June 12, 2013

Unique bowls remind us of life’s beauty

Posted in Art, Between Us column, Business, Women at 10:50 pm by dinaheng

Ellen Bartfeld, formerly an educational therapist, owned a stained glass overlay franchise in Santa Barbara, Calif. until her son started eighth grade. After her mother died, she and her husband moved Bartfeld’s father into their home, caring for him until his death in 2000.

“After he died, I needed to go back to work, so I started doing pressed flower things, and took them to a local art fair,” Bartfeld says. “Being around other artists, you get lots of ideas. I had done some stained glass work in the 1970s, and decided to make little bowls. So I went to the bead store, and made a few bowls for the art show.”Dinah Eng

When a customer immediately bought the bowls, Bartfeld stopped doing the pressed flower items and started taking the uniquely decorated bowls to more art shows.

Today, her work is sold through the Uncommon Goods catalogue, and at gift shops around the world. Sold under the banner Gravity Ranch Designs, her stained glass bowls, edged with copper foil, are customized around various themes, including Butterflies and Dragonflies, Four-legged Friends, By the Water, Birds and Bees, and Plants and Flowers.

What is striking about the designs is the pairing of the stained glass colors with beads, charms and vintage jewelry. Images from nature are used, as well as elements of Asian design, with Chinese letters for love and friendship, Buddha charms, and symbols for Om and the Tree of Life.

The number of small U.S. businesses owned by women is growing by leaps and bounds, and by 2018, one-third of new jobs are projected to be generated by female-owned companies, according to The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute.

Like Bartfeld, many of these businesses were started by entrepreneurs who created  their own niche in a field, and who wanted to work on their own terms. Starting a new venture requires courage, particularly when you’re a one-woman company like Gravity Ranch Designs, and as Bartfeld notes, many things have to be learned along the way.

Stained glass bowls by Gravity Ranch Designs.

Stained glass bowls by Gravity Ranch Designs.

“You have to put yourself out there,” Bartfeld says. “You have to be willing to fail, and wipe out your savings while you’re trying. If you don’t, nothing will happen. That’s the hardest part. Not everybody will make it, even though they have the talent. The second part of the process is pushing through, and making it happen.”

Bartfeld’s leap of faith was entering the New York International Gift Fair, where retailers from around the world look for wares to sell in their stores. Fortunately,  the orders started rolling in. In this spring’s show, she got a giant order from a store in Kuwait. The entrepreneur says she learned to discuss payment and shipping specifications ahead of time, as her e-mailed questions received no response. Instead, the Kuwaiti store requested an invoice and just did a wire transfer payment with no discussion.

“I remember when I did my first show, I asked another vendor, ‘What do you do if you get a huge order?’ “ Bartfeld says. “She said, ‘You just figure it out.’ Instead of stressing out about things that may or may not happen, it’s so much easier to just deal with it when you need to. Otherwise, you’re just putting obstacles in your own way.”

Advice that makes sense in business, and beyond.

For more information, check out http://gravityranchdesigns.com/index.htm on the Internet.

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