Vanessa Calkins launched her business two years ago as a form of grief therapy. Today, Owl B Crafty is helping others channel their energy in a similar way, by doing something fun in the midst of a difficult time.
Growing up in Keene, Calkins said she and her family could go camping every year.
“My mom was always crocheting or knitting or making homemade ornaments,” she said. “All summer long we would do these little crafts together.”
She would share a table with her mother, and they sold their creations at craft fairs. When her mother passed away in early 2018, two months later Calkins decided she needed to carry on their tradition. At the same time, she was yearning for a creative outlet after more than a decade working as a teacher’s assistant in the Keene school district.
Calkins started by renting a room from a fellow crafter and holding craft nights, which sold out consistently. After a couple of months, she rented a small studio space in downtown Keene for about a year, and realized she needed more space for storage.
A little more than a year ago, Owl B Crafty, named by a Facebook fan in response to a call Calkins put out (she loves owls as well as crafting), moved into 305 Park Ave. in West Keene.
In the beginning, she offered four or five craft nights a month for adults (including private ones). She then added birthday parties, classes and camps for kids and private corporate events to the list of services.
Calkins’ favorite style of crafting is “upcycling,” (repurposing) items “from something someone would just throw away.” Recently, she made a chalkboard for the kitchen from a head board. She also repurposes a lot of shirts for fabric in projects as well as picture frames and scrap wood for signs.
The pandemic, of course, has meant she’s had to make some adjustments in her business.
But at the same time, her online presence has grown. She offers live crafting videos on Facebook, which have evolved into a monthly craft subscription box service. Subscribers receive a package every month with all of the supplies needed for the craft she demonstrates on Facebook Live (except scissors and a hot glue gun).
Before COVID-19, she had 70 subscribers — she now has 340.
Calkins is still offering kids’ crafting day camp (for children ages 5 to 14), although the number of participants in her sessions has been cut in half. Camp is five days a week for one week; she offers half- and whole-day sessions (including before- and after-care) every other week during the summer and during school vacation weeks throughout the rest of the year. In between crafts, which in recent weeks have included tie-dyed pillow cases, wind chimes and finger-woven crafts, children play games outside the studio.
A few have booked private events, as well, also at smaller sizes in the studio. And she has begun offering private parties via the Zoom platform online.
Owl B Crafty is a family business, run by Calkins and her husband, Rob, and their two children, Baylee, 8, and Jakob, 13. The family, which recently moved into their new home in Marlborough, help package monthly craft subscription kits and the children make crafts with her in Facebook videos. Recently, Jakob helped his mother sell items online for an auction, the proceeds helped provide low-income families with school supplies.
When she’s not crafting, Calkins does custom furniture restoration, and she offers custom signage including wedding and holiday pieces.
One of her favorite parts of what she does is seeing different interpretations of her craft activity.
“If we’re making a ‘Hello Summer’ sign, for instance, I give people instructions and show them where the materials are, and I tell them it’s okay to go rogue and add their spin,” she said. “Every person’s [sign] turns out different. It’s great to see everyone’s personality come out in their craft.”
Calkins attributes the success of Owl B Crafty to the fact that it offers something different to do and it’s a unique service offered in this area.
“At the end you have something you can take home,” she said, “and I make [crafting] as stress-free as possible. You can sit, relax and have fun in a more intimate setting where you can be yourself.”
For more information about classes, services and events, visit Owl B Crafty’s Facebook page or owlbcrafty.com.