First, a coincidence: Before I even met Mandy Bagwell, I owned a few of her pieces. I chose my platters and bowls for their colorful design, and I like the look of my table when they’re front and center. My guests always ooh and aah (I like that too).
Who knew she’s in Montgomery? About three seconds into my chat with the artist, I realized the link between her talent and my table favorites. Then I not only wanted―but needed―to know Mandy’s story.
It starts simply, as most artists’ stories do―with the doodling of her childhood spent in Selma, the leaning toward art, supportive parents who fueled the spark, a teacher who cared, and, finally, a need to showcase her ability. That latter aspect popped up when Mandy found herself decorating the nursery for her first child.
“I got out my watercolors, covered my tiny little nook of a dining room, and did some paintings for the nursery,” the mother of three says. “The pieces looked like real fish, real butterflies, but with whimsical colors and a twist. I’d take them to festivals on the weekends.”
A One-Mom Show
Acting as a makeshift studio, the dining room never saw dining for two years. What’s interesting when you look back on these nine years of Mandy’s creations is the learning curve. She’s done it all. At one point, the stay-at-home mom juggled changing diapers with painting individual pieces, pricing them, and shipping the packages out to customers. Later, she maintained a warehouse, employed a staff, figured out the world of wholesale, and drove to Times Square to attend a New York buyers’ market.
A contract with Caffco International in Montgomery helped ease the burden. The company reproduces Mandy’s dinnerware collections, as well as her Simply Christmas and pastel Baby Dots lines. Teaming with Dallas-based Home ETC, she produces yet more distinctive items―from ornaments to platters, paper goods, and a variety of colorful accessory pieces.
Artist Returns to Art
Other people handle the business part now―and that’s fine with Mandy. She’s pleased to be back at the drawing board, doing just the designing.
More than 800 stores nationwide carry her creations. Mandy sells on the Internet too, but the best place to find our own artist’s work is in Montgomery. Her new shop and gallery sits within walking distance of the family’s home in the Cloverdale neighborhood.
“The gallery carries my dinnerware and other items, and it’s a place where I can interact with people,” says Mandy. Life is as busy, as colorful, and as upbeat as the work itself. “It’s all so happy,” she says.
I have to admit; the next time I pull out my platter, I’ll be feeling the same way.
M. Bagwell Gallery: 1038 East Fairview Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36106; www.mbagwellart.com or (334) 356-4545.
If I Could Choose…
I’ve already admitted my membership in the Mandy Bagwell Fan Club, so let me share my absolute favorites in her line. You’re bound to have your own.
"Designs by Mandy" is from the February 2008 issue of Alabama Living: People & Places, a special section of Southern Living for our subscribers in Alabama.