Down East 2013 ©
One's an accomplished children's book illustrator, a mother with a penchant for painting every flat surface in the family's home.
The other is a Cooper Union-trained multi-media artist and Glamour Magazine's Top Ten College Women of 2002.
Along with a strong creative gene, the Camden residents share a vision to create art that does more than beautify.
The mother-and-daughter team is an entrepreneurial duo weaving social activism into each 100-pecent wool, hand-hooked rugs and pillows sold by Jo Ellen Designs. The company burst onto the retail scene last year, gaining a coveted show spot in the New York International Gift Fair a scant two weeks before the show's scheduled opening date. Designers are routinely turned away from the event, but Jo Ellen's creations were welcomed and soon earned product placement on the Today Show in its segment that reviewed the gift show.
"The designs are 100-percent my mother," Jessica Stammen said. "She had illustrated children's books for years, all the while creating elaborate designs on the doors and walls of our house. The rugs are a newer outlet and began after she created giant, intricate paper cuts that played on positive and negative space."
That the cut-outs resembled intricate textiles was too hard to ignore and Jo Ellen began researching small business practices and vendors. Sample products finally in hand, Jo Ellen set her sights on the country's largest venue for home, gift and lifestyle products, the New York International Gift Fair. WIth more than 40,000 store buyers eyeing the handiwork of a scant 2,000 designers, competition for booth space is real.
Unaware of the long wait list that usually surrounds participation in the fair, Jo Ellen Stammen submitted a sample of the rugs two weeks prior to the show and then began daily calls seeking a vacant space and reminding organizers that a portion of all sales would support nonprofits.
Her persistence paid of; two days before the show's start, Jo Ellen was notified of a booth opening. The Stammens packed the three sample rugs freshly arrived from the manufacturer and headed to New York. By the show's close they had 27 wholesale accounts in prestigious home good and interior designs stores from Maine to Atlanta.
Hand-hooked and made of wool, the textiles are vivid and intricate, at once classic and fresh. Prices range from $399 to $1,300. Sale of each design benefits Designs for Good!, a program conceived by Jessica Stammen that directs 10-percent of all post-tax profits to organizations around the world. For instance, Garden Deer Black, Red & Tan rugs and pillows benefit Plumpynut In The Field , a network for famine relief in developing countries. The Golden Grape hooked designs benefit Seeds of Peace , a Maine organization that empowers young leaders from regions of conflict.
Designing with a cause is not new to Jessica Stammen. When the Twin Towers fell September 11, 2001, Jessica was part of the Episcopal youth group at St. Paul's Chapel that hung 23 six-foot-square banners around the churchyard where George Washington once prayed. Her banner, "Courage," became an enduring image of the aftermath of the attacks. Stammen became the artist in residence at St. Paul's during the time, serving up food, encouragement and faith while registering images and emotions of strength in the face of despair.
With the help of Maine bronze sculptor Forrest Hart she would go on to create seven memorial chalices from an I-beam of the fallen North Tower. The chalices now reside in the Smithsonian, St. Paul's and the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, the New York Historical Society, the parish of Melano in Florence, Italy and in the New York CIty home of chalice patrons Massimo and Chiara Ferragamo.
Giving a portion of profits from Jo Ellen Designs, Jessica said, is a central part of why the two have formed a business.
"These rugs are about a lot more than business to us," Jessica said. "Every contact we make, every relationship we make is about the enduring connections. Our products are going in to people's living spaces, surrounding them in color and the good intentions behind each rug and each pillow. That's the heart of Jo Ellen Designs."
To learn more about Jo Ellen Designs and to see the list of organizations that benefit from the sale of individual designs, visit Jo Ellen Designs.com.