Seventeen years ago, when I first launched Ivory Isle Designs, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was following a path that had been set for me long before I was even born. Art is embedded deep in my family’s DNA and as a third-generation artist, I am proud to follow in the footsteps, and brushstrokes, of my parents and grandparents.
My grandmother on my father’s side, Catherine Helmstetter (above), was a painter, working mainly in oils. Though she never turned professional as an artist, her paintings were certainly noticed and she sold a few through galleries that exhibited her work.
Catherine’s sister, Winnie Fitch (below), is a well-known writer and illustrator of children’s books. In the ‘50s and ‘60s she also worked in advertising, producing charming illustrations for many of America’s best-known brands, including Mars Bars, Rice Krispies, Dial Soap and Pillsbury Pancakes.
Winnie married a jazz musician named John Houston, and together they created spellbinding books on tape. I grew up listening to one in particular, Allagash! Winnie and John are passionate conservationists and much of their work was about saving the environment for animals. They’re retired now and living on the Oregon Coast. To learn more about Winnie and John, visit their website HERE.
Though he didn’t paint, Catherine and Winnie’s brother Steve was also an artist. He sang and he acted. While stationed overseas during the Second World War, he fell into performing and found he had a knack for it, entertaining the troops. After the war he made a name for himself on Broadway using the stage name Stephen Douglass (above).
Nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award for his performance as Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees (1955), Steve enjoyed a long and successful life on the stage. His final appearance was in a UK production of Oklahoma! in 2003, at the golden age of 82. He passed away in 2011, aged 90, but if you’d like to hear him sing, he left some cherished treasures behind. You can download the original Broadway cast recording of Damn Yankees HERE and enjoy his velvet tones below.
For years my dad owned a computer business, but art was his real passion. It was how he wooed my mom, Terry. He’d send her paintings and drawings. When they were first married, they lived for years in Scotland (where my brother and I were born) without much money. Their low-budget “dates” involved grabbing paints, driving to a new hillside and painting landscapes together.
My whole life I’ve watched my parents paint. When they retired from their careers, and offered to help me with painting commissions for Ivory Isle Designs, I jumped at the chance to have them paint with me. I couldn’t be prouder of our work together, or happier to share it with you.