Merry makers: 1-of-a-kind gifts from local artisans


Lauren McKay. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed (Haley Marie Photography)


A hot chocolate basket from Lauren’s Custom Gifts is the perfect seasonal hostess gift. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed (Haley Marie Photography)


A movie basket from Lauren’s Custom Gifts. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed (Haley Marie Photography)


Danielle Carlson. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


Patty Jackson PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Tree of Life pendant from Autumn Phoenix Designs. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


A jade wire-wrapped pendant. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


Lyndal Anthony and Joan Overhouse. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


A display of Lyndal Anthony’s wood-turned vases and bowls. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


Gail Chavenelle. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


Angels from Chavenelle Studio Metalworks. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


PHOTO CREDIT: SYSTEM


Gail Chavenelle’s gift-size metal sculptures measure between 5 and 15” tall. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


Stained-glass plant stakes from Autumn Phoenix Designs. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


A vase from Midwest Wood Art. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


The vases from Midwest Wood Art often contain the craftsmanship of both Lyndal Anthony, who creates the wood-turned vase, and Joan Overhouse, who adds the pyrographic details. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed


Joan Overhouse’s pyrographic skill created this beautifully designed vase, which was featured in Pyrography Magazine. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

The holidays are filled with joy, cheer, family, friends, parties and lots of food. Good, right?

But they’re also filled with stress and exhaustion, some of which can be attributed to the brainwork involved in deciding on the perfect gift for each individual on your list.

These four local artisans, and one shop owner who not only sells her goods but also supports fair trade artists, produce products that will delight anyone who appreciates craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Whether it’s a custom gift basket, wood-turned bowl or vase, metal sculpture, custom jewelry or even a bag of fair trade coffee, it’s easy to make it special while keeping it local.

Bountiful baskets

Lauren McKay, of Dubuque, is a preschool paraprofessional and the mother of two boys.

Looking to expend some creative energy, she put together Easter baskets in the spring and offered them to her friends on Facebook. And Lauren’s Custom Gifts was born.

“It just kind of took off from there,” McKay said.

McKay works with her clients to create custom gift baskets. She asks details about the recipient, their likes and dislikes and the reason for gift. Then, she creates a storyboard of ideas and lets the client choose what they’d like to go into the basket.

“I try to find the best deal for people,” she said. “If they want to put Christmas pajamas in a basket, I’ll find the best deal on them. I always shop local as much as possible.”

For the holidays, McKay is focusing on a couple of different teacher options, a fun hostess gift basket and a Christmas Eve movie basket for kids that will include a fuzzy blanket, popcorn and candy.

“Teacher gifts are always big,” she said. “Housewarmings, weddings, baby showers. And of course, holidays like Christmas.”

Baskets range from $20 to $150 depending on the size and contents. Custom baskets require a two-week turnaround time.

“I hope I’m helping people who don’t have the time or feel that they don’t have the creative juice to do it themselves,” she said.

Wonders of wire and glass

Three years ago, Danielle Carlson, a science teacher and yoga instructor in Platteville, Wis., took a wire-wrapping class and had an epiphany.

“When I went to that wire-wrap class, my hands found exactly what they needed to be doing,” she said. “And that was the gateway for me. I picked up on it really quick, and I couldn’t put it down.”

Carlson’s jewelry includes pendants and earrings, some with a steampunk theme, some with an environmental theme. She said many of her pieces depict the tree of life.

Early last year, Carlson took a stained-glass workshop and suddenly found herself with yet another medium to express herself.

“My parents had done stained-glass in the 1980s and had a lot of equipment, so they gave all of it to me,” she said. “I don’t know if I would’ve gotten into it otherwise.”

Carlson seems to have found her happy place.

“It’s almost a meditation getting lost in the process, and I’ve never had that before,” she said. “It makes me wonder if I had taken art in high school or college, where would that have led? But better late than never.”

