Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Terri Ghioalda uses discarded items to make art “faces” that customers buy for their whimsical characteristics. Ghioalda has a space set up at Ally’s Attic in Lawrenceville and also in Snellville and will be participating in upcoming local art festivals.
LAWRENCEVILLE — Terri Ghioalda is a formidable woman. She is a successful businesswoman — two times over — and a talented folk artist. She has survived tragedy and pain only a mother could fathom.
And she makes faces.
Ghioalda is the artist and business genius behind Granny Jacobs Folk Art Faces. Her whimsical faces, all fashioned from recycled items, express happiness and invite laughter. But Ghioalda didn’t get to where she is overnight. In fact, it’s been a long road.
• Ghioalda’s folk art faces are on display and for sale at Ally’s Attic in both Lawrenceville and Snellville. Prices range from $15 to $30; custom and specialty pieces may cost more.
• Visit www.grannyjacobsfaces.com for more info.
The artist lost her successful Lawrenceville stained glass business when the housing industry began to tank a few years ago. Her husband lost his hardwood floors business when the 30-plus builders who were his customers stopped placing orders about that same time. And she suffered her biggest loss in 2007, when her only son Michael was killed by a drunk driver.
“This is the first thing — creatively — I’ve done since Michael died in January 2007,” Terri said of her wildly popular faces. “(The faces) feed my need to do something good for the planet, and they make me happy.”
Ghioalda does “something good for the planet” by reclaiming and recycling things that people would otherwise throw away.
She started making the fascinating faces a couple of years ago, fashioning grins, hair and jewelry from items like drawer pulls, wash tubs, iron skillets, bathroom scales and anything else people discard when they were done with the items. At first, she just hung her creations in her laundry room, enjoying their company on laundry days.
One day her washing machine quit working, and when the delivery men brought the new one, they were surprised and captivated by what they saw covering the walls of her laundry room.
“They told me how cool my faces were and asked me if I made them,” Ghioalda said. That experience, plus the encouragement of a good friend, prompted her to try to sell some of the faces in November. She sold 105 by Dec. 24.
Now Ghioalda maintains a permanent vendor’s booth at Ally’s Attic in Lawrenceville and in Snellville. She is also exhibiting her creative countenances at arts festivals from Braselton to Decatur, and she has been invited to exhibit her work at the Chattanooga Market this year. The Chattanooga Market promotes only handmade art and encourages artists to use recycled materials.
When asked about the most unusual item she’s ever used to fashion one of her faces, “a bedpan” is the immediate answer. She used an old blue ceramic bedpan to make a woman’s face complete with blue earrings and come-hither eyes. She named her Lulu (all of her creations are named and signed). A British couple fell in love with Lulu and bought her immediately.
Ghioalda also creates custom folk art faces for clients.
“You can bring in something that belonged to your grandmother, and I can work with you to make something special,” she said.
In fact, Granny Jacobs is Terri’s great- great-grandmother. She lived in early 1900s in Illinois on a farm with six children.
“She didn’t waste anything. Her girls wore dresses made from flour sacks,” Ghioalda said. “She raised chickens, and the chicken would be eaten for Sunday dinner. The feathers would be plucked and used to stuff pillows, and of course we ate the eggs.”
Ghioalda assumes that’s where she gets her passion for recycling.
“You’ll never catch me in a mall, but show me a thrift store, and I’m happy,” she said.
And she is happy making her faces. “I think about what Michael would say if I were to tell him that I wanted to do this. He’d say, ‘Mom, that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” But the next week he’d bring me some recycled things to use, and the next week he’d be asking me for one of the faces. He had a great sense of humor and always made people laugh. “He was my only chance to have grandchildren, so now this is a way for me to leave my mark.”
If her plans for 2012 gel the way she wants them, she’ll leave a much bigger mark on countless lives. Currently, 15 percent of her annual profits are donated to four charities: The Atlanta Community Food Bank, Breast Cancer Research, Humane Society of USA and YMCA’s Partner with Youth Program. Next year, Ghioalda plans to open her own thrift store, accepting and recycling discarded items for use in her art, then helping fund YMCA scholarships with a portion of the proceeds.
Her business card says it all: Her faces are “what happens when trash and imagination collide.” Trash, imagination, strength, humor and a mother’s love. And smile.