The Iowan

In the Studio With Joyce Byers

 

Joyce Byers now brings joy and holiday happiness to thousands of collectors.

By Susan K. Elliot

Travel abroad can be an enriching experience. For Joyce Byers, a trip to London and what she found in an antique dealer’s window transformed her family life and now brings holiday happiness to thousands of collectors.

Disappointed with the glitz and sparkle of aluminum trees and shiny ornaments that dominated decorating in the 1960s, Byers wanted to create a different mood in her own holiday style. She saw a unique set of porcelain figures evoking 19th-century England in an antique dealer’s window and had the idea of combining their look with a Christmas theme.

“I said, ‘I could do that’,” recalls Byers. She shaped figures out of paper and decorated them with items from around the house, using “a little bit of fur from my mother’s old fur coat, some hair from the kids, a coat hanger, some plaster and paint. I dressed them in plaids and made them cheerfully singing because that reminded me of Christmas. They were very warm and friendly which was what I was looking for. The original Carolers had the feeling that has dictated what has happened since then,” says Joyce.

More than 100 artists work for the company today in Chalfont, Pa., creating lines that include: Victorian Carolers, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Traditional Carolers, Specialty Santas, Salvation Army, Historical Carolers, advent calendars, and gingerbread houses.

Because of the Carolers’ success, Byers Choice has been able to donate generously to their community each year through the Byers’ Foundation. In 1999, the company was honored as one of the top corporate donors in the country, receiving a Newman’s Own/George Award from Paul Newman and George magazine President/Editor-in-Chief, John Kennedy.

What project are you currently working on?

“We must work a year to six months ahead of our production release, so now I am putting the finishing touches on the 2013 line.”

What types of art do you create in your studio?

“I design and produce the prototypes for our figures using paper, clay, wire, paint, fabrics, et cetera. My knowledge of history and design is important.”

What is your studio like? 

“My studio consists of two rooms located in the middle of our production floor. The smaller room contains fabric samples, a drawing board, and a computer. I do research and write the final production instructions there.

“The larger studio is used for physically producing the new designs. It contains all of the original working prototypes. The supervisors and artists have ready access to me and the samples in this room on an everyday basis. It is important we all work together to interpret the final creation.

“Both of the rooms would appear very messy to anyone who is not familiar with all that goes on there. We frequently have many projects going on at one time.

“I love being in the middle of things. It enables me to keep a close eye on the Carolers and what is going into them. We can catch most problems before they become major.”

What are you looking forward to in the next year?

“A better economy.”

What is the best part of your life right now?

“There is no best part. I enjoy every minute of it.”

One of the most important elements of Byers’ Choice figures involves the individual artists who interpret Joyce’s designs, each one adding their own color choices, tilt of a head, shape of a body, or flair in styling a costume.

“Each Caroler has a certain personality because of the artist handcrafting it,” shares Joyce. I get inspiration from watching people I meet. I am an incorrigible people watcher. I look for the personality behind the surface. People often say they ‘know these people’ [when they see the Carolers] and try to find figures that remind them of people they know.

“I believe the most important part of any career is enjoying what you do. It shows in your work. It is important to put together a team you can rely on — not only people you enjoy, but people who enjoy one another. The combined input makes for successful results.”

As her supportive husband Bob, says, “If you have a spouse with a passion, for heaven’s sake, support them. You never know where they’ll go.” 

 

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