MORRIS – Kay Holsted is an artist whose passion and drive has taken her creations to stores in Los Angeles and Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Holsted of Morris, grew up near St. Louis. She has used her Bachelor of Science degree in art education to go from teaching to entrepreneur.
“Kay is one of the most interesting people I know,” said Stacey Olson, former owner of Lola’s, a store in Morris which sold Holsted’s items.
Holsted learned to sew from her mother when she was growing up and that led her to a job sewing collars on band uniforms as a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
The job – which she describes as working in a “sweat shop” – honed her skills to do fast and efficient work under pressure, which serves her well today as she creates custom pillows.
“I don’t know what possessed me to start making pillows,” she said. “But they are my best-sellers.”
Her unique pillows are crafted from materials one wouldn’t normally think of when choosing fabric to decorate their home.
“I use bank bags, feed sacks, army blankets,” Holsted said. “My top seller is my city pillow.”
Her city pillows are created by cutting her own stencils and painstakingly hand-stenciling the outline of the United States. She then carefully adds shading to her work, which gives it a vintage and handmade look.
“The fabric I use on the city pillows is a pre-washed, repurposed off-white canvas, which is very soft, nicely textured and natural,” she said. “Its neutral color will fit into just about any décor.”
She started selling her pillows on Etsy, an online store for artisans, and from there, the business grew.
Galleries in Jackson Hole and Los Angeles found her pillows on Etsy and contacted her to see how they could start carrying them for their clientele.
“The owner of the LA gallery posts who has come in shopping, which includes some actors,” she said. “I’m obsessed with Hollywood and movies, so I like to dream that one of them has my pillows in their home.”
She’s also sold them at wholesale shows including Market Square in Valley Forge, Pa., and the Chicago Gift show at the Merchandise Mart.
Her pillows will be presented this weekend at Meet the Maker and Jazz Performance at West Elm Chicago.
“West Elm believes great design should be affordable. It’s also a brand that strives for continual collaboration with various hand-made artists around the world,” Jeromy Keller, West Elm manager said. “At our store, we believe that allowing local artisans the ability to showcase their work is a great way for our customers to discover a unique piece that speaks to them.”
West Elm is a division of William-Sonoma, Inc, who also owns Pottery Barn, which seeks out artists on Etsy to feature in their stores.
“I’ve done their show before and saw a guy who is on Design Star on HGTV, it’s a big deal,” Holsted said. “It’s geared to the trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood where it’s located.”
Keller said Holsted was an obvious choice when they first discovered her Etsy site.
“Kay’s simple approach to graphic printed pillows with natural texture is exactly what West Elm and it’s customers love,” Keller said.
While Holsted’s education was completed doing a one-woman show of painted and sketched art work, it’s the pillows that fulfill her life at this time.
“I’m digging making pillows,” she said. “And a woman wants to have her own money.”
Making the pillows also gives her a break from the remodeling of her ‘20s era brick bungalow on North Street in Morris, which she chronicles in a blog on Wordpress.
“I’m not from here and I know if I drive past a project I want to see what’s going on inside,” she said. “So I started blogging about the remodel showing each step of the way.”
Holsted shows no signs of slowing down as she creates, boxes and ships dozens of pillows at a time.
“I’m on a first-name basis with Linda at the post office,” she said.