In 1996 I took a chance on myself. I pulled together 4 quilt designs I had created, and rented a booth at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in NYC to launch Denyse Schmidt Quilts. The show was relatively new, a mix of large and small vendors showing contemporary home furnishings. I had friends showing their hand-made furniture, and I knew I wanted to connect with the design-focused audience. I felt that the graphic and quirky quilts I loved, with their tactile nature and potential for resonating on a personal level, would be the perfect complement to the slick contemporary vibe of the show. Plus it was a parade of fabulous outfits, glasses, and shoes!
My instincts were good! I got a lot of attention and interest, and a ton of coverage in magazines and newspapers followed, all of which helped build name recognition over time, and led to all kinds of amazing opportunities.
One interior designer who visited my booth gazed for many minutes at the What of Bunch of Squares quilt hanging behind me. Finally he spoke and said it was “…like Josef Albers on a bender.” Having been taught Albers’ color theory at RISD, I thought it was very flattering and funny. Josef and his wife Anni were “pioneering 20th-century artists whose work, teaching, writing and teaching transformed the way people see color and the process of art making, and Josef’s famous Homage to the Square paintings are among the masterworks of modern art.”
The next week I did an interview for a short piece in the NY Times home design column that ran in Thursday’s paper, and mentioned the reaction from that designer. When that quote appeared in the article the following day, I had some pangs of misgiving and a slightly sick feeling in my stomach. I probably should have thought through possible outcomes should it be published before opening my mouth, but regrettably—that wasn’t my style.
A day or so later, the phone rang, and the young woman who was helping me after school a few days a week answered the phone. “It’s Nicholas someone from the Albers Foundation?” My head started ringing, my mouth went dry, and my stomach did something horrible. Now I’d done it! Barely out of the gate and now I’ll be sued. What a disaster!
Indeed it was the Foundation, but they wanted to know if I’d like to come visit. I was not expecting this invitation as my deeply-ingrained-original-sin syndrome had taken hold. All I could think about at the time was the enormous relief I felt at not being in trouble!
The foundation’s office was at the Albers’ former home in Orange CT, about twenty minutes from my house. I have to admit I was taken aback when I arrived at a cul-de-sac in the suburbs, and pulled in front of a post-war split-level nearly identical to the one I grew up in (below).
Unlike my childhood home, theirs was filled with Josef's paintings, Anni's weavings and drawings, and furniture and artwork by their famous Bauhaus colleagues, but still! How was it possible that these icons of modern design lived in such a modest, ordinary way? It's easy to imagine that the people we hold in high regard live extraordinary lives different from ours, without scuff marks on the walls, messy drawers, or stuff junking up the kitchen counter. It seems silly to articulate it, but somehow that house with its fake wrought-iron railing on the front steps made me feel like I belonged to the world of design. It took my imposter syndrome down a notch (at least temporarily), and gave me a new perspective on where I was, and where I might be going.
One for the Road: Take a chance on yourself!