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Susan Reader
Susan Reader is best known as the artist and originator of the Ivy & Innocence collection, a Victorian village collection of miniature cottages, figurines, accessories and stories.

Susan was born in 1961 as Susan Gaye Graves to parents, Roger and Beverly Graves in Illinois. Roger was in the military and the family moved around the Midwest quite a lot throughout Susan's childhood. Some of the constants in her early life, apart from her parents and four siblings, were her love of drawing, coloring, reading and climbing trees. Susan claims to have been creating colorful artwork ever since she could hold a crayon!

She continued to draw and paint as she grew older but, like most of us, she had other responsibilities and didn?t expect to be able to forge a career from art. She moved to Iowa, which is where she met her future husband, John Reader, and they were married on Aug 3, 1985.

Unfortunately, a year into their marriage, John was laid off from his job. They had just had their first child, Jonathan, also. In the run up to Christmas 1986, money was tight for the young family. Susan suggested they make Christmas gifts, as a less expensive option than buying them. They ended up giving family members hand-painted wooden angels, which were very well received. With this small success under their belts, they decided to make more decorative gifts to sell.

Initially, this fledgling family business involved John cutting and sanding wooden shapes for Susan to paint. They would sell the results at local art and craft shows. Toward the end of 1987, they started to switch to using brick instead of wood. Again, John would cut and shape the bricks and Susan would paint them to look like cottages.

In 1988, they were starting to take their business more seriously. Susan quit her job and began working full time for their business, which they called Brickworks. They were doing more art shows, often traveling longer distances, and Susan continued to paint while working the booths. This pattern continued for several years, producing and selling hand-painted collectible brickwork, while raising a young boy. As their second child, Andrew, arrived in 1994, the couple was already thinking that their demanding pace was not sustainable with a growing family.

Their third child was born just a few months before an important meeting at a show in 1995. There, Susan met someone who provided her with the advice she needed to take her collectible art to the next level. Matt advised Susan and John how they could have their artwork transformed and created in bulk, using a specialist manufacturer of resin collectibles in China.

This was a big step for them, but an essential one if they were to maintain the momentum. They secured the necessary funding to start the process, began to convert their existing brick village into drawings that could be sculpted and molded from, and spent time iteratively reviewing the samples to perfect the look that we recognize today as Ivy & Innocence. Throughout 1996, life was pretty chaotic for the Reader family. Trying to market the new Ivy & Innocence collectibles, while still producing and selling the brick and raising 3 young boys would have pushed anyone to exhaustion.

The big breakthrough came in January of 1997 at the AmericasMart Gift Market Show in Atlanta, GA. Susan won the best booth award for visual design and her first cottage (Towering Cottage) won an award for excellence in conception, design and creation. She accepted her first Ivy & Innocence orders and attracted the attention of Cast Art Industries. She entered into a licensing agreement with Cast Art, which removed much of the pressure of marketing and distribution.

The relationship with Cast Art changed the nature of Susan's role. She spent more time focusing on designing new pieces for the collection and performing promotional activities, like attended signing events at gift stores.

An unsuccessful merger of Cast Art with Papel Giftware in 2000 caused problems for Ivy & Innocence, with the collection being retired in the early 2000s.

Susan continues to work full time as a professional design artist.

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