Shelly Lampshire answers her unrelenting urge to create and to entertain.
Fabric artist Shelly Lampshire was born and raised in Port Huron, Mich. Note that the word “raised” is used, not “grew up,” for in many ways, the 38-year-old Lampshire is still a big kid at heart. If “growing up” implies a conservative, buttoned-down way of life, Lampshire is the complete opposite. She is open-minded and ready to tackle anything. She is a free spirit, a dreamer, a visionary and an eternal optimist.
When Lampshire talks about what she hopes to achieve with her art, she uses a jargon that smacks of Sesame Street and Elmo. “I want my art to be like a tickle. By ‘tickle,’ I mean I want to offer something unexpected that warms you from the inside and will keep you coming back. I want to bridge the gap between quality and novelty,” she joyfully asserts. “A well-made piece, made of quality materials, need not be stiff. I think my collectors know they can count on me to stretch boundaries. It keeps them excited to see what is new, and keeps me jazzed making my figures.”
A Born Artist
Whipping up wondrous and whimsical characters is not a new venue for Lampshire. She’s been imagining and inventing since early childhood. The only child of a devoted set of parents, who were antique dealers (as were her grandparents), little Shelly was encouraged to use her mind and to explore her talents. At times, her quest for creativity led her to unusual canvases and tools. “I was the child who had to be put into ceramics classes two years early, at age 3, to keep me from drawing on undecorated space. My mom never let me forget that I took ketchup and mustard to her new velvet wallpaper!” she laughingly recalls.
“I made all my own Barbie furniture and liked my designs better than store-bought toys,” she adds. “Boxes were very useful to me. When I was in elementary school, I got labeled class artist. In part, it was because some of my test papers, like in math, had better drawings on the back than grades on the front. Also, I illustrated little books that my friends wrote. I’ve always known that I could count on art for therapy—at the very least—and hopefully for money.”
Before building a reputation as a cutting-edge doll artist, and then migrating into the world of bears and other cuddly critters, Lampshire earned her way with a variety of jobs. She has always been tenacious and tireless in challenging herself and finding ways to make a wage while making her art.
“Being an artist has taught me persistence, patience and the value of a dollar,” she shares. “I have spent much of my life mainly as an antique dealer, but I also worked in record stores and worked in management for Dick Blick Art Materials. Just like many struggling artists, I have waitressed, bartended and been a maid. I’ve done anything, really, to keep me afloat. With any luck, all of that is behind me!”
Currently, Lampshire is upholding the family tradition of dealing in antiques, but with a modern twist—she does most of her commerce online. Additionally, she is a professional face painter and muralist. (“I bill myself as ‘the One-Woman Art Show,’” she comically confides.) When she has a spare moment, she catches her breath and then pursues her bears and other four-footed critters. “Right now, I can say I am working overtime,” she says.
Brainstorming and bursting with vitality, Lampshire is as busy as a bee, and her time buzzes with professional milestones as well as personal touchstones. She has a deep connection to her friends and family. Married and a mother of three, she numbers her husband and her kids as among her greatest supporters and her grandest achievements.
Will her children follow in her frolicsome footsteps, the same way she gravitated toward antiquities and vintage bric-a-brac? “My children are interested somewhat,” she reveals, “but what kid wouldn’t be? Actually, it is my youngest daughter, Aislynn, who consistently tells me that she wants to be a bear and doll artist. If she has not changed her mind as time goes on, I have no doubt that she will do just that, and do it very well.”
Maternal pride is evident in Lampshire’s appraisal, but there is also the satisfaction that stems from being a hands-on, truly involved teacher. Besides mentoring her own kin, Lampshire also teaches bear and doll artistry to motivated and enthusiastic students. Educating and enlightening others ranks among her favorite pastimes. “I love to see people happy,” she boasts. “I major in people.”
Aware of how important a solid educational background can be, Lampshire matriculated at Kendall College of Art and Design and College for Creative Studies. She tips her hat to her professors, whom she terms “awesome,” and thanks them for their encouragement and for serving as exemplary role models.
She hopes that her own career path, with its many twists and turns, will serve as a road map for other struggling artists or for dilettantes who are considering taking that leap beyond just dabbling. “If it is truly in your heart to create characters for others to enjoy, then understand that you are a master of your own destiny and your own best advertiser,” she says. “You must be willing to make sacrifices. Being an artist is a paying job, but most often it comes with very unreasonable hours. Having said that, fun sells. If you are having fun, then others will want to join in.”
Warming up to her heartwarming role as “toy tutor,” Lampshire is quick to tell other aspiring artists that certain buzzwords and clichés are toxic to her. “From one artist to another, ‘artist block’ is a myth,” she stresses. “In the time you take just thinking about creating, you could be making your dreams, and breathing life into them, too.”
The indefatigable artist has a journal with more than 300 ideas waiting to be revisited. She is never complacent or content. There are always more concepts to carve out, more doors to open wide. “I am interested in making pieces that are a crossover from doll to bear. I have so many plans, believe me. I wish there were 80 hours in a day. The idea of making ‘plushie’ monsters intrigues me. Also, puppets, perhaps. I have to make some more dragons, and I will always want to make boudoir dolls, only any new ones will be holding mohair companions. So many more creations to come!”
One notion that Lampshire regretfully bid adieu to was a “dancing Ellen DeGeneres automaton, but logistically it was a crazy idea,” she says. “Besides, the robot maker I asked to collaborate with me is busy running a camp and classes for techies and their children.”
Not being able to follow that kinetic fantasy was disappointing to Lampshire, but one stumbling block will never get her down. She has a wish list of other personal projects she hopes to achieve one day. “I want to make a portrait doll of Harry Houdini that comes folded in a box, a Josephine Baker boudoir doll with a leopard companion and the ultimate Dr. Seuss portrait doll that makes reference to 65 of his works.” Oh, the places that one’s imagination can take you. Dr. Seuss would be proud, indeed.
And if her life isn’t kooky and hectic enough, Lampshire has long-range plans for the afterlife as well: “I want to work with Jim Henson on puppets in heaven.” If anyone can pull a few strings to do that, it will certainly be Shelly Lampshire.