, community and God for taking her to the level she is currently at. As for the future, she has a few more years on the current lease, and can't imagine moving to a larger location. But, a few years ago, she could not imagine getting to a 2,000 square foot location in Plaza Oaks, either.


Posted:
2006-09-15

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