FISH CREEK - A few months ago, Amy Wilde didn't know how she was going to make a living.
The henna body artist and jewelry artist had spent more than 20 years bringing her creativity and talents to the tent she set up at festivals and art fairs.
Doing this more than 40 weekends a year — almost every weekend from February through November — for the past seven or so years enabled her to become a professional artist. She also set up at several weekday farmers markets (including the one in Baileys Harbor) and gave classes at libraries in henna art and use.
But with almost every one of those festivals and fairs first postponed and then canceled this year by the COVID-19 pandemic that began sweeping across the country in March, along with losing her in-person classes and some of her farmers markets, Wilde lost almost all her income from her art. That included an invitation to the Victory of Light Psychic Festival in the Cincinnati area, which draws thousands of visitors over its two days and to which Wilde earned an invite this year after two years of trying only to see it canceled as well.
So, as Wilde saw cancellations extend into later summer and then fall, she knew she'd need a new way to bring her work to the public.
That new way turned out a bit old-fashioned in today's business world — a physical, brick-and-mortar store.
Wilde opened Castle Art & Import LLC on July 3 on Cedar Court in Fish Creek. After a quiet first month, during which Wilde worked on outfitting the shop as much as selling her art, it's now open seven days a week through the end of October and currently holding a Soft Opening Sale that started Aug. 5.
Inside, she and occasional guest henna artists decorate customers with henna designs, and Wilde also offers henna supplies and sells her jewelry. The shop also carries work by other artists and craftspeople on consignment, including Tyler Smarzinski's Smartz Cards greeting cards, fabric face masks by Denise Larson of Wisconsin Sewing Co., and paintings by Heather Peterman of Good Energy Art.
Castle Art has had a website for some time, but Wilde can't apply henna art — a design drawn on the customer's body with a kind of paste made mostly from the henna plant —to a customer over the internet. While she sold her jewelry online, she said her rings are her biggest sellers and those are a tough sell without the opportunity to try them on. So the store provides the opportunity to offer everything Wilde normally would offer under her festival and fair tent.
For Wilde, it definitely follows the hoary old idiom of making lemonade out of the lemons served to her by the pandemic.
"Who would've thought this pandemic would help me establish a brick-and-mortar store?" Wilde said. "I'm just fortunate that I have someplace."
Wilde, who earned an International Certificate for Natural Henna Arts and touts the plant's health benefits, uses all natural ingredients in hers and notes that many store-bought henna dyes, especially black and other colored hennas, use chemicals and dyes that can damage skin. The reddish-brown body art, the usual color of henna dye, can be covered with a colorful glitter that sticks to the design.
"It's like a temporary tattoo (that) lasts a couple of weeks," Wilde said. "It's kind of a unique art form. Many cultures use it. In India, Hindu brides would have their hands and feet done. It's what it's most well-known for."
She said her customers cover all ages and demographics.
"We get mostly teens, but we get a whole range (of ages)," Wilde said. "Older people, kids. A lot of times when parents get them, their kids do, too."
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Wilde got into henna products around 1997 and ran a business for a couple of years with her husband out of their Green Bay home while she was working part-time with the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. As that business grew, she began setting up shop at weekend festivals and fairs in the area.
Then Wilde was laid off in 2010. She returned to school and earned a degree in graphic design, but after graduation she soon found she could make a living on weekends through her design skills and henna expertise.
"I was trying to find graphic design work (while) trying to find more shows to do, and (the fairs and festivals) just turned into a full-time thing," Wilde said. "Nothing was panning out (in graphic design), but I could have these shows on the weekends. ... It was like a full-time job."
The whims of Wisconsin weather eventually led Wilde into adding jewelry to her portfolio. She designs and makes rings and pendants that incorporate moonstone and labradorite.
"I had so many festivals rained out when I did just henna, one of my suppliers said, why don't you do jewelry?" Wilde said.
But this spring and early summer saw all those events, along with the classes and farmers markets, taken away by the pandemic. Wilde was hopeful she'd be able to resume her work at those events.
But as the end of June came around and more and more of the events were called off deeper into the year, she realized she needed to take action.
Wilde recalled that a friend of hers, Amy Maras, told her in January that she was closing her Stargazers shop in Fish Creek's Founder's Square and it would be available for rent. Wilde contacted Maras to ask if the space was still available, but someone else was renting it.
However, Maras told Wilde that space was open on Cedar Court next to the Touch of the World gifts and accessories shop. Within a week, Wilde was in her new store and ready to open just in time for the Fourth of July holiday.
Well, mostly ready. Castle Art had no display cases, not even a cash register at the time (both are now installed).
"It was a lot like having our tent in the building. It was so last-minute," Wilde said.
The first month running the store "went pretty good," Wilde said, although some slower days led her to question her decision. She said guidance from her mentor at SCORE, a national small business resource organization with a Green Bay chapter, gave her confidence.
"On slow days, I'd sit in here thinking, 'Oh my God, what did I do?'" Wilde said. "But my mentor said (to) rent, a mortgage is too high. Rent first and see how it goes. The rent is high, but so is the traffic. People are walking by and stopping in."
She also gave credit to the government grants for which she applied in helping her decide to take the plunge. She learned 40% of the loan she was awarded from the U.S. Small Business Administration's Payroll Protection Program would be forgiven if applied toward rent of a storefront, and she also obtained an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) from the SBA and "We're All In" Small Business Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., funded by the federal CARES Act.
"I applied for so many grants, I feel like I could be a professional grant writer," Wilde said with a chuckle.
But Wilde is up and running. She's still living in Green Bay and making the commute while planning to put down roots next summer.
And she's grateful for the chance to be able to do so with the help of family, friends, business associates and partners, as well as the funds she obtained though the COVID-19 crisis that otherwise might have shut her down.
"The advantage is the opportunity to work during the pandemic," Wilde said. "Now I can sleep through the night."
Castle Art & Import is at 9422 Cedar Court, No. 4, Fish Creek. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 31. For more information, call 920-737-2995 or visit castleart.com or facebook.com/castleart.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Fish Creek henna art, jewelry store opens, thanks to COVID-19 cancellations