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Retailer crafts outlet for her creativity

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NANCIE DUNN, OWNER of the Sweet Cecily retail shop in downtown Middlebury, designs and sells her own line of greeting cards, and she will be taking her creations to a national stationary show in New York City in hopes of expanding her market.<br /> Independent photo/Trent Campbell

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — Usually when Nancie Dunn attends the National Stationery Show in New York City she goes as a buyer for her Middlebury country gift store, Sweet Cecily. This year she’ll be on the other side of an exhibit booth, selling her handmade greeting cards.

Dunn started making her own cards about three years ago when her store was low on Easter cards. She took up marker and paintbrush and whipped out a small series of colorful cards to fill the racks. The first batch sold so well, she followed up with another.

“It just took off,” she said. “And they’ve gotten better and better as I’ve done more and more.”

A graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art, where she majored in children’s illustration, Dunn has always felt the pull to create her own art. Frog Hollow Craft Center was just opening when she moved to Middlebury in 1972, and she got a studio downstairs where she worked as a graphic designer.

She created the craft center’s frog logo and worked with its artists and craftspeople to design their business cards, stationery and letterhead, shifting her own illustration onto the backburner for a while. Since opening Sweet Cecily in 1987, the Main Street store has been her priority.

Until three years ago, that is, when she found the perfect creative outlet in her cards. 

“It combines my real love of words with my real love of illustration,” she said.

More importantly for Dunn, the simplicity of card-making seems to quiet her perfectionist side.

“I think that when you are a maker of anything … sometimes you hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t allow you to move forward,” she said. “I realized that I didn’t have to be Michelangelo to do greeting cards.”

The illustrations and sayings on the cards are whimsical, created with watercolors, markers and pen and ink. Many are geared toward women and a good portion are specific to Vermont, like the one that, around the picture of a cow in a pasture, says, “What happens in Vermont stays in Vermont. But not much really happens.”

On another is a picture of two ruby slippers at the end of striped stockings, dangling over a yellow-brick road. The caption reads, “Things haven’t been the same since that house fell on my sister.”

Dunn said her inspiration comes from everything around her, including quotations she reads in books and on the Internet, or sayings friends point out to her.

“I try to make cards that are not the general card that you see,” she said.

One card has a picture of a cat peeking its head out of a pile of laundry, a thong adorning its head, below the caption, “Thong on wrong.” Another has three full-bodied older ladies in brightly colored bathing suits about to jump in the water. “Friends are better than therapy,” it reads.

A card showing the bottom half of a red-shoed dancer leaping in the air reads, “You’re never too old to twirl.” This one was selected by Addison County’s WomenSafe as its ninth annual Mothers’ Day card in the Local Women Artist Series. It was unveiled at a reception at the Middlebury United Methodist Church on Tuesday. For more information on how to get one of these Mother’s Day cards visit www.womensafe.net.

Currently Dunn sells her cards all over Vermont, printing them through Middlebury’s Main Street Stationery and a larger company in Winooski. She’s hoping that at the New York show at the end of May, which usually attracts about 15,000 buyers from around the world, she’ll meet someone willing to market the cards around the country.

“It’s definitely my biggest foray out into the world,” she said.

Balancing her card-making with Sweet Cecily has been difficult, but she is lucky, she said, to have employees who have been at the store a long time — the store celebrated its 20th birthday last August — so she doesn’t have to come in every day.

She also has her husband, Bruce Baker, a marketing consultant to artists and craftspeople. He has encouraged her to take the leap, constructed her booth for the New York show and also fashioned tiny, quarter-sized versions of her cards with her Web site address, www.nanciedunncards.com, to give to interested buyers.

Dunn’s hope is that the people who receive her cards will ultimately find it difficult to throw them away.

“I hope that people get one of these cards, and because it was chosen to really speak to them, that it really touches them and they keep it,” she said.

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