Made In Iowa: Iowa City woman crafts from scratch

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IOWA CITY — Erin Fitzgerald, 32, of Iowa City, has been making art for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve had a handful of amazing mentors who taught me silver smithing, glass firing, welding and wheel thrown pottery at a young age,” she said. After completing her bachelor of fine arts in graphic design at Iowa State University, Fitzgerald began work in Cedar Rapids as a packaging designer but missed the element of building things with her hands.

“I started making art again and people started asking where they could buy my items. Chicken Scratch Studio was born.”

Fitzgerald, who now works full time as an art director at the University of Iowa within the Division of Student Life, said she never really set out to sell her work. But interest in her “custom designs made from scratch” continued to grow. Today Fitzgerald said she’s having a blast growing her small business, especially through local craft fairs and markets and teaching glass fusing classes all over Iowa and Illinois.

“Funny enough, at my very first art market I only sold one $12 item,” she said. “Ten years later my small business is thriving, and I’m really glad I didn’t give up on something I’m so passionate about.”

Q. So what is it that you make?

A. I dabble in all sorts of handmade pieces. I started my business selling fused glass. As trends have changed over the past 10 years I’ve expanded my line to include hand-stamped custom sterling necklaces, rings, bracelets, wine stoppers, slumped wine bottle serving trays, geode necklaces, post and dangle earrings, wheel thrown pottery, vintage wood tiny vases, trinket trays and customizable quote frames.

Q. If you had only three words to describe what you do what would they be?

A. Create. Repurpose. Refine.

Q. Where do you find your inspiration?

A. I love wandering art fairs, flea markets and farmers markets, meeting other makers and creatives, and hearing their stories about why they do what they do. I met a man in his 80s a couple months ago at a market that builds bird houses and his wife paints them. They were so charming. It was inspiring to see that later in life they were still passionate about creating works of art. If something catches my eye when I walk into a space, I instantly buy it — I love to surround myself with beautiful things created by a variety of people.

Q. What’s the best part about being a crafty/creative person?

A. Anytime I see something I like or want to buy I can usually make it myself for a fraction of the cost. Being crafty also helps me display and market my business in a unique fashion — from my booth set up to the packages and tags I design for my products — it’s fun to give my creations a little extra flare. Also, I tend to meet some of the most interesting people in my creative line of work. It’s refreshing to see all of the talent we have locally.

Q. Do you remember the first craft project you ever tried?

A. I’m not sure if it’s considered a craft project, but I was determined as a child to build a dinosaur skeleton out of chicken bones. The collection of meat covered bones was found in a Tupperware under my bed and promptly thrown out by my parents, so the project never really got off the ground. I still think to this day it would have been pretty cool to complete.

Q. When you become rich and famous for your work, then what will you do?

A. First, I’d buy some land with a barn on it, fix it up and turn it into a studio/public art space. Once I had that I’d offer free classes to anyone who wanted to create art. I really encourage kids to get involved in the arts at a young age, being allowed to make messes and grow their imaginations. There is so much for them to learn in that kind of exploitative work. I’d also love to buy and renovate a vintage Shasta camper, travel around in that for a while and just let the road take me wherever it leads. Oh, and Pomeranians, I’d rescue all of the Pomeranians I could.


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