Skaneateles illustrator Patience Brewster enjoyed simple yet abundant family Christmas traditions growing up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “My mother made our house feel festive without being lavish,” Brewster, one of six siblings, recalls. “She made our crèche and together, we made most of our own ornaments.” In 1999, when Department 56 asked her to create a Christmas ornament line based on her quirky greeting card designs, she was thrilled. Brewster designed ornaments, called Krinkles, for several years. When her contract ended in 2009, she and her husband launched their own company simply called Patience Brewster.
Today, Brewster’s intricate art, ornaments, decorative figures, home items and cards can be found all across the United States, Canada, and Europe. It is amazing how successful her brand has become considering the first step in her professional journey was being persuaded to take her artwork out of a drawer. In 1978, her husband Holland encouraged her to show her drawings to some children’s book publishers. What followed was a very satisfying 25-year writing and book-illustrating career and greeting-card design work.
Brewster’s emphasis now is on her ornament line, designed from her original art.
Subcontracted craftsmen and artisans create 3D figures from Brewster’s 2D art, often drawn from various angles. The sequence begins with a hand-carved wooden sculpture of the image which is then used to make a mold. Stone resin is applied into the mold by hand to create the figure, which is sanded, primed, then individually hand-painted and decorated. Throughout the steps, Brewster oversees the progress and makes adjustments to the design as needed. This painstaking process results in one-of-a-kind pieces.
The Patience Brewster company is a family affair. Her husband, Holland C. Gregg, is chief operating officer and their daughter, Marietta Brewster Gregg, chief graphic designer. Their son, Holland C. Gregg IV, also worked with them, but sadly passed away in 2005 from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 26.
In 2003, to honor her beloved son, Brewster began designing an annual ornament with proceeds to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Nancy Hails of LLS says the family donates about $20,000 annually. This year’s ornament is Gloria Alligator ($36), a 7-inch resin reptile attractively “booted” in red high heels with pink bows tied around her neck and tail.
Angelic Dreamz in Canandaigua is the largest independent dealer of Brewster’s work. “We carry everything she produces,” exclaims co-owner George Gonzalez. Brewster’s first in-store visit in 2006, a year after her son’s death, prompted Gonzalez (a cancer survivor) to donate sales profits from her appearance to LLS.
Brewster’s hard-to-describe style is certainly whimsical and definitely surprising. “We find our individual beauty in the unexpected and the ordinary,” writes Brewster in her artist’s statement. Her themes include traditional holiday images, pencils, teacups, animals, insects and even vegetables. She freely admits to a love affair with the life inside freshly picked vegetables. But what would inspire her to create an eggplant figure in a too-tight tutu clasping a purse? Brewster simply explains that while illustrating a cookbook she drew so many realistic food images that by the end of the project she was “dying to do something fanciful.”
by Nancy E. McCarthy