Our Small Business Snapshot series features photos that represent, in just one image, what the small businesses we feature are all about. Jenny Wong-Stanley, owner and artist at Art of Plants, a business founded in 2013 that makes hand-bent wooden planters, sculptures and other home décor items, explains how this image represents her business.
This photo is a visual representation of the style of work we create at Art of Plants on any given day. This piece was an idea from one of our clients who wanted a customized wreath that was "alive," and wasn't interested in an evergreen or succulent wreath. She didn't specify anything else for the design and was very open to ideas. She asked me to make it unique, then left me to my own devices. Since my specialty is bending wood into extreme shapes, I created a wreath made mainly of bent wood knots, with live air plants to evoke the greenery of a traditional wreath. The final outcome is all curves, shadows, balance and pattern.
Our designs are focused on highlighting the graining of the wood to produce an organic and modern feel for every sculpture we make. We try to keep all the imperfections of the wood, such as knots and discolorations, in each piece. We think it adds personality to the sculpture. Wood is unlike other mediums — the imperfections are part of the natural beauty of wood, and we try not to forget that. Where do the plants come in? We use other plants for certain jobs, but we enjoy working with air plants — tillandsias — the most. The air plants give our work a balance in color and concept. Some of them grow on tree branches and limbs in their natural environment, so our sculptures parallel the plants' symbiotic relationship with wood in the wild. Incorporating living plants was a foundational idea when we started the business, and still remains a key component in most of our small products.
Art of Plants was actually started by accident — it sounds weird, but that is how it happened. I was home during maternity leave with my second daughter when I found an article on wood bending online and quickly became fascinated with the concept. I followed the article and attempted my first bend. It failed, so I tried again — and failed again. In many ways, this process just never stopped, only now I succeed on my bends most of the time. The concept of a real business was suggested by my husband when he saw me making some interesting bent wood pieces. I incorporated an air plant from my personal plant collection, opened an Etsy store, listed a few products and they sold. That's how it all began.
I have a design background but since my woodworking skills were self-taught, I remember how hard it was for me to learn from scratch with little to no guidance. Because of this, I'm always open to hiring interns and assistants that have no woodworking background. If they are the right candidate, I teach them what I know to the best of my ability and we all learn together.
I think the transition process of growing a small business is very challenging. More interesting projects funnel into the company and you want to take them all on, but that is difficult. At least not until you grow your staff, which requires enough monetary resources, and then allocate the time to making sure all the projects receive the maximum amount of attention. It is a delicate balancing act but I think most small businesses face this hurdle at some point.