People & Places

Marion chocolatier's recipe for success: embracing difference

Local artist true to her unique personality

Gae Sharp-Richardson (left), artist and co-owner of the Chocolate Shop in Marion, sprinkles Sicilian caramels with sea salt on the production line at the Chocolate Shop on Feb. 13, 2017. Sharp-Richardson bought the chocolate shop in 2004 with her husband, Deane Richardson, and moved it to Marion in 2010. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
Gae Sharp-Richardson (left), artist and co-owner of the Chocolate Shop in Marion, sprinkles Sicilian caramels with sea salt on the production line at the Chocolate Shop on Feb. 13, 2017. Sharp-Richardson bought the chocolate shop in 2004 with her husband, Deane Richardson, and moved it to Marion in 2010. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
/

MARION — Gae Sharp-Richardson always has been different.

Growing up, while her nine brothers and sisters watched Saturday morning cartoons, Sharp-Richardson hid away in her room to make art — an early creativity that blossomed into a career as an artist.

In 1979, the Conrad native began creating handmade plush bears, and it wasn’t long before her bear-making career took off. She began experimenting with jointed teddy bears, and in 1985, she made the first-ever “jointed bean bag bear.”

Unlike most jointed bears at that time, which were stiff, hers were flexible and filled with small plastic beads.

She created and sold thousands of handmade bears before her attention eventually drifted ­— as it often does, she admitted — to creating art with found materials.

“I call myself a gatherer,” she said. “I like to use things not for their intended purpose.”

Sharp-Richardson takes materials and little treasures that others might consider junk and recycles them into her art and jewelry.

“I like to show how you can turn it into something beautiful,” she said.

She’s especially “drawn to body parts,” she added, often using disassembled doll parts, as well as newspaper clippings, fibers, clock and piano parts, antiques and even gifts.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I consider it a compliment when somebody finds something ugly and thinks of me,” she said.

But while creating art is “her life,” she said its no longer her job.

In fact, if you’ve ever been to the Chocolate Shop in Marion, you may have noticed her behind the counter. She’s the 58-year-old with reddish purple dreads piled atop her head — a hairstyle she said gives her confidence, a sense of power and “permission to not follow the rules.”

Sharp-Richardson is the co-owner — a role shared with her husband, Deane Richardson, who she met and married in the span of three months in 1995. Nine years later, the pair bought the chocolate shop on a whim.

The shop was then Temptations Fine Candies in Atkins, for sale in 2004. The two were looking for something to do together and thought, why not?

They purchased the shop and the recipes with it, eventually moving the business to uptown Marion in 2010.

While the recipes have remained the same over their 13 years of ownership, Sharp-Richardson has added her own flair to the chocolate’s design, packaging and even decor in the shop.

“I get to be creative,” she said. “We strive to have our chocolate look consistent, but not cookie cutter. ... I look at the chocolate in our case and it’s just so beautiful.”

The shop is decorated mostly with her art, which she believes makes people feel comfortable.

“It gives them something to look at and makes them feel like they know me more,” she said.

“It’s an atmosphere that’s talked about and unexpected,” she added.

Unexpected, kind of like her.

While Sharp-Richardson has always known her uniqueness, she has not always embraced it.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

For many years, she struggled with her identity and depression, but today, she said she feels “balanced.”

“I’m finally 100 percent true to myself,” she said. “I used to fight it. Now I embrace the difference in me.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.