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Featured Shop: Mary Beth Hale

Oct 7, 2015

by Mary Beth Hale

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

My name is Mary Beth Hale, and I’m an artist and vintage collector. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband, son, and two cats.

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Even though my shop is all vintage goods, my beginnings are in fine arts. I had wanted to be an artist since I was seven years old; in my twenties, I went to art school. I have a BFA in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University and an MFA in studio arts from Louisiana State University. In the 22 years since I finished school, I’ve mostly painted. I opened my first Etsy shop in 2007 to sell my artwork; little by little, I started selling vintage pieces that I had collected over the years under a second account. Suddenly, my vintage shop started growing so fast that I started looking for other vintage items to sell.

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In the early days, I was selling mostly decor and housewares, and my photography was usually just the item against a white backdrop. Last year, I reevaluated my shop and formed a vision of what I would want my dream shop to look like. Then I set out to create it. The most dramatic change was the photography; I also shifted my focus to clothing and accessories. It’s far more challenging, but also much more fun.

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Creating the images is the most exciting part of the process for me. My goal is to create a narrative in my photos, like a visual diary. I had never considered photography as an art medium for myself until this past year. I take photos about once a week in a space borrowed from my brother, in an old hotel built in 1922. The room I use is a dilapidated ballroom surrounded by high windows. There’s a lot of natural light, and the textures on the walls give a sense of history. I spend the rest of the week preparing for photo shoots, doing research, cleaning pieces, packaging orders, and communicating with buyers. Finding inventory also takes a lot of time.

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Most of the items I sell are from the 1860s to the 1950s. I find inventory through live auctions, estate sales, and private buying appointments. It’s hard to define exactly what I look for in an item: I’m drawn to personal pieces like clothing and accessories, but I also look for old typewriters and photographs. I love to know the stories behind what I sell, and I want things that people can make a part of their home or everyday life. Sometimes I buy something because it ignites my imagination for a photo shoot. For example, I recently acquired some 1920s ski pants; now I am searching for wooden skis or ice skates to photograph with them.

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I’ve met so many people through Etsy — in fact, I met one of my best friends, from the shop Pastoria, at an estate sale about four years ago. In addition to the friendships I’ve made here, Etsy has also given me a way to reach an international market and the chance to create my own unique shop in a community of artists. My items probably wouldn’t have made their way into Country Living magazine, Hollywood costume departments, numerous museums, and homes around the world without Etsy. My goals for the future are to improve my shop, keep exploring storytelling through photography, and to grow my international customer base with vintage that draws people back.

Follow Mary Beth Hale on her blog – and on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Maker and process photographs by Dana of Golden Birthday. Item photos by Mary Beth Hale.

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