Craftswoman high on family, future

Betty Newman knew from the time she was a child that she would have her own business someday. It was in her blood.

Growing up in East Knox County she watched her grandfather sell eggs and produce. Her uncle owned an auto parts business; her mother sewed for people in addition to her day job. Everyone in her family had something they did for extra money. And Betty? She was the artist.

Introduced by one of her teachers to the world of craft shows and guilds, Betty began selling her work in high school. A job in an art and craft supply store taught her the basics of custom framing and retailing, and soon she was not only making beautiful paintings, but framing and selling them too.

Betty's talent -- and her family -- have led her to master a variety of crafts over the last 30 years. In 1988, when her youngest son was two, Betty took up basket weaving ("With two boys I was afraid that I was headed into an institution," she jokes, "and I wanted to be prepared!") The next year, while demonstrating her new talent at her oldest son's school, Betty volunteered to try her hand at caning a chair for one of the teachers. It opened a whole new career. "I bought a book and a hank of cane and set to work. I fell in love with it! I started calling refinishing shops and antique stores, asking if they ever needed someone to do caning. Their reaction was, 'Where have you been all my life?'."

In June 1990, Betty officially opened Newman Valley Studio on her family's historic 65-acre farm in Kodak. Since then Betty (recently helped by two part-time employees) has caned over 800 pieces of furniture, created over 900 framing projects, and taught several people how to do their own caning. Betty's expertise has brought her individual and corporate clients from all over East Tennessee, as well as Nashville, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Alabama. Newman Valley Studio/Framing & Caning has evolved into Newman Valley Studio/Art & Antique Studio and Gallery.

Business has been good; in the beginning, it soared as much as 60% in one year. But when it settled into a steady growth of 7-10%, ambitious Betty went looking for help. That's how she became a member of yet another family, the one at SCORE. SCORE, Counselors to America's Small Business, is a non-profit organization of businesspeople who volunteer their time to help small firms get and stay on their feet. With offices in Knoxville, Farragut, Lenoir City, and Maryville, the Knoxville SCORE Chapter helps over 1,000 individuals a year start and run their businesses.

"I could relate all the details about my business," says Betty, "but I still didn't know where it was going." Several sessions with SCORE counselor Chuck Christiansen taught Betty to put all the facts and figures she'd been keeping in her head into usable form. "He showed me how to project growth, to figure how hiring more employees would effect my production, and to balance that against what those employees would cost the business."

Today, armed with mentors and momentum, Betty and Newman Valley Studio are poised for some tough decisions. What began as a 300 square foot utility room studio has grown into a 1,200 square foot free-standing building, but it's still located on the family farm. "There is a tremendous amount of potential for growth if I take the business to a storefront location, but I have to balance that potential against my responsibilities as a farm wife, mother, and daughter," Betty says. "Where to go from here is a decision that my husband and I are praying about. Once it's made, I know that SCORE will be there for me. SCORE has been a tremendous help getting me to this point, and I know they'll continue to help me 'understand all I know' about my business in the years to come."

Newman Valley Studio /Art & Antique Studio and Gallery sells seat weaving supplies, does chair caning, wicker repair, and custom framing of everything from cartoons to heirlooms. Every year they demonstrate caning at the Museum of Appalachia's Fall Homecoming Event, at Rugby's Historic Festival in the spring, and at the Foothills Craft Guild Show in November, in addition to other one-day events.

Betty Newman is a member of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, The Foothills Craft Guild, and The Professional Picture Framers Association, and is a Charter Member of the East Knox County Business and Professional Association. Betty is writing an instruction booklet for seat weaving, and another book on the caning business.

Newman Valley Studio 9228 Newman Lane Kodak, TN 37764-1013 Phone: 865-932-4253 Fax: 865-932-3572 E-Mail: Bnstudio@cs.com Web site: www.newmanvalley.com