If the same old paint and wallpaper scheme isn’t what you have in mind for your office or home, Wallcandy may be what you’re looking for. Wallcandy is the brainchild of Carrie Pearce, owner/artist/instructor, and Michelle Merkley, business manager. "Wall-candy was born through divine intervention," said Pearce. "If I hadn’t met Michelle, I wouldn’t be having this conversation."
Pearce ran into her future business partner when she sold Merkley furniture. "She expressed an interest in having a mural painted; I told her I could paint and showed her my portfolio. She hired me and encouraged me to quit my job and paint full time. The next thing I knew, I had work coming in from all directions. Really, she gave me so much work I had to quit to get it all done."
The move from a home-based business to a storefront was born out of necessity, Pearce said. "The mess got to be overwhelming in my house. I had my eye on the old bicycle shop by the Rock Island trail. I mentioned to Michelle that I could afford it if I started teaching classes so that income could pay for the studio. I’m not kidding when I say that less than five minutes after I hung up with her, she called back and said, ’I want in on this.’ We rented the building and started teaching classes in October."
Wallcandy offers classes for both children and adults, with classes changing monthly. "The children’s classes are for ages five and up. They start with Drawing I, II, and III. After the three drawing classes are completed, we move them into pastels, which is an excellent bridge for painting, and that will be offered in the spring. We really want to teach the children art as a whole; each class builds on the previous class. They’re learning the fundamentals of art in a fun, safe environment that’s disciplined, while allowing them to explore their creativity," Pearce said.
The Peoria native said she explored her own creativity early-beginning in kindergarten. "I remember being competitive in art from then on. When I was little, my grandmother bought greeting cards from an artist named Ann Adams, who was paralyzed from the neck down. They had pictures of her with the cards. She laid in her hospital bed with her head propped up and a pencil wedged between her teeth. This amazed me, and I tried it many times."
Pearce said the next major influence on her was Enid Britton, the Dunlap High School art teacher. "I learned more from her than I did in college; she taught us things college professors had never done. She entered my brother and me in every competition she could, and we usually won. Later in high school, I met Bill and Kay Smart. They were architectural renders here in Peoria, and Kay introduced me to watercolor. From then on, I took classes wherever I could-Lakeview, the Peoria Art Guild, even ICC until I got kicked out for not being old enough."
After high school, Pearce moved to Savannah, Ga., to attend The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine art. "After a few years, I opened a studio/gallery in the historic City Market of Savannah. I maintained that for four or five years, primarily selling to tourists. I had some wonderful experiences: selling a copyright, signing with an agent, selling prints for hotel rooms, and working with well-known sculptor Jerome Meadows."
She and her husband moved back to Peoria in 1999 during the evacuation of Hurricane Floyd.
In addition to her teaching schedule, Pearce said she paints whatever she can get her hands on. "I’m fortunate that I can duplicate any style and paint in any medium. I do faux finishes, murals, furniture, paintings, and even some interior design. My favorite thing to do is art for art’s sake, which means a painting not predestined for someone-one I can do for my own reasons and then decide if I want to sell it. I got to do one last year, and I hope to double that this year."
She said the most frequently asked question she’s gotten over the past year has been about how she came up with Wallcandy as the name of her business. "I say, ’How do you name a child? I spent two weeks brainstorming.’"
The most challenging aspect of starting Wallcandy is trying to do it all, Pearce said. "Currently, I’m the only instructor, and I do all the painting. Maybe we’ll add an employee soon."
She said the experience of starting this business has been a turning point in her life-and she said the majority of the credit goes to Merkley. "Not only has Michelle encouraged and supported me, but she went into business with me. She’s single-handedly changed my life, and for that, I’m very grateful. I’m also grateful to Bob and Rose Langfels for renting me the studio to begin with."
Pearce said she’s lucky she didn’t have to choose a career-it chose her. "I’ve actually quit a couple of times, swearing I’ll never do it again. But you really can’t stop destiny. I love what I do, but it isn’t easy, and sometimes things get really tough. I think 95 percent of the population is happy with whatever job they have, while 5 percent of the population has a dream and struggles their entire life to accomplish it. Am I living my dream? No, but I’m really darned close." AA!