Blickenstaff's Traditions: A Precursor to Heirloom Art Co.
Have you ever poured your creative energy into something big and bold and then been told to wait? Perhaps you, like me, have come to realize that this is actually the story of life. We learn to read and then pick up a book too lofty. We learn to drive and then realize that we don’t have any money or permission for a road trip. We come to learn that our most soul-stretching and heartfelt endeavors often take time, lots of time, and they are always worth it.
So it is with Blickenstaff’s Traditions. In the spirit of transparency and guessing you are interested in our beginnings; I hope to breathe new life into a project I am now realizing truly laid the groundwork for what would become Heirloom Art Co.
Don’t expect a chronology but rather the spirit and a story woven among lives and years. Once upon a time there was a toy store. The toy store needed something fresh, something new and something to call its own. The thought: what about a way to playfully and beautifully preserve childhood. Conversations, celebrations, and the traditions that help solidify our own story and add sparkle to our memories. Could we somehow make this playful, natural and simple enough to be helpful to families and not one more thing creating guilt, over the top effort and stealing from quiet time cuddling or reading a book?
We went for it! We pulled together a small team of intentional parents, gifted artists and inspired makers to dream up something totally unique. Heirloom’s creative director (and my sister) Chelsey was a part of this team from the beginning while still at university! In a world going minimalist we determined the brand needed to be both sustainable and stand out. It needed to be playful, distinct and have depth. We didn’t picture this on the shelves of big box retailers, but instead pictured them in homes. We pictured them among a stack of books on a side table or tucked in safely with the best dishes in the hutch. We looked to the past for information and to the future for preservation.
We chose tin because it is tactile, lasts for generations and is sustainable. Unlike most materials tin can be recycled and reused without waste. We used natural canvas for durability and lack of dye. Gold for its gentle warm twinkle and earth tones in an attempt to settle nicely anywhere in the home. We wanted the illustrations to tell the story without saying too much. Gold stars, animals and plants have meaning and symbolism intelligible by young and old alike.
Our small team launched a successful kickstarter and headed off to launch the product in New York City! People responded well and we loved meeting new friends and placing our first small orders. We knew this product was an entirely new idea and would require some early adopters and solid, hopefully influential testimonials to take flight.
Then the realities. Production, shipping, assembly and all the pain of manufacturing for the first time. The product didn’t arrive on time and we disappointed our first customers and crowd-funded investors. We learned a great deal from our mistakes. At the same time, all of our lives changed. My own family lost baby number 3 after a heroic week-long struggle for life. Our company president got a job offer in Singapore we couldn’t let him refuse. Life hurt a little and we all needed to come up for air.
Then started the small miracles that kept the vision alive. I was sitting on a front porch of a home in Ecully, France and was introduced to Carolyn (now Heirloom’s CEO). We sat chatting about the power of telling stories and the somewhat new wave of art driven old school magazines (a la Kinfolk and Cereal). A common vision was understood and we planned to develop these thoughts back home in the near future. Carolyn quickly stepped into the role of making the reparations needed to fulfill kickstarter pledges and assemble the product. We then took a different opportunity and jumped into what would become Heirloom Art Co, letting the traditions bide their time. In our view, that time is now!
A few seasons ago, we slowly started to introduce the traditions product into our Heirloom shop. Not saying much, we just watched to see how people would react. As our audience has grown, so has the interest in simple tactile family traditions along with journaling and our own confidence that we truly created something beautiful, helpful and good.
Over the next few months we plan to share with you the traditions in more depth. Unlike most quippy product these days, each tradition requires a bit of a conversation. That’s okay, perhaps even good. We have learned to love these conversations at Heirloom and think they are worth it. Other’s might say that you shouldn’t sell a product that isn’t immediately understood. We say, let’s understand it together and not give up on something that might really bless lives. Our job is to share and we invite you to engage, experiment and respond.
So here they are starting in seasonal order…
A tradition to be used before the beginning of a new school year. The journal acts as a record, preserving information about each child. The storage bag acts as a time capsule, collecting important items to be cherished once the child graduates high school. *don’t forget to look up the word trumpery! It is the label we put on the bag.
A tradition to be used during the Halloween season. A black cat named Boo finds information about a family’s ancestors and works with the parents to fill out a pedigree chart. The cat is hidden and is found in the morning with treats, pictures, stories or other items to help children learn about their ancestor's lives. In our family, throughout the month of October, Boo escapes his tin several times at night (this does not happen every night and making it random actually makes it more fun for our little ones and way easier on us). While Boo is out at night he finds mementos of our ancestors. Sometimes it is just a photo but most the time it is an object that reminds us of a story. For my grandpa Jack it is those pink mints that are the size of a thick quarter and the color Pepto-Bismol. For my grandma Gwa, Boo might "find" a tube of red lipstick, or get stuck in the cookie jar. The idea is that whatever Boo finds prompts a story about that ancestor. The kids love the hide-and-seek game of finding Boo, and then we gather around and tell the story about the ancestor.
A tradition to be used at a weekly dinner. The calendar contains areas to record the high and low moments of each week, as well as discussion prompts to encourage conversation. High & Low is the start of a happy conversation around the dinner table. It is a way to talk about the good and bad that happens daily or weekly throughout the years, but also a place to record them. We believe in meaningful dinnertime conversations. Intentional conversations, sometimes lead to the best discoveries.
Talking about the "highs" and "lows" of our day helps us to be more grateful in the long run. We especially love to use it when we have guests for dinner as a way to remember the visits and make them feel right at home in our family. While we may not get to sit down at the table for dinner every night or have time to do this every time we sit down to dinner, the nights we do get the chance are always sweet.
A tradition to be used during the two weeks prior to Christmas. Each chain contains an activity, written on the inside, that promotes family togetherness and interaction. They are simple things like read a Christmas book or wrap a gift for a neighbor. However, it always makes the holidays a bit more exciting as the countdown to Christmas begins.
A tradition to be used during the two weeks prior to a birthday. Each chain contains an activity, written on the inside, that will encourage families to make the birthday child feel loved and appreciated. Do you remember, as a kid the magic of a paper chain to countdown to a special occasion? It was all about learning to count and also a way for a child to understand the passing of time. And hopefully it will keep the parents from answering the question "how many days until my birthday?" a few hundred times.
A tradition to be used in celebration of a birthday. The plate is used to serve the birthday child’s favorite dessert, and the bag collects the child’s wishes. We always picked our favorite meals for breakfast, dinner, and of course a special dessert. We also had a special birthday plate to use that day. We designed this special birthday plate with love and care, in hopes that it will make each each person feel special on their birthday. Featuring storks, the herald of new babies, and a family of quail surrounding a birthday cake. We hope this little plate brings a bit of joy to your birthday celebrations.
We hope that if you choose to introduce any or all of these traditions into your homes, that you will feel the love and intention that went into them. This was truly a labor of love, that is just beginning to come full circle. Shop all of our Traditions here.