Clothes are the canvas with Wenda's Wear
Wenda Wear -- don't leave home without it.
That's Wenda Royster's motto at least. Whether she's going to the symphony or the supermarket, the fashion designer finishes an outfit with one of her hand-painted hats or vests.
And that's meant brisk business. In the past two years, Ms. Royster, a former model, has developed a tony list of Wenda wearers -- including Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Olympia Dukakis, she says.
A self-taught artist, she painted nails for 10 years before graduating to hats, vests and ties. She knew it was time to leave manicuring when she began hanging canvas on the wall and painting between appointments.
Breaking into retail wasn't easy, though. She faced a dozen rejections before finding store owners willing to take a chance on a first-time designer in her 40s.
Hyatt & Co. has carried her line for months, and Nordstrom is selling Wenda Wear through February.
Creativity seems to run in the family. Her 21-year-old daughter, Christina, writes poetry and worked as a production assistant on the movie "The Cemetery Club." (She handed out her mother's clothing on the set.) And Ms. Royster's husband, Ken, teaches art at Morgan State University.
But don't look for the couple to compare brush strokes during quiet evenings in their Northeast Baltimore home.
"The one time I asked Ken's advice we got into the biggest argument," she says. "I promised myself I'd never ask him to critique my work again." Sometimes, you have to take a few wrong turns in life before you find your way. Just ask Robert Levine, computer programmer-turned-auto mechanic-turned-ceramic artist.
After two false starts, Mr. Levine has found his calling in a downtown studio where he spends days -- and some nights -- creating classical vessels.
"It's the greatest," says Mr. Levine, 47, who also lives downtown. "I set my own hours. I make what I like to make, and I surround myself with beautiful objects."
He began throwing pots in 1974 after watching friends have fun and make money in the field. "Within a month, I had a one-man show," he says.
To concentrate on his craft, he moved to a secluded farm where he experimented for 10 years. "I needed isolation so people weren't going to come in and say, 'Ugh!' " he says.
His work has attracted a wide audience -- including retailers, gallery owners and rocker Bruce Springsteen. Mr. Levine has donated a prized piece to the National Museum of Ceramic Art's benefit auction, Fire Works, on Wednesday night.
But being an artist isn't always easy, particularly when the economy is shaky.
"A lot of times you wonder whether you're in business," he says. "There are periods of time -- a couple of months -- when you don't sell anything. That's when I start looking in the employment section."
Have someone to suggest? Write Mary Corey, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278; or call (410) 332-6156.