Born and raised in southern Illinois, my mother’s blue-collar, Midwestern upbringing shines through in her work ethic as well as in her art. She has an extensive and interesting background in art, one that started in 1980 when she began taking canvas and tole painting classes. “I started painting different scenes,” she says. “A lot of natural landscapes with mountains or lakes and streams. I did a lot of barns and farm subject matter too, some on canvas, and some on saw blades and different antique objects. Very rustic, but I grew up in a town of 2,000 in southern Illinois. Not even a stoplight. It was what I knew.” From tole painting, her interests spread to airbrushing, sign painting, and many other types of art. Her talent was such that–in addition to buying much of her work–soon people were asking her for lessons, which she began teaching in the basement of our small, 1940s home in Carrier Mills, Illinois. Art, however, would not become her primary occupation for several years, as she would open her own gymnastics club in 1984…despite having barely performed more than a cartwheel. And while she had taken courses in gymnastics instruction and had a close relationship with the coaching staff at nearby S.I.U., reception to the idea was lukewarm at best. “The first day I had one girl show up. She came on roller skates.” Flip Flops and Fitness, as it was named, would thrive and enjoy thirteen years of success, evolving from a tiny operation that expanded and outgrew three different locations, each one growing larger than its predecessor. In 1996, after my older sister and I both relocated to central Florida, she sold the gym and pulled the trigger on another long-time ambition: she and my father, Fred (who happens to be her high school sweetheart, by the way), moved to sunny Florida as well. It was not long after her arrival in the Orlando area that she attended a home decorating show and became interested in faux finishing. After her first class in 1997, she was hooked. In 1999, for one of her first professional jobs, she was charged with the unenviable task of refinishing the starter house and adjacent buildings at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Ownership was so impressed by her work that they asked her to also refinish buildings at several other locations across Florida as well as Maine, New Hampshire, and Michigan. From there, her impressive client list grew to include Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and The Vineyard Wine Company. She’s done finishes in the VIP Lounge of American Airlines Arena (home of the Miami Heat), and several locations for Mama Fu‘s Asian House. She continues to travel not only for clients, but to continue her education as well. She’s attended classes taught by some of the best and most well-respected artists in the business, such as John Banovich, Terry Isaacs, and Daniel Smith, sometimes traveling as far as Montana to find the best courses to keep her skills current and sharp. When asked about her favorite part of the job, she doesn’t hesitate with her answer. “Meeting unique people, and being able to create a beautiful finish as unique as they are. That‘s what I love,” she says. She currently lives in Ocoee, Florida, with my father, Fred, and my new little brother, Rufus the Maltese.