COMMUNITY FIRESTARTER
Amber Perrodin of the Little Craft Show
+ Team Springdale

Community Firestarter:
Amber Perrodin of the Little Craft Show
+ Team Springdale

Amber Perrodin isn’t just from Springdale: four generations ago, farming brought her family to Springdale, and they never left. Her entire family has lived in the downtown Springdale area for over one hundred years, and she still lives in downtown Springdale with her husband, Jonathan, and their two daughters, Raine and Ezmah. When the time came that Springdale needed some love, she was the first to step up to the plate.

In Amber’s own words, she and Jonathan are “hacking their way through life,” making things for a living and building community as they go. She puts on the Little Craft Show twice a year, she and Jonathan run Perrodin Supply Company, they coordinate Team Springdale, and most recently Amber has stepped up as the Programming Director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance. She brings the same creativity, skill, quirk, and passion to each of her many and varied projects. No fits the title of “community firestarter” better than Amber Perrodin.

On being an artist

Art

I went to college to study art. I have a fine arts degree in printmaking. That’s a big part of myself that’s more private, but I have gallery representation. I just produce work and send it out and don’t really advertise it much on social media. It’s just a thing I do. It’s my sanctuary.

Like any kid, I was always interested in art. But I didn’t just stop at drawing—I went on to creating weird things with trash and all these strange things as a child. So I’ve always been interested in creating and making things with my hands, so it was a natural flow for me. In junior high I had my first official art class, and I just went crazy in that class. It was so fun—we made baskets, and we drew… It was in that class that I thought,

“This is it! I’ll just make things. I can figure out a way to do this.”

I got into high school, and my art teacher was Carla Caraway. Phenomenal lady. She really took me under her wing. I had her for three years. She gave me the materials and the freedom to do what I wanted. I did my own thing and just excelled at that. The same thing happened when I went to college: I had a professor in printmaking, John Newman, who said, “Here are the supplies and the equipment, do what you want.” I kept getting that freedom to run with it, and I really got to hone in on what it was that I was interested in, not just the assignments. Art has always been a part of who I am. I don’t think it will ever go away. While I do all these other crazy things it’s still there, I’m still doing it. I also see all of my other projects as another creative venture; I don’t just create paintings or etchings, I’m creating community too. I get to do cool things though—right now I’m working with the Single Parent Scholarship Fund. They’re having a big gala to thank everybody, and they’re giving each of the donors an original work of art from me. I have the daunting task of creating 140 works of art!

On Amber’s and Jonathan’s relationship

We actually met at church when we were in youth group. He was visiting with a friend. We clicked then, but we weren’t dating, we just became friends and stayed in touch. Then we lost touch with one another. Then, in my early twenties, I was out on Dickson one night and he walked by. I was actually on a blind date with someone else, but I was with a girlfriend… it’s a funny story. I wound up leaving that and just sitting outside and talking with Jonathan. The rest is history.

We’re very yin and yang. He’s very left brain, very critical, very black and white. I’m polar opposite of that. I’m in the clouds all the time, disorganized. We just click in that way. He challenges me. When we first started dating, I was going to school for art education, I was going to be an art teacher. He said, “You’re a fantastic artist—you should just pursue your art career.” That was what I wanted to do, but I thought, “that’s not realistic, you can’t just be an artist.” But he had convinced me that I should just change my major to studio art and pursue the artistic side, and then if I wanted to go back later for education I could get a teaching certificate. So he’s a critical part of the success of my artistic career. When I was so green and young in college, he pushed me to start doing coffee shop shows, and then I started getting picked up by galleries, and it just snowballed. It was something that, if he hadn’t pushed me, I would have just been doing my assignments like everyone else.

On the Little Craft Show

Perrodin-Abstract

I left a dead-end job at the University of Arkansas Global campus, and Jonathan really encouraged me to just work on my art. He was working at a church at the time, and that seemed pretty secure. Lo and behold, a month after I quit, he got laid off. So we were both unemployed, with a house and two kids. We started applying to things, but nothing was coming quick enough. Naturally, I was at a barbecue with some friends, and we were all talking about how to make money, and the conversation turned to, “I make things, you make things, let’s all sell something together, we should make a craft show where we can come together that’s not a big thing or a hard thing.” So we just created this thing called “The Little Craft Show.” We thought would be a one-off, but we took it seriously from the get-go. We just bootstrapped the whole thing, so we had almost no overhead. I designed a graphic, Jonathan made a website, we got booth fees to pay for the venue and the decor—the rest of it was profit. We figured out an algorithm and ran with it.

