By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun
7:16 PM EST, November 22, 2011
If Oprah Winfrey singles out just 13 items as her "favorite things" of 2011, and one of them is yours, it's safe to assume you're going to quickly become very — very — popular.
So now is probably not the best time to try to reach Sherry Kendall. Ever since Winfrey raved about Kendall's Christmas ornaments featuring hand-painted pet portraits in December's O, the Oprah Magazine, visits to the Woodbine artist's website have spiked, orders are piling up and the glass balls have appeared on two national TV shows.
"I can't believe she picked this little artist from Woodbine," Kendall says. "I feel truly blessed by the whole thing."
Winfrey's influence over people's wallets has been long documented. Her book club turned countless titles into best-sellers. Her endorsement made Spanx shapewear a household name. Who had heard of Kindle before Oprah declared it "life-changing" three years ago?
Kendall, 52, used to be an illustrator, but she's been painting pet ornaments for the past seven years. The decorations started as gifts for friends and family, but when people found out about them and started trying to buy them, Wagging Tail Portraits became a small business, one that swells this time of year.
Veterinarian Anne Hicks, Kendall's best friend, got one of the first ornaments, featuring her Australian shepherds Cassie and Abbey.
"It was just like a work of art," Hicks says. "I'm afraid to take it out sometimes."
How Winfrey came to know about the ornaments is a testament to Kendall's pluck and persistence.
Earlier this year after seeing a woman talking about hot new pet products on a morning TV program, Kendall immediately emailed her pictures and a plea — how could she possibly get into one of the woman's product shows? The woman wrote back immediately, saying she had an unexpected opening at her show in New York City the next day.
"I told my daughter, 'Get dressed, we're going to New York!" Kendall says, remembering how the show was filled with famous faces and others scouting the goods for publications. When someone representing Winfrey took one of Kendall's cards, she didn't give it much thought.
They called three weeks later. Kendall was shopping at Borders. "My heart just about jumped out of my chest, you know," she says, adding that over the next months, she sent them ornaments, she painted one of Oprah's cocker spaniel Sadie, she waited. "But there was always a disclaimer: 'If you get picked. If you get picked. If you get picked.'"
When they called to say she had made the magazine, one of only 13 items to get Winfrey's 2011 seal of approval, Kendall almost didn't believe it.
It only started to sink in recently, when her ornaments were spotlighted on "The Gayle King Show" and "Good Morning America." On "GMA," the ornaments not only basked in the camera's eye for a lingering promotional spot; the reporter said the show's host, Robin Roberts, was "obsessed" with them.
As for Winfrey, she gave the ornaments personal attention in the magazine, writing, "Send in a picture of your beloved pet; get back an heirloom. I'm going to cherish seeing Sadie on my tree forever."
Meanwhile, Kendall has had to take the phone out of her studio because she wasn't getting any work done, what with all the ringing. Her husband, who has started taking orders while she paints, won't tell her how many have come in. "He doesn't want me to freak out," she says.
Prices range from $70 for a 3-inch ball to $90 for the 4-inch size or a wine goblet. Kendall will paint any sort of animal. She's done everything from dogs and cats to guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, goldfish and even a lizard.
Read more about Sherry Kendall's work at waggingtailportraits.com.
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