Crafts artists Thomas and Dawn Van Ness, who recently celebrated 39 years of marriage, are hitting it nationally with their handmade creations — distributing coast to coast.
Tom, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, and Dawn, 56, grew up in Martin and live there today. Their company, Early Homestead Primitives, distributes a variety of handmade scented candles to about 175 wholesale customers.
“We do two craft shows a year in Mansfield — the Simple Goods Show and people from all over the United States come to that,” Dawn said. “I look forward to that. Actually, I have a couple customers from that show in which we sell candles to now. The one lady in Massachusetts, Walker Homestead, we started making candles for her, and then there is a young man who has a shop in Massillon, Ohio, and I started selling him stuff.”
Dawn began her side of the couple’s crafts business 27 years ago. This year the couple opened a shop called Simple Gatherings at 18909 West State Route 51 just before you enter Elmore. It is open on Saturdays only, but it is there that locals can now see their entire range of products — all handmade.
The Genoa High School graduates began their candle lines five years ago, however, it is just one of many products they offer. Tom was formerly a home builder, and Dawn worked at the Genoa Library, but now they both work full time making, packaging, and distributing crafts.
During the week, they are in their Martin studio preparing products to be delivered to retail outlets in Florida, North Carolina, Washington, and other states. Most customers operate seasonal storefronts and do not order regularly, but when inventory demands it.
Last week, they were packaging four dozen 14-ounce candle jars for shipment to North Carolina.
The candle jars have a vintage-style paper label and a hand-dyed and distressed cloth topper that is sprayed with the candle scent.
“The cloth topper is fastened on with distressed twine that also holds a wonderful little grungy wax star that is the same scent as the candle inside. These candles are of my own design with some of the scents being my own custom blends and there are no candles on the market anywhere like them. They are made of a paraffin blend wax, burn very well, and are smokeless,” Dawn said.
“I blend the oils and everything. We make special ones. There is a primitive magazine called Primitive Magazine, which is all over the United States, and we make their candles, sprays, and tarts and all that kind of stuff.”
There are also three-inch scented tarts which come in a variety of aromas, The Van Nesses just expanded their candle operation, now providing their own original and unique new line of jar candles in little feed sacks, called, appropriately, Feed Sack Candles.
“Each candle is hand poured in a 16-ounce jar and is encased in a vintage-style little hand sewn feed sack. These candles are Early Homestead Primitives originals and there are none like them anywhere. More new scents will be added periodically. We are very excited about this new line,” Dawn said.
Dawn still makes the candles in an old milk house her father and husband renovated for her years ago.
“I really enjoy doing it. It’s like therapy. I can’t enjoy doing anything else. I love it. I love the people. I have the best customers anywhere — I really, really do,” Dawn said. “It’s funny because we had the shop in Williston for all those years and I had a good clientele, and then I didn’t have a shop for eight years and I missed everybody. So, a lot of people were happy when we decided to open another shop.”
Folk art, woodcrafts, primitives...
In their Elmore store, besides candles, there are folk art dolls, woodcrafts, primitives, and furniture..
“Most of the stuff is either old, antique, I made it, or he (Tom) made it. He makes the clocks, lamps, and all that kind of stuff and makes them look old,” Dawn said.
The folk art dolls are also Dawn’s creation.
“It is just a combination of coffee and cinnamon. It just makes it look old and grungy. My grandma taught me how to sew when I was a little girl, then in high school I took every single sewing class I could, mainly to get out of study hall,” Dawn joked.
Tom, who attended Columbus College of Art and Design, still operates Sonrise Construction and Home Improvement. He operates his craft business, The Woodworks, out of a small shop in back of the store.
Tom’s “American handcrafted” primitive woodcrafts include lamps, clocks, folk art, and “country decorating accessories to add charm to any home,” it states on his business card.
“I spray paint most of the stuff with basically cheap latex paint and it’s just a process of sanding, scraping, and staining,” Tom said, ”and figure out where it would normally be if it was old.”
The Van Nesses’ business started small, when they were a young married couple living away from their hometown.
“When we lived in Rossford and my son was a 3-year-old baby (he is now 30-years-old), there was a little shop on River Road and she would take consignment things,” Dawn said. “So I wasn’t working at the time, so I thought, ‘Well, you know, I’ll get a couple patterns, I’ll try and make some stuff and see if she likes it, because I liked shopping there.
“It was like, ‘Well, I can do this,’ and we used to go to craft shows and it was exciting. So, when we moved back to Martin, we had outside our doors a little woodshed and milk house. Tom and his dad redid it for me and it was a little shop I had there for a while.
“Then, when he opened a shop (in the original Dunn Chevy-Olds building) in Williston for his woodworking, he didn’t need the front, so he said, ‘You might as well take it. There is more traffic there than there is in Martin and way more space’ and we were there for 20 years.”
Tom added, “We had the shop in Williston for 11 years because I used to be a custom home builder and I started a custom cabinet shop there. I got out of homebuilding and things and moved into crafts many years ago.”.
Product lines can be viewed at www.earlyhomesteadprimitives.com and www.the-woodworks.com. The Van Nesses can be reached at 419-470-9643 or at the Martin studio, 419-8556214.