raised in Marshall, MI, Jeanne Manley can identify with the lyrics
of John Mellencamp's song, "Small Town." She says,
"Growing up in a small town was great. Everyone has a chance
to excel." Throughout childhood, Jeanne watched her mother
engage in handwork and as she grew older they worked on projects
together. When she was a teenager, Jeanne and her mom knit sweaters
until the closets were overflowing. Embroidery was another passion,
with cross stitch becoming a particularly keen interest for both.
After high school, Jeanne attended Purdue University and then
Michigan State University receiving a degree in retailing. She
spent the next sixteen years working in both professional and
volunteer positions at the International Headquarters of Zeta
Tau Alpha International Fraternity for Women and then at the
Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. Her volunteer
work for Zeta Tau Alpha, culminated in her election to the National
Council where she served for 4 years.
After 16 years of working for others, Jeanne felt the need
to pursue a career in a business of her own. This urge was inspired
in part by the business her parents owned - they had built a
golf course when Jeanne was 18 years old and grew that business
into a viable and respected enterprise. Jeanne knew she wanted
her venture to be needlework related. She explored the possibility
of purchasing an existing shop in the Chicago area as well as
starting a new business.
In the midst of her quest, Jeanne was visiting friends in
Scottsdale, AZ, when she came across Quail Run Needlework, a
store that was for sale. She followed her intuition and it soon
led her to life in Arizona as the new proprietor of Quail Run.
The shop was established in 1976 and had a reputation as one
of the finest shops in the country, which Jeanne applied herself
to maintaining. Shortly after taking over, she was approached
by three artists who had painted designs for the shop previously.
Each had developed a distinctive line of needlepoint designs.
They were Terry Enfield, Robert Chapman and Diane O'Leary. Jeanne
decided to carry their lines and Quail Run Designs, the wholesale
offshoot of Quail Run Needlework, was born.
Initially Quail Run Designs featured about 100 designs by
the original three artists. During the last 18 years, Jeanne
has amassed a portfolio of talent from various parts of the country,
making for a diverse mix of styles. Quail Run presently offers
over 800 designs and Jeanne is negotiating with several new artists
who made be added to the fold.
In 1987, Jeanne and her family decided to return to her native
turf in Michigan, to join her parents in the golf business. Remarkably,
Jeanne had maintained such an outstanding staff at Quail Run
Needlework, that she was able to retain ownership of the shop
while being an absentee owner. Jeanne elaborates, "I did
consider selling the shop, but it's a great excuse to visit my
favorite part of the country." Meanwhile, Quail Run Designs
made the move to Michigan with Jeanne. Aside from growing her
wholesale design business, Jeanne is actively engaged in the
day-to-day operation of Tomac Woods Golf Course in Albion, which
she and her husband now own and manage. All three businesses
continue to prosper.
When queried about having both a retail and wholesale business,
Jeanne states, "I believe there are advantages in having
both. The expense of stitching models is more justified because
they can be used in both businesses and displayed all year in
the store." She continues, "It is also extremely helpful
to have input on design ideas and designer potential from the
retail staff who is in contact with customers on a daily basis.
Plus, we have the creativity of several staff members to create
models and stitch guides for our designs."
Asked how she manages to juggle so many ventures at the same
time, Jeanne admits, "Being involved in three different
businesses at the same time is often challenging." She adds,
"I think there are basic principles which apply to each
of them and which we try to adhere to: provide outstanding customer
service in a friendly manner, provide a high-quality product
at a fair price, make improvements and positive changes on a
regular basis, listen to customer comments and keep up with industry
trends." It's a tall order, but Jeanne seems to handle it
with style, verve, energy and finesse!
Jeanne stresses that over the years, the needlework industry
has made great strides. When she bought her shop, there were
only a handful of artists designing in needlepoint. Today there
are over 200. She notes that the proliferation and availability
of so many different fibers, fabrics and stitches has enabled
stitchers to maximize their artistic expression through needleart.
Jeanne elaborates, "Companies like the Caron Collection
were leaders and innovators when they introduced new threads,
stitching techniques and printed materials which enable stitchers
to create beautiful stitched works of art." Today Quail
Run Needlework carries over 100 different threads in a myriad
of colors and fibers. She continues "Many needlepoint artists
and creative stitchers have made their ideas available to shops
and their customers in the form of stitch guides for designs
that they produce and sell. For those of us who are not so creative,
this has been a true blessing." Jeanne, though not a designer
herself has an unerring eye and takes the initiative to nurture
and introduce such talent to others. She also scouts for artists
using other mediums such as watercolor, pastel and oils, and
transposes their imagery into needlework, thereby as she expresses,
"...giving the stitcher more chances of finding 'just the
Tooth Fairy Pillows
Jennifer sees herself as an Illustrator who took up cross
stitch as a hobby and then began to see all her ideas through
a different lens. She explains, "The special fibers were
like a new box of crayons to play with. Suddenly the fibers would
let me create an effect I could never duplicate in watercolour
drawings." Many of Jennifer's design ideas are spawned when
she least expects them, so she keeps a sketchbook handy. Nick
is fond of saying that it can be like living with a gerbil if
an idea hits in the middle of the night. There's always a pen
and paper handy and Jennifer doesn't even need to turn on the
light. As Nick describes it, he just hears the "scritch,
scritch" in the dark!
Bearly a Wizard
When Jennifer was new to cross stitch, her initial works included
much tonal variation and as many as 30 colours in each design.
As she advanced in knowledge and technique she began using specialty
stitches and more diverse fibers. She says, "The beauty
of Caron's colours and the texture of the fibers themselves are
what first attracted me. Here were threads that I could stitch
with and suddenly the colour varied like magic! It gave my dragon's
wings and bodies far more mystery and subtlety without any extra
work on my part to blend threads!! I fell in love with them right
away! I also love the stitching process itself. Nick and I stitch
most of the models ourselves. ... most of our large dragons -
I just can't bear to let someone else see it come to life and
fondle the fibers!"
In an interesting aside, Jennifer jokes how appropriate the
fantasy theme is to her personal life. She declares, "I
come from a family of Giants!" Her father is 6"10"
and everyone else in her family is over 6' tall. She also chuckles
when she admits that even though Nick is over 6'5", he is
the tallest in his family, so there might be a recessive short
gene lurking somewhere! But both Erin and Bethany are already
well above the average height curve. Before Bethany was born,
Jennifer was an avid seamstress and made clothes to fit her statuesque
6' 5" frame. She hopes to delve into quilting in the future,
but for now has promised Nick to hold off until she's 40. He
apparently is convinced that Jennifer will begin by designing
Dragon quilts... no doubt, he's right on
Dragon of the Winter Moon
Dragon Dreams Inc.
112 Highmeadow Drive, Moncton, NB, CANADA, E1G 2C4
Phone: (506) 852-9017
Fax: (506) 855-5828
Castle of the Mist Bellpull
Here's a treat that the near future definitely holds in store
- coming in 2001 is an exciting fantasy trilogy. This collaborative
effort between Jennifer Aikman-Smith, Teresa Wentzler and Karen
Weaver (Black Swan Designs), will include a dragon designed by
each of them in a single leaflet! Dragon Dreams leaflets are
available to stitchers through needlework retailers in more than
7 countries! Jennifer has just begun teaching at some festivals
and plans on doing more of that in the future as well.