Friends and family can rely on receiving original gifts from handmade arts and crafts devotee Jill Colquitt. But they might have to wait a while; she gets pretty busy coordinating sales of other artisan's products and making her own items for the Handmade Holiday Trunk Sale. "That's why I usually don't get my own projects completed until the next holiday," she says.
This year, Colquitt's been even busier than usual, organizing summer and fall shows for the first time in addition to her fourth edition of her holiday standby, held at 409 S. Gay St., between Yee-Haw Industries and Downtown Wine & Spirits, Dec. 4-6 and 11-13. Sales, she says, are "slow, but rewarding. 2007 was great, so fun. But recently, the surge of downtown interest has been accompanied by the slowing economy, so people still shop, but more for gifts for others, than for others and themselves."
Colquitt's most popular creations for the trunk show include art shirts like the hand screen-printed lamb image on a Hanes short sleeve T-shirt in baby and youth sizes, or recycled tire planters, made to order by request. "I'm still hoarding supplies from Edith's and Hancock Fabrics," she says. "I also collect stamps and old packaging. I love to make Christmas ornaments, I have an embarrassing stash of felt, glitter and paper. I need help!"
Brandt Womack's pottery is another trunk show favorite, and the sale will also feature recycled stationery, cork trivets, belt buckles, jewelry, candles, soap, art, and more.
Colquitt's always got an eye out for a new crafter who would fit in; this show's first-timer is Sarah Brobst, who makes hub-cap art. "She's a sweet person from Ijam's Nature Center, and she also participates in the Rainy Day Brush Off rain barrel design auction," Colquitt says.
It's just a coincidence that Brobst makes hub-cap art when Colquitt makes tire planters; Colquitt making tire planters and working at Fisher Tire as a part-time secretary has a direct relationship. "Fisher Tire came first because my friends all worked there, and I decided in 2002 that I wanted to make tire planters. They send the tires to a recycling facility anyway, but seeing them all stacked up on the truck makes you realize that something needs to be done with them."
Her boyfriend of five years is third-generation tire man Brad Fisher, and she started part-time in 2007 when his sister went on maternity leave. "I love the shop and I love the people in it," she says. "Brad's Pappaw started Fisher Tire in 1948, and it's incredible to see how hard this family works to continue his success. I find all kinds of great things there, like old file drawers, or old signs that can be reworked, or old work-order tags that make perfect tire planter tags. I know it's abnormal, but I like the smell of tires!"
The tire job dovetails quite well with the demands of a home-based, seasonal, labor-intensive sideline, too. "I have a couple of flexible bosses, who also happen to be my boyfriend's parents, who tolerate my insistence that Knoxville needs a craft co-op, at least three times a year. And I have to have it—crafting is therapeutic."
Colquitt started working at Yee-Haw letterpress in 2002 by trading work to get business cards made. "I've still never made those business cards, but I got to work on some great projects instead, and meet incredible friends," she says. "Julie (Belcher) and Kevin (Bradley) just acted like I was meant to be at Yee-Haw, and they attract so many fun and original people."
The idea for the Handmade Holiday Trunk trunk shows came from boutiques that have trunk sales for select labels, and her experience with Yee-Haw's Art for the People Show. In one way, they're a stretch for her, because she has a social anxiety disorder. "I try to use it to my advantage," she says. "I like to confront situations, it makes me more anxious to wait around. PR for the show isn't easy for me, but it involves something I love; I'm more in my element when I'm truly excited about what I'm marketing."
A 1998 graduate of the University of Tennessee in American Studies, Colquitt did spend some time away from Knoxville, moving to Atlanta to work at the Apparel Mart for a short time after college, and doing a short stint at Goody's corporate. She was drawn back home to Gallatin, Tenn., when her father was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. "I wouldn't trade a day of playing gin and watching CMT with him," she says, "and think battling this anxiety disorder while going through that experience with my family contributed to any amount of courage that I have. Donna Walker was kind enough to hire me at Donnamite after that in 2001, and then I eventually ended up at Yee-Haw. I've been here since, and I feel like it's home."