Summer 2019
Friendship Heart Gallery Collection By Debbie Eisele

Kathy’s Circle of Friends provides opportunities for artists

Primitives by Kathy, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is a home and gift company founded by Kathy Phillips. Her successful journey started with one product and today offers over 8,000. Along the way, she cultivated a partnership with Goodwill Industries that sparked the passion for giving back and supporting others and is a reason the business has been successful for more than 20 years.

“The heart of Primitives by Kathy has always been rooted in creativity. Kathy created her very first product by hand in 1997, a candle box,” said Kristin Kropp, director of marketing for Primitives by Kathy. This product outperformed expectations at a Pennsylvania wholesale show Phillips attended, causing a demand for the merchandise that was difficult to fulfill.

Artisan of the Friendship Heart Gallery Collection.
Artisans of the Friendship Heart Gallery Collection are trained in various painting styles.

“When she found herself unable to fulfill the orders on her own — she turned to the local Goodwill Services,” Kropp shared. “This initial outreach was just the beginning of a unique and amazing partnership, which captured the passion for providing opportunities — occupationally, socially and creatively for those with special needs.” This ideology transformed into one of the “cornerstones” of the business.

“It is a priority to offer our customers unique and artist driven items while also providing employment opportunities that teach new skills and provide enjoyment to those with disabilities,” explained Kropp. The company’s mission statement embodies what everyone in the organization values: “Combining our culture of creativity with our culture of caring.”

In 2018, Phillips launched Kathy’s Circle of Friends, a 501(c)(3) organization. According to Kropp, this nonprofit “is an employee-run organization that holds elaborate themed events and activities for those with disabilities in Central Pennsylvania as a way to provide a fun social environment where new friends are made.”

“In 2019, we debuted the Friendship Heart Gallery Collection — our newest partnership with the Friendship Heart Gallery in Lancaster. The gallery provides creative and financial opportunities for artists with varying levels of abilities by training them in various painting styles to create the stunning art you see on our products,” noted Kropp. “A portion of the sales of the items in the collection go back to the gallery to continue to support the programs and provide even more opportunity for artistic expression.”

Art creation in progress

Kropp indicated each piece from the gallery is replicated from an original work of art. “With the gallery’s guidance the artists we help them [creators] discover their medium of choice and even the tools used to create the unique pieces that we select to bring into the collection,” she said.

“It’s the combination of the creativity and caring for those in our community that make this collection a beautiful illustration of our mission as a company,” Kropp said. Each featured product includes a hangtag that includes a short biography and a photo of the artist, and a short description of the gallery telling the creator’s story, which raises awareness about the assistance this organization provides to those with special needs.

“It really connects the customer to the incredible person behind the art, while telling a story about the gallery and the programs their purchase is supporting,” she explained. Kropp also shared that many gallery artists are also members, or event attendees, of Kathy’s Circle of Friends. “It’s so fulfilling to see their excitement when we tell them how much our customers love their art,” she said.

Primitives by Kathy

The Friendship Heart Gallery Collection has received an overwhelmingly positive response at its debut this winter. Due to the response, Kropp said they are now working on expanding product offerings, some inspired by customer suggestions. “We’re really excited for the textiles, featuring all over print; it is a way to add softness and texture into a display,” said Kropp.

“The story of the collection is resonating,” Kropp shared. “It’s important to ensure retailers are telling a compelling story at the point-of-sale by ensuring the story tags are visible and that there is a broad selection of product bodies and art styles to choose from.” An array of designs are available and include everyday art, a Memphis collection, botanicals, and more.

Primitives by Kathy's nonprofit artwork
Beautiful artwork created through the Friendship Heart Gallery Collection is showcased on Primitives by Kathy product offerings.

“We’re so excited about the potential here — the gallery has a beautiful program that fits in perfectly with our mission,” she said. “We see much more to come, every time we see the new art from the gallery we’re inspired to do even more.”

Retailers may help by sharing the art and story of Friendship Heart Gallery with their customers. The products ordered by stores support ongoing and future programs and share the incredible abilities of this team of artists.

The Friendship Heart Gallery works with artisans of all abilities to train them on painting styles and techniques.

“We’re so honored to be a part of sharing local and national artists’ work with our customers,” said Kropp. “It resonates and creates an emotion and a connection with our customers – we are so proud to be able to do what we do.”

Debbie Eisele

Debbie Eisele is the former managing editor for Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and a variety of special issue publications, including: The Guide, Holiday Shop, Celebrations & Occasions and Waterfront Living.

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