It’s ‘Meet A Maker!’ tiiiiiiiiiime! And I’m really excited! I just love sharing these interviews with the world! Getting to pick the brains of people who create amazing art from nothing… it’s always a real treat! I’m especially enjoying watching what common themes run through the entirety of this series, as well as the differences in each artists’ answers!
This month, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to my friend and ‘Amerikan Made Glass’ owner, Erika Kaiser! She’s also the founder and creator of the project, ‘Tiny Turtles Wearing Top Hats.’ (More on this shortly.) She’s a lovely person and a very talented artist!
And before we start, y’all know the drill: *This is not a sponsored post, and I did not receive any compensation to feature Erika Kaiser or ‘Amerikan Made Glass.’ I’m just very passionate about supporting small businesses and want to share her delightful work with you!*
APFE: What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?
EK: At a young age, I was led to believe that art couldn’t be a career, that you should do something more practical for a living. When I enrolled in glass blowing classes, I don’t think I did it with the intention that it would be my career, but I always dreamed it would. I started making these turtles, and people wanted them. Between the demand from a very small public and an idea to leave these turtles in places during my travels, I came up with the project #TinyTurtlesWearingTopHats! I make other things well! After having my art noticed online, a woman who was interested in opening an art co-op asked me to be vendor. Thus, ‘Amerikan Made Glass’ was born!
APFE: What sets you apart from other makers?
EK: As a creator, I always feel a connection to other creative people and have always had a hard time with this question… I’ll say it would be imagination. No two are the same, and that’s what I feel makes people want to own a piece of my art. The art I make tends to be colorful and silly, which I guess could be a refection of myself.
APFE: Tell me about your background as a maker/artist and your education and work experience.
EK: After graduating Bohemia Manor High School, I started classes toward a Glass Art Degree at Salem Community College in New Jersey; I have over 50 credits toward an Associate’s Degree. I currently work a few part-time jobs to earn a living while still focusing on my art. I work as a cashier at a liquor store, a server at a fine dining restaurant, and a bud tender at a local medical cannabis dispensary.
APFE: How would you describe your business?
EK: I’m a mixed media artist working mainly in soft glass. I make a lot of pendants and sculptural pieces as well as custom orders. I sell my art at an artist co-op in Morgantown, PA called Clock Tower MarketPlace and take any orders through DM on Instagram and Facebook, as well through email.
APFE: What do you think you offer over your competitors?
EK: Again this is a tough one… Because what I make isn’t always something you need. The #ttwth are something you participate in, and I think that makes them a little irresistible.
APFE: What’s one skill that seems non-related to your field, that you’ve found to be surprisingly most helpful?
EK: Networking and having the ability to speak with peers and superiors. It’s not always easy, but it’s something that you gotta get used to!
APFE: How do you advertise/make people aware of your products?
EK: I rely on social media, word of mouth advertising, and any marketing that the owners of Clock Tower do that may include my art. I also feel that the nature of the project lends a helping hand in that department.
APFE: Do you have a separate space for making?
EK: My boyfriend and I have a spare room that we have made our creative space (he plays and writes music). And anything non-glass happens right in our home! I have a small flame working studio at my mom’s, and that’s where all the melting happens.
APFE: What do you do when you’re not making and creating?
EK: Outside of work and art, I enjoy nature, animals, music, and spending time with my loved ones. Whether it’s hiking with my dog, a trip to the beach, a low key dinner party, a concert, or enjoying some down time playing Borderlands 2 with my boyfriend, I’m just looking to enjoy the time I have with the ones I love.
APFE: Do you have a mission statement for your business?
EK: Just spread the love! #ttwth is a project meant to create a community among strangers that wouldn’t normally exist. Love one another in a world that teaches a very negative way of living… We’ve gotta change that, and it all starts with a little love.
APFE: Who is your business inspiration? And creative inspiration?
EK: I find inspiration in all kinds of stuff—my friends, nature, music, animals. So basically anything I love is fair game.
APFE: Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? The next ten years?
EK: I try not to think that far ahead, stresses me out. Because everything is so uncertain, I try and live in the present moment and always grow. As long as I’m not stagnant, I’m happy.
APFE: What do you do with your profits?
EK: Mostly all of my profits are reinvested into making new art. There is a portion of my proceeds that are donated to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Glass is pretty sensitive and can literally blow up from shock if I’m not careful, so instead of throwing out the glass, I remelt it and make #recycledturtles! And a portion of their proceeds are given to the EDF!
APFE: Do you have employees? If not, do you plan to?
EK: I do not have any employees, and I think, in order to give my patrons consistency, I may keep it to a one woman show.
APFE: How would you describe your customers?
EK: Some of them are turtle fanatics, English nerds, social butterflies, storytellers, good listeners. But I would say all of them are delightfully admirable people.
APFE: Why do your customers select you over your competitors?
EK: I think, in the industry I’m in, it’s not necessarily about choosing one over the other but adding to your collection of artists. I’m a pretty personable type, so when I start talking art with somebody, it most of the time triggers a “Oh man, I want one of those!” type of comments. The fact that my art is affordable by mostly everyone helps.
APFE: Related to the previous questions, why choose handmade goods over fast-fashion/mass produced goods?
EK: It goes back to spreading the love… Supporting small businesses and art is part of what builds a strong community.
APFE: Before we go, let’s hear all the details about Tiny Turtles Wearing Top Hats!
EK: #ttwth is a project I started in 2013. It was partially inspired by both geocaching and Luke Jarram’s “Play Me, I’m Yours” project.
The first #ttwth ever to be created was a gift I made for a friend, and he wasn’t quite as dapper as the newer turtles since he wasn’t wearing a top hat. I thought he was neat and wanted to make him a little cooler… I remembered learning about alliteration and consonance in high school and came up with the idea of a top hat that seemed too perfect! What I do is create these turtles and set them free. I have been known to do #tinyturtledrops, where I leave the turtle fixed to greeting cards. Whether it’s waiting for you on a gas pump or in the middle of the woods on a hike, you could literally find them on any outing! I also enjoy all types of adventures, and sometimes when I’m out and about, I collide with the paths of some pretty spectacular souls, and I choose to gift a turtle to those special people. Other times, really cool folks who support local artists buy turtles! Once you look into the hashtag, you notice that some others have turtles too, and they introduce their #ttwth buddies and share their adventures with the tiny turtle society!
Here are the rules if you’d also like to play along!
1) Acquire a turtle.
2) Tell the community how your new found friend came to be in your possession: You either found one while out on an adventure, were gifted one from yours truly, or supported local arts and purchased one.
3) Name and introduce your new #ttwth buddy to the community, and tell us where you’re from! Make sure to use one or more of the hashtags: #tinyturtleswearingtophats #everyturtleneedsatale #ttwth #tinyturtlesociety #tinyturtletrailblazers
4) Continue to share your adventures with the community, whether it’s a vacation across the country or a trip to a friend’s, the grocery store, whatever. We want to know about it! You can be as creative as you want to be.
5) EXTRA CREDIT: If you feel like you need to be a #tinyturtletrailblazer like myself, and set one or more of these guys out into the wild, then feel free to show the community where or who you left it with and why.
Thank you so much to Erika for being June’s ‘Meet A Maker!’ I can’t wait to see how ‘Amerikan Made Glass’ grows in the coming years! And I’ll be sure to keep my eyes on the adventures of #tinyturtleswearingtophats!!
Are you a maker? Do you run your own business? Would you like to be featured on APFE? Leave a comment below, or head on over to ‘Contact’ page, and send me a message!