Self-taught

Green Bay woman melds love of books, art

Posted on Jun 29, 2018 :: Side Hustle
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Anna Dunlap-Hartshorn knows a lot about the powerful impact — and fickle nature — of starting your own business. In a single year, the Green Bay artist went from making $600 per year on her original wire art sculptures to making six figures.

And while it didn’t take long to get noticed and start making money, she just as quickly saw her business freefall — as knockoffs flooded internet sales sites.

Dunlap-Hartshorn, 40, was raised in an incredibly artistic family — her mother was an art teacher, artist and librarian.

“I take after her a lot,” says Dunlap-Hartshorn, who in addition to her art works part-time as a library assistant for Brown County Library. “I grew up with books; I got to witness art lessons. It was all books and art growing up.”

When her son, Henry, was born in 2007, Dunlap-Hartshorn started posting her wire art sculptures and personalized name hangers online through her Etsy shop, LilaFrances.

“It didn’t take very long before it took off,” Dunlap-Hartshorn recalls. “I started getting blogged about … literally all over the world.”

Soon, Victoria’s Secret called and ordered 75 wire heart hangers; then Martha Stewart’s assistant called, asking if she would agree to be featured as one of the lifestyle diva’s “favorite things” in her magazine’s June 2010 wedding issue and online.

Dunlap-Hartshorn went from selling 20 to 30 hangers per week to trying to fill 300 to 400 orders each week.

“For at least two solid years, I was doing 15 hours a day, seven days a week. It was exhausting,” she recalls. “But as great as it was, when it blew up, that’s when people started copying me.”

Almost within a month of LilaFrances’ mentions in Martha Stewart Magazine, Southern Living and The Knot, tons of Etsy shops cropped up with knockoff products. And that’s when the single mom’s world imploded.

Diversification and taking on other jobs were her solution.

“When I was only doing Etsy, and it was lucrative, it was great, but even when I was making a ton of money, I knew I could wake up tomorrow and maybe no one would want to buy,” Dunlap-Hartshorn says. “I really like the idea of diversifying. I cultivated income from a couple of places.”

When her wire business started tapering off in 2012, Dunlap-Hartshorn “knew I had to start training in something else.”

She trained in permanent makeup tattooing, hoping to find work doing 3D areola tattoos for those recovering from breast cancer. She also learned the practice of permanent makeup for eyeliner, eyebrows and lips. Her business, Strength Through Beauty, runs out of the Allouez office of 3D Brows and Wellness.

“I didn’t have the energy or desire to run another business completely on my own,” she says. “I wanted to work with someone else.”

But her artistry doesn’t end there. In addition to continuing her Etsy shop with wire work, she hand draws designs and works with Spoonflower online to produce one-of-a-kind fabrics based on her designs.

And keeping pace with her mother’s passion, Dunlap-Hartshorn returned to the Brown County Library — she worked as a shelver when she was a teen — as a library assistant, where in addition to working with books and patrons, she creates stunning artistic library displays.

“Anna’s art turns the library into a wonderland,” says library associate Judy Gallenberger, who works with Dunlap-Hartshorn at the Ashwaubenon branch. “Our librarians may come up with some of the ideas, but Anna is spot-on with her execution, taking an idea and executing a striking and often talked-about display.”

Amid all her side jobs, Dunlap-Hartshorn proudly considers art her career, and the other endeavors seem to feed her creative and social sides.

“Scheduling is harder than I thought it would be,” she admits, but “I genuinely love all of them; I couldn’t pick just one. I can’t not create something. It’s how I process information. I would be doing it whether I made money or not. It’s a Zen/meditative outlet.”

And despite having to juggle many jobs, Dunlap-Hartshorn is proud of being able to do it all — and the message that sends to her son.

“I want him to see that women are strong, that they can be independent,” she says. “You can choose something unconventional, you can be successful at it, and you can love what you’re doing. That’s the most valuable message I can give to my child.”