Carlson sells her jewelry and stained-glass under the name Autumn Phoenix Designs. Jewelry ranges from $30 to $55, and her stained-glass pieces range from $10 to $55. Custom orders are available.

When a butterfly flaps its wings …

At A Ripple Effect, owner Patty Jackson sells her crocheted blankets and afghans but also represents a number of fair trade artists around the world.

Fair trade is the business practice of developing business based on transparency and respect and creating equity in the international trading system.

“They have certain principles that they have to meet and follow,” Jackson said.

Some of those tenets include no child labor and fair wages. Farmers and artists in developing countries, who might not have a means to sell their goods, are supported and assisted in finding markets and customers.

In addition to Jackson’s creations, you’ll find clothing, handcrafted soap, hand-carved creches and nativity figures, beaded purses and wallets and even beautiful wall art created from upcycled oil drums.

“We have products from Peru, Colombia, Guatemala and African countries that you would think of that have a low standard of living,” Jackson said. “They truly are artists.”

Turning and burning

Midwest Wood Art creates beautiful vases, bowls and home decor.

Lyndal Anthony and Joan Overhouse, the couple behind the creations, met 21 years ago through an online personal ad.

“For about a year, we tried to figure out how to make it work with me living in Cedar Rapids and her in Dubuque,” Anthony said. “Then, I got laid off, and I moved up here to be with her.”

Anthony went back to school after his 30-plus years working at a graphics company and became a shop teacher, then a technology teacher. Overhouse worked for 35 years in various departments at Flexsteel, mostly as an industrial sewer.

Overhouse became interested in Anthony’s woodworking hobby when she helped him build wooden shelves for their home.

“Pretty soon, she was building tables by herself,” he said.

Anthony took a woodturning class when he was working at East Dubuque (Ill.) High School and wanted to learn so he could teach his students.

“Joanie came with me, and I just kind of fell in love with it,” he said.

Once a vase or bowl is to his liking, Anthony will paint it and then seal it with polyurethane. The result is a piece that will almost certainly become a family heirloom.

When Anthony and Overhouse attended a woodturner’s symposium in Minnesota, Overhouse became interested in watching a pyrography demonstration.

She was soon practicing the art of woodburning, and her designs can be found on some of the vases and bowls Anthony makes. And as if that weren’t enough to keep her creatively engaged, she soon began adding woodturning to her artistic repertoire.

“I don’t even think I knew what woodturning was before I met Lyndal,” Overhouse said.

In addition to her pyrography skills, which have been featured in magazines, she has begun exploring the art of woodcarving. Both can be found on some of Anthony’s creations. She also makes wood-turned pens, seam rippers, cake testers, keychains and gnomes.

“We don’t do this full-time, because then it would be work,” Anthony said. “But we sure enjoy it.”

Vases and bowls range from $20 to $500. Pens, seam rippers and cake testers range from $20 to $25. Custom orders are available.

Metal magic

At 76, Gail Chavenelle isn’t slowing down as she skips down the path of her second act.

“This is my after 50 voice,” she said. “And it’s still 26 years old.”

The Dubuque resident crafts metal sculptures from sheets of 20-gauge steel. Her work can be seen along the Mississippi River Walk, at the Dubuque Museum of Art and in countless gardens and homes throughout the area.

While much of her work is more than a few feet tall, she hasn’t forgotten about those small spaces in homes that need to be filled.

Her 5- to 15-inch metal sculptures make perfect holiday gifts. Used as wine toppers, present toppers or as the main gift, each one is one of a kind, bent and shaped lovingly by Chavenelle.

“One of the things that’s fun is that they’re great stocking stuffers,” she said. “I wanted to make them gift size, and I wanted to make them affordable.”

Musicians, family groups, animals and more are available.

“The look so nice on a shelf,” she said.

Chavenelle’s gift-size sculptures range from $40 to $140. Larger sculptures and custom orders are available.

Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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