Sometimes enthusiasm isn’t just a noun that defines zeal or fervor, it can become a heartfelt drive issued from two people that a couple of dozen buy into … and that is what happened with Red Dirt’s co-founders Christina Eldridge and Dawn Taylor and the two-dozen and increasing number of artists producing cool art that has been added to phone cases.
Without any further description, it sounds like any start-up entrepreneurial story, but Eldridge and Taylor are more than business owners, they are women with great hearts. Those hearts have been affected by trips to Africa. Eldridge has served with Medical Missions while Taylor traveled with the Change the Truth organization, founded by local photographer Gloria Baker Feinstein.
“Water.org keeps its headquarters here and they are a nonprofit aimed to provide access to safe water and sanitation in Africa, South Asia and Central America. We are focused on emphasizing the needs in West Africa. We want to give them opportunities and the ability to solve problems,” Eldridge says.
Taylor says social impact comes not just at the end of the year because of the time of the year, but for Red Dirt, it’s with every transaction. For every purchase of a $37 case, Red Dirt gives $5 to Water.org. According to Taylor, the ability to give someone clean water for life is simply selling 5 cases for a donation of $25. “We believe businesses can make a measurable difference in the world and help solve problems within our lifetime—not as a year-end decision, but with each and every transaction. With the company, we know that the art is tangible and vibrant. We purchase the art and feed the artist ecosystem here.”
Red Dirt launched with 18 designs and every Monday, a new design is rolled out, Eldridge says. “The core artists are from Kansas City. They are creatively helping the world.” The two prove to be driven team where the phone cases are just the first product line. “The next product line will include T-shirts and that should be launched by late fall,” she says. “The phone cases are simply a first. We are growing the conscious capitalism. Is there a story behind what you buy?” Taylor says.
Here are the stories of four artists from the Kansas City metropolitan area who jumped into the first cadre of artists. More than two dozen local artists have shared their work with Red Dirt. The four artists are also able to enjoy the philanthropy and what the future may hold for Red Dirt.
Ada Koch is a painter who prefers oils and acrylics also shares her skills with others at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Holy Name School in Kansas City, in locations around the Crossroads and out of her own studio. “I moved here 23 years ago and took up painting. I ended up studying at the Kansas City Art Institute. It was about 21 years ago that people started buying my art,” she says. Some of her art is mixed media with oils and acrylic paints, sometimes collaged with papers and oil pastels.
Koch’s work has appeared in book illustrations and designs. “I know Dawn and she knows my work; she has been to my studio during First Fridays. Being commissioned to provide a piece of art, I was frankly thrilled. Christina and Dawn recognize that art is valuable and that we artists are valuable. I feel like the art makes the product a little more valuable. There are many places where people can get phone covers, these are unique.”
Along with sharing her art, Koch says the chance to help provide clean water for those in desperate need in Africa is altruistic. “What could be a better cause than helping provide clean water so that folks can help themselves,” Koch says. “Knowing the two women as I do, I was more than happy to participate. It is all for a greater good. Every step of the way, they are helping artists and helping villages get water. I think about how and when we spend our money, there is an appeal with this buy local concept, plus it is making our purchasing dollars have more impact.” Along with teaching, Koch is finishing up two paintings for a show in Florence, Italy that starts in early December.
Bren Talavera graduated from art school in 1986. She worked as an art director for Hallmark while continuing her own studio work. After a time, she left Hallmark and pursued her own art full time. Fellow artist Tammy Smith worked with Talavera at Hallmark and she had already done a phone case design for Red Dirt. “Tammy gave them my name because she told me that Dawn and Christine were actively searching for artists. I was contacted by e-mail; I did a little investigating and Tammy told me about the charity work. It was a way to contribute in a bigger way to come up with a phone case. A surface design on a product can have a short life, but I really liked that my art would be a vehicle to give back over and
Talavera is an artist who taught herself computers during her first job working for Boeing Airplane. She designed airplanes for government proposals. “I always looked at computers early on as not an end-all, but essentially another pencil or technical pen. I don’t go strictly digital. My customers and consumers want to see that I did the artwork. The work is not perfect and to me, that adds to the charm.”
