Debbee Thibault Starts Young :
Always artistic and creative as a child and teen, Thibault developed a passion for old toys. When she was a little older, she tried creating antique-style pull toys and candy containers that she couldn't afford to buy. But it was reading the 1985 Christmas issue of Country Home Magazine that was a turning point. The cover of German-style Santas captivated her. Since craftsmen from 19th and 20th century Germany made their figures from cardboard and paper mache, she experimented with a formula of her own. "I used starch, glue, and various kinds of paper - everything from newsprint to paper bags -- to create a pulp."
Her first Santa completed, Debbee approached one of her favorite antique shops to ask if they would display it on a commission basis. "My first Santa was holding a tiny feather tree and a newspaper. The owner, Helen Perry, was a friend. She loved and thankfully put it on display," Thibault continued. "As I was leaving, a famous quilt dealer entered the shop, saw my Santa and said 'I need that!'" On a strict budget, Debbee struck a bargain with the dealer, trading her Santa for a red, white and blue quilt she loved. "Both of us left the shop elated and I still own that quilt!"
Continuing Her Art:
Debbee continued her art, often selling figures on the "payment plan" to collectors who could afford them. However, all that changed when she met Denise Pontius, the young owner of Uncle Tom's Antique and Folk Art. "She carried very early antiques and one-of-a-king folk art," Thibault recalled. "she loved my things AND she was willing to pay me outright for the figures!" Four owners later, Uncle Tom's in Southern California still carries Debbee Thibault American Folk Art. "It's the longest relationship that I've maintained with any store."
Country Home Magazine:
By 1993, Thibault found herself featured in Country Home Magazine, the same publication that inspired her first piece eight years earlier. From that 1993 article, "I received over 1,000 requests for information from all over the world in just three weeks." The increased exposure gave Debbee the opportunity to exhibit at L.A. trade shows but her success meant production methods had to change. Sequestered in her grage working on 17 paper mache prototypes in 1996, she realized, "I had to reproduce my figures while still maintaining their integrity and quality. Paper mache just didn't try fast enough."
Over time, Thibault developed a "secret formula" for the paper composition in her folk art figures. Confiding that the mixture contains powdered paper mixed with high quality tree resin, she admitted, "we actually have two formulas." Southern California's seasonal humidity determines which one they use.
"I still create the prototype for each design, paint it and give i its own personality and character," Thibault explained. "But now I have a small staff of talented artists that handcraft the pieces we sell in the stores. It's important to me that they're made in the United States. I'm an American artist and my figures are 100 percent American-made. My collectors appreciate that.
600 Stores Nationwide:
Debbee Thibault American Collectibles can be found in 600 stores nationwide as well as England and Japan. What sets her work apart from others? "The whimsy of it touches the child that lives in each of us. They hold the look and the feeling of history but with a contemporary twist. I want to tie my work to the present and insert my personality in each design."
Glass Ornaments in 2006:
2006 marked the tenth anniversary of Debbie Thibault. "I wanted to enter our tenth year with a big splash, a celebratory gift to ourselves. And, I'd always dreamed of transforming my designs into glass."
As an American artist, I wanted to be true to the flavor of those first glass ornaments from Woolworth's. Through my research, I found a German company that understood the feeling part of me. I felt a strong connection with them. They embraced the idea that I was doing business with my heart," she says, describing their working relationship.
Ten Ornaments for Tenth Anniversary:
"We began with ten ornaments to commemorate our ten year anniversary in 2006," Thibault explained. The designs are a mix of hanging and clip-on styles and capture the whimsical character of their paper mache predecessors. "I'm a collector," Thibault stressed. "My goal was to crate ornaments that I, as a collector would want."
More from Debbee on Glass Ornaments:
I am fascinated with the wonderful old items of Christmas past. I have collected German antique ornaments from the time that I was a teenager. I love the aged look as well as the fact each one has a charm about them and story to tell.
At this time in our history I can not find anything out there in the ornament world that is new and that blends with the old ornaments on my tree. I started to do my own research on how I might find away to fill the void while creating using my own ideas for a line of glass ornaments. Through a friend I learned about a company in Germany that had created ornaments for the American market long ago. I had sampled a few of their items and felt they were a match for my ideas. Many of the artists who work for this little company had parents and Grandparents who also worked at creating these little Christmas jewels and these people also have a passion for making them.
I met with the company in 2006. We created a small group of 10 ornaments to start .My ornaments are made in the same way they were made 100 years ago. They do not reflect a commercial look at all. Of course they look great with my antiques, but do play nicely on a tree with the more contemporary items of today as well.
Each ornament comes boxed in a recycled holly berry paper box. Each is packed with old fashioned paper like something that you might find in your Grandmother's attic. I actually used the print from an old Christmas package to make sure the graphics were just right. Each little box has a dear little gift tag and bakers twine tucked inside. I wrote a little story about each piece on the tag and this makes for a nice keepsake. Your Grandmother or your Auntie might have attached a little note or card to a Christmas package along with her loving wishes.
We are creating the ornaments in very small amounts at this point. I have not figured out a plan for editions. Remember.... ornaments of this nature break from time to time and these are my own special designs so I have to consider all things as we move forward with various projects. I have some great surprises for this year so stay tuned.