Stop Five on our Etsy Rhode Trip: New York!

When deciding on which talented Etsian should represent New York on our Rhode Trip, I had to pick Linda Stoddard of The Keeper's House. I purchased two of her baskets for Christmas gifts this year, and I was completely blown away by the craftsmanship.

The Keeper's House

HT: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

LS: This is the hardest of the ten questions for me to answer. I am 52 years old. How do I condense that into a few sentences? What is it you would want to know about me?

My name? I am Linda Stoddard-Leonard. I am a wife, mother, gardener, floral designer, and basket maker. I wear my hair too long and my skirts too short for my age. I have never voted Republican. I was born outside of Cleveland, raised in Chicago and Houston and fled to the East Coast for college. Upon completion, I took my B.A. in Philosophy and ran a Florist and Greenhouse business for about 7 years in Concord, New Hampshire. It made perfect sense to me, although I am not sure my parents agreed.

I moved to New York after my marriage twenty three years ago and have been here ever since. We live in a big old 1889 rambling Victorian house that we have been restoring for 20 years. I long ago made peace with the fact that the house will probably never be completely finished. For anyone who has ever watched the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, that is my house, my husband and my town. Sappy, I know. But, I can’t watch the movie without being struck by the similarities.

After opting to stay home with my children , I only ventured back out into the retail crafting world doing a few juried shows a year, as my sons grew older. I also continued the floral design work , freelancing for florists when they needed the extra help. When my sons were old enough not to need a babysitter, I opened my own brick and mortar shop. The shop, called the Keepers’ House, sells not only my own works, but everything from pottery to weaving from other local NY artisans as well. The shop is now in its 8th year. Along the way, I have also taught adult education classes in floral design, directed a library reading/ arts program for preschoolers, lived in a lighthouse (where The Keepers’ House name comes from) and I write a weekly column on life in my small rural town for the local newspaper.

HT: How did you find out about Etsy?

LS: Because Henderson Harbor is a teeny tiny town which is also very seasonal, a good friend of mine suggested that I check out Etsy to expand my selling season beyond Labor Day. She is a spinner and she had heard about the site on one of the fiber sites she frequents.

HT: How did you become involved in basket coiling?

LS: I have a room in my house that my family knows is best left with the door closed. In that room is a lifetime of creating. Behind that door is a kiln, florist supplies, beads, vintage linens and costume jewelry, acorns, pine needles, a sewing machine, rug braiding stands, stained glass supplies, buttons, deer antlers, grapevine, a large assortment of dried herbs, flowers and oils, soap making supplies, cookbooks, beeswax, candle wicks, paints and more fabric than anyone should be allowed to own. There isn’t much that I haven’t tried to do, and I relish it all. My husband claims that even if I never sold another thing, I would still make things with enthusiasm. It seems to be part of who I am. My now grown sons take great joy in retelling childhood memories of being asked to drink homemade ginger ale that set their throats on fire, begging to buy clothes rather than wearing the ones I made for them, coming home to find the bathtub filled with soaking twigs and tales of dragging huge pieces of driftwood from the back of the boat because I just had to have them.

The textile art baskets have just kept my interest the longest (10 years). Just when I think that I have made every style possible, a customer will request something that I have never tried and new doors open.

HT: What aspects of your state inspire you?

LS: When people think of New York, it is usually with New York City in their minds.

However, New York is a big and diverse place. I am in Northern New York State. If I stretch out my hand, I touch one of the Great Lakes. Stimulated by the daily changing beauty of Lake Ontario, surrounding pasture land and an abundance of stars , sunsets and wildlife ,it is hard not be inspired. Since what I do is a lot about color, living where I do gives me endless opportunities to coil up my world in a basket. I have a special fondness for the lake inspired, water themed baskets. That lake is what keeps us here despite the long New York winters.

HT: What are your favorite materials?

LS: For me, it is all about the fabric. I have made traditional reed and pine needle baskets, and that gets boring for me. The fabric gives me endless possibility in terms of color combinations and textures. I really like experimenting with different handle options, and one of my favorite activities is to go gathering in the wild places around my home. I also hunt down materials in flea markets and antique stores. I guess my favorite material will be the next one I find.

HT: What is your favorite part about being an Etsy seller?

LS: Etsy has been really good to me! I don’t have a negative thing to say about my experience so far, so I don’t really have a favorite part either. I have had a website of my own for years and it never even came close to the attention that my Etsy shop receives. Etsy has far out sold all of the other avenues I have tried. Crafts shows are great, but that is only one weekend. Even my own physical shop runs hot in the summer and cold during the winter months. Etsy has been steadily consistent and I have found some wonderful repeat buyers here. I tend to be rather guarded and a bit of a loner by nature, so I have not participated in chat rooms or street teams, nor have I been too active in forums. I lurk there a lot and gather a lot of good information on other sellers and activities, but I rarely post. So, there is a lot about Etsy that I still have not really experienced. When I have the time, I do love the Treasury though.

HT: Do you currently have a favorite item in your shop?

LS: I don’t really have a shop favorite. It would be like choosing which one of my sons I liked the best. I have made baskets that have sold before I was really ready to let them go, but I wouldn’t say that they were my favorite. If I had to chose something, it would be a bowl. Whether pottery or textile, there is just something about a really good bowl. And, I enjoy making them the most.

HT: Have you ever visited Rhode Island?

LS: Oh yes. I have been to Rhode Island many times, with a concentration on Newport. My family is water based, with my sons and husband being avid small craft sailors. We have spent way too much money at Newport Marine!

HT: Is Etsy full time or part time for you right now?

LS: Etsy has become full time for me. So much so, that I have actually drastically shortened my local physical shop hours to better handle the Etsy work.

HT: What are your Etsy New Year's resolutions?

LS: I know that many people might answer this question by listing ways to grow their business. My Etsy New Year’s resolution however would be to find a way to pace myself. Mine is a labor intensive craft. Not only does it take a lot of time to make each basket one at a time, but it can be physically demanding. This is especially true when it comes to my hands. I need to find a way to give myself more time to complete orders so that I do not overtax my hands to a point of no return. At the same time, I do not want to discourage sales, so I am not sure what the solution will be. My family helps me with the shipping aspect, but the baskets themselves are all me. It is a bit of tightrope walk at the moment.

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4 Responses
  1. bermudabluez Says:

    BIG Congratulations Linda! Love the quality and handmade precision that go into each and every single one of your items!! When I have requested special orders, they are ALWAYS perfect! Great interview!

  2. Julie Beck Says:

    so cool! i really enjoyed this interview!

  3. sabablue Says:

    You know how you subliminally picture people you meet on etsy and find you're way off when you read a personal interview like this? Well, I was dead on, I'm pleased to say (except for that Democrat nonsense). :-)

    This artist is skilled, professional AND living the kind of life my husband and I dream of.

    I love every basket I've bought, whether off the shelf or special order. They make perfect unique, appreciated and useful gifts (when I can part with them) for anyone. These baskets just plain make people happy!

    Nice interview, folks. I have to go see if Linda's posted any new baskets now...

  4. Monica Says:

    I special ordered a couple baskets from Linda just a few days ago. I have not gotten them yet but I have to say, she is so wonderful to be working with. I am excited to get my baskets!