|Artist draws attention from Ann Taylor|
|Tuesday, 22 March 2016|
Story and photos
Ceramicist Amber Lea strives to make the world a more beautiful place through art. She has had major success with her company, Amber E Lea Designs, since she founded the business in 2014.
“My hope is to make the world a more beautiful place,” Lea said. “Amber E Lea Designs is only a year and a half old, but it has already grown exponentially.”
The self-employed business owner offers various products, including jewelry, ceramics and sculptures. Her work is on display in hotels and retail stores throughout the country. Creating a self-sustaining business, along with a career that she loves, is something that helps Lea find inspiration.
Lea gained the attention of a representative from Ann Taylor Inc. at the Los Angeles Renegade, which led to a sizable opportunity. “I have been traveling to as many trade shows as possible since the Chicago Renegade Craft Fair show in 2014,” Lea said. “I think it is important to get out there in person and gain exposure while building a client base. Trade shows also provide me with the opportunity to meet professionals. It is common for professionals to visit these markets looking for artisans who can provide them with unique, handcrafted products to satisfy their customer base.”
Lea met Ann Taylor’s representative at the summer Los Angeles Renegade, where the unforeseen opportunity unfolded.
“A product representative for Ann Taylor purchased several of my jewelry pieces,” Lea said. “She left her card and I contacted her shortly after. Ann Taylor Inc. ended up ordering custom pieces made specifically for their store, Lou & Grey.”
Her custom Ann Taylor Inc. jewelry made its debut in November. “A blue and gold statement necklace and earring duo hit the shelves and web,” Lea said. “The items were released just in time for the holidays.”
In 2014, Lea received an invitation to participate in the Chicago Renegade Craft Fair, an elite craft show.
“The Chicago Renegade Craft Fair is one of the most competitive craft shows hosted by Renegade,” Lea said. “They host shows in eight cities, including London. Chicago serves as their home base. I heard about Renegade Craft Fair through a friend that I had classes with at UCA. She participated in the Austin Renegade Craft Fair the year before and had a positive experience. I decided to make it my goal in 2014 to apply.”
In order to begin the application process for the Chicago Renegade Craft Fair, Lea had to create a jewelry line.
“First, I had to create a cohesive jewelry line, which I sold alongside my ceramics,” Lea said. “I signed up through Renegade’s Craft Fair website. They reviewed my portfolio and social media presence. After several weeks of obsessively checking my inbox, I finally received an invitation to participate in their summer Chicago show of 2014.”
The show hosted more than 300 vendors and thousands of shoppers.
“This was the largest show I had been a part of,” Lea said. “The streets of Wicker Park were lined with over 300 vendors. Shoppers came in floods by the thousands. It would not have been such a success for me without the help of my sister and her boyfriend. My sister was living in Chicago at the time and helped me set things up, helped me sell and housed me.”
Lea gives much of the credit for her success to her education and knowledge of art fundamentals.
“The fundamentals of art are the building blocks that artists refer to throughout their lifetime. Without those, I would be lost. I reference them in my daily work when I am creating preliminary sketches for new work or knee-deep building a sculpture.”
Lea chose the University of Central Arkansas to teach her the fundamentals of art. She received a bachelor of arts degree in art from UCA. She is a daughter of Ancil and Lesley Lea of Conway and Bill and Stacy Rowlett of Russellville.
“I chose UCA because their art program is recognized as a leader in the arts,” Lea said. “With a wide range of classes, it was an ideal choice since I hadn’t decided on my focus. Also, one of its biggest draws was the intimate-sized classes and teacher-to-student ratio. This encouraged a one-on-one relationship with the faculty as well as with my peers. Because of this, I had the chance to really get to know my professors who were always willing to help in any way.”
Lea holds UCA in high regard and is appreciative of the knowledge that she gained while a student.
“Attending UCA was one of the most influential and positive experiences of my career,” Lea said. “UCA provided me with a well-rounded education and academic background I needed to begin my career as a professional artist.”
After graduating from UCA, Lea moved to Baton Rouge in search of her next venture. While in Baton Rouge she began working for a jewelry company called Grandmother’s Buttons.
“I began experimenting with making jewelry using ceramics,” Lea said. “I had the privilege of working with the founders, Susan and Donny Davis, for three years. They are among the kindest of husband and wife teams. They taught me about the jewelry making process and the behind the scenes operations of a small business. I continued to freelance for Grandmother’s Buttons until my fiancé and I moved in September to Russellville to be closer to our family.”
Lea realized her love for art at an early age. As a child, she was involved in classes that were centered around drawing, painting, papier-mâché and acting.
“I discovered the most impactful class when I was in the third grade at an art camp at the Arkansas River Valley Art Center.”
Lea gives credit to Winston Taylor for lighting the fire in her to become an artist.
“Winston Taylor, a local potter and Arkansas treasure, taught a pottery class at ARVAC and from then on I was hooked,” Lea said. “This exposure led me to take pottery classes throughout my youth and ultimately led me to my career as a ceramicist. I have to attribute my love for my work to working with my hands at such a young age.”
Lea has high hopes for 2016 and has many plans already in the works for her company. For more information, visit amberelea.com.
“2016 is going to keep me on my toes,” Lea said. “I was running to keep up with the happenings of 2015, so I may need to start sprinting!”