I was approached by Hannah Withers, of Maxine’s and Block Street Block Party, and she said, “This is phenomenal! Fayetteville needs this—you should go to the Town Center and get A&P funding.” I thought that was kind of silly. We didn’t plan on going that big with it—we had been using a church that was eleven hundred square feet. It was so little. But we did the A&P application, and we got our funding, and we got the venue paid for. So we thought, “all right, here we go!” We did half of the Town Center the second year, and then the third year we got A&P funding for the entire town center. We just kept growing it from there.

This last December was our fifth year. Our first event had 600 attendees, and our last one had 8,000. It just grew legs and started running, and we’ve been trying to keep up with it. The same could be said for Team Springdale and Perrodin Supply Company.

On Perrodin Supply Company

We started working together in college. He would help me with displaying my art, then he eventually started building my canvases, which then led into Perrodin Supply Company. He started building canvases for a living.

We started the Little Craft Show in December 2011. It went really, really well. So Jonathan and I thought, there was something there, we should really play this up and make it something. We used all our powers combined and made it happen. At the same time, we wondered what we were going to do for the rest of the year. We thought we could sell my artwork, and I had Jonathan make canvases for me. I photographed one canvas and put it on Etsy, and they started selling. We started Perrodin Supply Company out of that.

In late December 2011, early January 2012 we launched Perrodin Supply. The Arts Center of the Ozarks has their annual 5x5 Fundraiser, where they hand out the canvases to local artists, and that year they approached us about making their canvases for them. It was like four hundred canvases. I was, “This is pure gold! Our canvases are going to go into the hands of four hundred local artists!” I asked if we could put a business card on them, and they said yes. I ordered a little stamp that said “Perrodin Supply Company” that we used, and we threw a card on the back. It just blew up. People were asking if we could do custom sizes, and they needed fourteen of these, or they had this thing—we were like, “Holy mackerel!”

Jonathan was doing all of this out of the shed in our backyard, which was ten by twelve or something. It was crazy. Then we have a spare room that I was doing all of the admin and photography out of. We were just making stuff up, making up prices for canvases based on what other people were doing. There was a huge learning curve for us, but we were making money! It was probably six or seven months in that we started feeling like we were getting away with something—we still didn’t have jobs, but we were busy every single day, working our tails off, and I was starting to plan the next Little Craft Show that was going to be bigger. It just kept going and growing.

On Jonathan’s accident

Two or three years ago we were working with a website called Fab.com, which at that time was at its climax—if you could get your stuff on Fab.com, you were going to hit it big. You were going to get your stuff in magazines, etc. They had put in an order with us for ten thousand of these little triangle shelves that Jonathan was making. You could just hang it on the wall and put little trinkets on it. We were painting them these crazy colors, and people were just eating them up. We had pitched them to Fab, and they said, “Sure, give us two thousand of this color, two thousand of this color,” and we were astonished. So we got started.

We had gone to Lowe’s to get wood, and we came back to the warehouse. It was cold. We had been in an argument that morning because we were under so much pressure, just hacking our way through life. Jonathan went into his workspace, and he was using a mitre saw to cut all these little pieces of wood. He would just chop it and then hit it with his finger to move it past. He had an old saw that didn’t have a guard on it, and it didn’t stop spinning when you picked it up. He just got into a rhythm. One little wrong move, and the saw caught his finger as he pushed one through.

He kept his cool. He said a dirty word—when I heard him say the word, I knew something had happened. He came around the corner, and he was holding his arm up and his finger was just hanging. I lost my stuff. I didn’t know what to do—he was telling me to wrap his arm up, and then I couldn’t get the car unlocked… We flew over to the hospital, and for whatever reason, the doctor refused to reattach his finger. He said that it would be a “dumb finger,” and the likelihood of another accident happening would be really high. He said we just needed to move on.

The most healing thing that happened through all of it was the outpouring of community support. We didn’t have insurance because we didn’t work for anyone and we were hacking our way through life! Then it bit us. I had some acquaintances on social media, other crafters in the U.S. Whenever the accident happened, I shared a photo on Instagram of Jonathan’s boots in the ER. I said, “You guys, it’s a terrible day for us. This just happened, I don’t know what this is going to look like for us. If you have any orders, we’ll do our best to get those to you.” It was then that a good friend, Stacey, from Gingiber, said, “We should do a fundraiser.” Instagram fundraisers were really trendy at the time, so in a way we couldn’t have timed that accident any better! Stacey took it over: she went after people and asked if they could donate an item to sell for the fundraiser, and all the proceeds went to us. We raised around $8,000.

