For today's Mamatoga Style we interviewed a local artist and mom who has a familiar, but maybe somewhat quirky, subject. The artist, Jennifer Maher, runs her own company called Your Toy Portrait, and yes, she paints portraits of beloved toys. When I first heard of her work I knew immediately we had to feature her here. I've never seen a portrait of just a toy, I've seen them included in portraits occasionally, but the idea that a much loved toy would be the featured subject of a portrait sounded so special. Besides seeing first hand the bond my own kids have with their special stuffed animals (BunBun and Doggie respectively) I myself am the proud owner of a Gund pig I received as a gift when I was a child. I gave her the imaginative name of "Piggy" and she is still close at hand, even though I no longer sleep with her, I swear. We wanted to find out more about Jennifer and her creative business so we recently asked her a few questions about her life and Your Toy Portrait. I grew up mainly in the Chicago area, and I moved to New York State for graduate school. I got my MFA from SUNY Albany in 1997. Right out of school I got a job working at a small, family-run art-tile company called L'esperance Tileworks www.lesperancetileworks.com , and I stayed there for eleven years hand-painting Victorian and Arts-and-Crafts tiles. During that time I continues to paint, showing regionally whenever possible. I also began coordinating the art exhibits at the Uncommon Grounds coffee shops in both Albany and Saratoga. The company moved from Albany to Rock City Falls (just west of Saratoga) and, as my husband Greg also worked in Saratoga managing Uncommon Grounds, we moved from Albany first to Round Lake and then to Ballston Spa. Our daughter Sonja was born in February of 2008. I took her to work with me until she was nearly a year old (very challenging!!) and at that point, due to the economy, Lesperance had to lay off its entire small staff.
I have always collected quirky little stuffed animals and toys and used them as subject matter in my paintings. My earliest painting of toys is a self portrait from 1995 which includes my stuffed lion and tiger. Even our wedding cake was topped with tiny Japanese ceramic toy animals! I had done a couple of exhibits of small paintings of my family's own favorite toys. So when I found myself at home with a baby, I decided to embark on a business offering acrylic-on-canvas portraits of children's beloved toys by commission. A talented friend helped me put together my website, www.yourtoyportrait.com, which serves as a gallery for the portraits and an archive for their stories. My work very soon drew the attention of various blogs and parenting sites. An early boost to my business was a post by Melissa Summers of Suburban Bliss, who wrote about a painting of her husband's decrepit, creepy stuffed monkey and hosted my first (of many) internet giveaway. Other sites who have been kind enough to feature my work are listed here: http://customtoyportrait.com/blog-buzz/