Ann Peden spent years traveling across the highways of America only to realize that all roads lead to big corporations.
Throughout her years attending trade shows nationally, Peden witnessed endless city-scapes blur into chain restaurants and superstores. Driving through an indistinct landscape filled with mass-manufactured merchandise, Peden began to wonder exactly which part of America she was visiting.
Peden is open in her frustration with the corporate-issued standard for American towns. “People don’t want to travel some place and go to an Olive Garden for dinner,” she said. “They want to do something that has local personality.”
Peden’s encounters with a uniform America served as a drive toward distinction. Ann Peden Artist Marketplace is her attempt to “create a magical place where everything is unique and everything is handmade.”
Located in Market Center on Capitol Avenue in Watkinsville, Ann Peden Artist Marketplace is an illustration of a thriving art scene. Offering items from over 45 different local artists, the store showcases the diverse, hand-crafted elements of the area.
Of her personal artistic sensibilities, Peden acknowledged a draw to unexpected twists. “I love it when people take something ordinary and make it really special,” she said. “That’s really magical to me.”
Created with unusual materials such as coins and resin, the jewelry Peden creates is an example of artistic upcycling. A walk through the store will verify her appreciation for this sense of whimsy.
Soaps crafted into elephant toes, wood carved into swords and bottle caps fashioned into rings are just a few of the items gazed upon by the curious faces etched into clay mugs positioned throughout the store.
Peden’s vision for “Local personality” is especially evident in each section’s artist bio. The simple act of pairing faces with artisans creates a more personal experience which adds an almost nostalgic charm.
Though the art on the shelves at times overlaps in medium, Peden encourages community above competition. “It’s a good thing to have more pottery,” she said. “It’s a good thing to have more jewelry because it makes us a destination.”
Two vendors in the store made the community aspect apparent as they helped one another with ideas for jewelry displays. One of the vendors, Charia Johnson of Sassy Girl Designs, was quick to praise Peden. “She’s the voice of the artist,” she said. “Ann is really amazing and she is here for us.”
Peden is intentional about the promotion and marketing of all the artists featured in the store. She credits a course from another local business Happy Valley Pottery titled “The Business of Art” with her openness to the artistic community. The course illuminated the benefits of a diverse group of artists had in order to appeal to more buyers.
She also acknowledged the Happy Valley Pottery community along with other local artisans such as Loretta Eby, a glassblower, as personal inspiration.
“Although Watkinsville is a very small town we have a lot of successful artists here,” she said. “Seeing people who did it as a job. That was very inspiring.” Despite years of experience, Peden’s continued inspiration for her craft is evident. “It still just is completely thrilling [to me] for people to buy my jewelry,” she said.
Peden’s appreciation of art is naturally inclusive and stems from the enjoyment she herself finds in the creative process. “I love color and there’s just so many things that aren’t simple in life,” she said. “And I just love creating stuff because it is super simple. It is just joyful.”
Ann Peden Artist Marketplace offers beads to be strung in store daily as well as art classes for children and small groups. Beyond the inspiration she gleams from working with the vendors, Peden enjoys being able to share with the students access to the creative process. Peden referred to the classes as the “cherry on the top” of the personal fulfillment she finds in owning a business.
“I think people are totally ready for it,” she said of the interactive aspects of the store. The confidence children have in their classroom creations gives Peden high hopes for the next generation of artists. “I think that need to express yourself and find your voice, that’s really powerful,” she said. “And I don’t think the changes in society have squelched that at all. There’s even more of an enjoyment when that happens.”