Charm and benefit combined when Eldridge and Taylor asked her for a piece of art. “I was just thrilled to have them appreciate the art. We don’t think about fresh water, but I want my kids to see the things we take for granted. If my artwork can reach further, that is wonderful. I could see the relationship continuing and I feel indebted to them.”
Talavera’s artwork depicts her love of the sea. “I like to use a mix of both conventional and digital methods to create my work. I love watercolor, ink, graphite, and cut paper. I usually scan my art, and then play with color and composition on the computer combining digital imagery and textures.”
Mike Savage grew up in Kansas City, Kansas and has been a local artist since his time studying at the University of Kansas. “I went to work as an art director. I even bought into a design firm. No matter what, I set up my easel and kept painting. In 1999, I sold my part of my business and turned from working all week and painting on the weekend for myself to painting all week long.” Dozens of his works were in JJs on the Plaza. “If you have a passion, it is about playing it a day at a time. I learned the fundamentals as a junior at KU. I keep those fundamentals viable. I learn from everything I do and make those corrections.” Savage’s work is colorful and whimsical, but the image is realistic in its depiction of whatever still life he is painting. “He works mostly in acrylics and oils. Savage is observant and enjoys capturing many Kansas City landmarks in his art.
As for joining the Red Dirt organization, Savage initially says it’s because he believes. “When Christine and Dawn told me what they were striving for, water to live for families all over the world, it seems like a no-brainer. Even in this country, there are needs. I knew I needed to do something for Red Dirt. I know you can’t do everything, but we are a generous community and we do our best.”
Savage harkens back to what archeologists find. “Think about when they dig up ancient civilizations, there are recipes to make beer, artifacts and art. There’s often beauty and a chance to learn. It comes down to education. The more you learn about people, you gain respect. Something like this comes along, you see the good work and the excitement.”
Melissa Dehner is another artist tapped to create the art for a phone case. She received an e-mail from a friend who told her about Red Dirt. “I went to school to be an illustrator. I want my work to be thoughtful in a positive way. I draw from life and keep my work light-hearted and full of humor.”
Dehner has offered work for Art Unleashed through the Humane Society and Wayside Waif’s Strut With Your Mutt. “I like animal and children’s charities. I am not a doctor or nurse. What I do best is art. I know art is a luxury item, but with the phone cases and other accessories and clothing, art can be affordable. I support what Red Dirt does. I would rather have my art out there and making people happy. Red Dirt has a good heart and good intentions.”
She appreciates that the artists receive a stipend for their artwork. “The Red Dirt women are aware that we are business people. The other joy is that there are about two dozen of us who are local for the most part and it’s like shopping local.” As for her future work, Dehner plans on more prints, a new series, an alphabet to illustrate and a children’s book. “My goal from college was to send my parents to the store, and let them see a product packaging I designed.”
Dehner’s designs are often a combination of acrylic paint, graphic pencil, Illustrator and Photoshop. “It’s a nice mix of hand-created art with some digital enhancements. This particular design, with the black dog, is a little tribute to all the wonderful black dogs (and cats too) that have such a hard time getting adopted from the shelters. I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to have owned a wonderful black cat as well as a black lab mix for years!”
Author and illustrator Shane Evans, who provided art for Red Dirt, also spent time with the children of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage of dialoging through sketches. When Taylor went to Uganda as part of the Change the Truth organization, she found a couple of artists that needed to be part of the artist cadre. Brian Okecha and Opio Nicky are two in the inaugural collection. Taylor found the two when she volunteered in December 2011 at the orphanage. Okecha helped pay for his educational fees when he received his stipend and Nicky used his to take his National Examination.
Other local artists include Morgan Georgie and Carrie Kiefer of Ampersand Design Studio, Brady Vest and Hammerpress, graffiti artist D. Ross “Scribe,” illustrator Laura Huliska-Beith, glass and light painter Lisa Lala, urban designer and illustrator Phil Shafer/Sike, copper letterpress plate and lead type artist Eric Lindquist, artist Garnet Griebel, pen and ink artist Janelle Dimmett, toy designer and illustrator Jeremy “MAD” Madl, Angie Dreher-Bayman and Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press, painter and sculptor Tom Corbin, acrylic texture artist Tina Blanck, artist and surface designer Tammy Smith, oil canvas artist Suze Ford, painter Steven Haskamp, and naturalist Jeremy Collins.•