We had over $20,000 in bills from the ER. We left our house at ten o’clock and by noon we were back on the couch. Those two hours in the ER cost us $20,000. I called the hospital and said, “Look, we just had a fundraiser, I was just wondering what the minimum is that we could pay for this bill.” The lady asked how much we had made at our fundraiser. When I told her, she checked with her supervisor and said, “Okay, we’ll take that.” I said, “There’s nothing else we have to do?” She said, “Nope, just give us that and we’ll call it a wash.”

The accident just dropped a brick wall down in front of Perrodin Supply Company for a while. He couldn’t work, we had to cancel the Fab.com order. Jonathan just flipped a switch, and he was no longer interested in woodworking. He’ll take little orders now and then for friends, but he has a little PTSD there with spinning blades. So we had to navigate through that and figure out what to do next. He did some freelance work for a company out of Dallas, and that kept us going for a while. I was doing freelance graphic stuff and doing the Little Craft Show, trying to breathe into that. I got picked up in some galleries, and that helped. It was during this lull that we picked up Team Springdale. We said, “Okay, we’ve got other interests and other things, and if we put our minds to it we can do whatever we want to.”

On Team Springdale

Perrodin-Springdale

I grew up with all these wonderful Springdale stories and all these wonderful people around me. But that wasn’t the conversation I was hearing out in public with other people who were like, “ugh, Springdale,” or “Oh, you live in Springdale? I thought you were a Fayetteville girl.” I thought, “Someone’s got to stand up for Springdale!” There’s this whole conversation about this great town and all this great talent that comes from here, but we all disperse, so I was trying to reel that back in. I said, “Hold up, Springdale’s cool! Look what’s coming out of Springdale! You guys are all getting the credit for it.” That’s the root of Team Springdale—I wanted to tell this story that’s not being told. Also, there were so many events happening that no one knew about. I could sit on my front porch and see a parade going by, and I thought, “How did I not know there was a parade today?” If I didn’t know and I live in downtown Springdale, then no one else knew either.

I was really inspired by the Humans of New York project. It was softening the edge of New York. You see New York in the headlines and everyone has these preconceptions of what New York is. But HONY brought it back down to earth and said, “Look at these people, look at these stories, look at what’s going on.”

I went into it thinking we were going to be anonymous, and we were just going to share whatever we saw happening. Within three or four days, KNWA had picked up on what we were doing and asked for an interview. I thought, If this thing is going to grow, I need to lean into the press that we’re going to get. We just jumped in. It was just pure love for the city. It wasn’t vindictive, it wasn’t “they’re doing it wrong,” it was just that we saw a gap. At the very least it was a generational gap—people my age are on Twitter and Instagram, and they want to know what’s going on, and there’s nothing projecting that right now. We just wanted to fill that gap and show people what’s going on, and take pretty pictures and highlight what’s happening here.

We live down here and we work down here, and my youngest goes to the Montessori school now, so we’re just in the thick of it all day long. If we’re just walking or riding our bike down the trail, it’s like, “oh look, here’s a stick sculpture, let’s share that.” That’s part of what separates us—we’re just living it. It wasn’t another job for us. If your tire is flat and you go to get a new tire, just take a picture while you’re there and say, “here’s a great place in Springdale to get your tires changed!” We just started showing what we were doing. If we went to try a new restaurant, we’d share that. It wasn’t too big of a deal for us to do.

We go around to schools and talk about Team Springdale, and when they ask us what Team Springdale is, we say, “Basically, we’re just a couple of yahoos over here with an iPhone that didn’t ask anyone’s permission and just did it. And look at the change that we’ve been able to make by just doing it.” That’s how we start our conversations—

…you don’t need permission to make a change.

Perrodin-Worth-Fighting-For

Find more about Amber online at amberperrodin.com, thelittlecraftshow.com, perrodinsupply.com, and teamspringdale.com.

Emalie Cockrell

Emalie Cockrell

Contributing Author

Emalie Cockrell is a writer located in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She pursues writing fiction, as well as writing non-fiction about nature, traveling, running, Christianity, and real stories about real people. Watch for more of her work here on Backstory Boon.

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