Christmas was a magical time for our family and the small community I grew up in,” says entrepreneur Bethany Lowe. “Families went for horse-drawn carriage rides, ice-skated together on country ponds, went caroling door-to-door, and built snowmen to greet passers-by.” Lowe, a self-taught folk artist, weaves the spirit of these idyllic holiday memories into the realistic Santa figures that form the foundation for her company, Bethany Lowe Designs.
Bethany’s somewhat unexpected career began in the 1980s when she and husband Curt were running a family farming operation and raising four children in their home state of Illinois. Her mother had always encouraged her creative pursuits, so when Midwestern farmers were hard-hit by the country’s economic woes, it was natural for Bethany to turn to art as a means to supplement the family’s income. She began making “country décor” items to sell at home parties, which soon led to juried folk art shows across the country and, eventually, the wholesale market.
“I think creativity is something you are born with—but it takes hard work and perseverance to make it your life’s work and business,” says the former full-time homemaker. “I didn’t know enough about creating a business to be afraid, so I just did it!” While writing articles for a folk art magazine, her research delved into the history of Santa Claus, and when she began making her own likenesses of the beloved character, she designed them to portray the various legends of St. Nicholas she had read about.
Dressed in flowing velvet robes or bundled in fur-trimmed tweed coats, Bethany’s Santas all sport snow-white beards and engaging expressions that have endeared them to collectors all over the world. Her company offers two distinct lines. A team of four craftspeople help bring her whimsical visions and precise specifications to lifelike form for serious collectors who appreciate her one-of-a-kind “Nostalgia for Nicholas” pieces. The new “Build a Tradition” line employs teams of artisans to replicate her work, making it more accessible to a broader audience. Nine years ago, she expanded her inventory to include other major holidays as well.
Come December, Bethany’s brilliant imagination carries over to her residence, where each room is decorated with a different theme and color scheme—and her home studio rivals Santa’s own workshop for sheer enchantment.
Bethany can’t imagine a life without her art, and she cherishes the solitary time spent designing and painting—especially those jolly old friends. “Through my artwork, I hope to create memories for today’s families,” she says, “like the moments I remember as a child and continue to build with my own children and grandchildren.”
Text Karen Callaway
Photography Marcy Black Simpson
To read more, see “The Wonder of Santa” on page 43 of the November/December 2016 issue of Victoria.