Amanda Cosgrove Paffrath with her winning glass pumpkin.
BY KATIE MATTESON
Two days before Amanda Cosgrove Paffrath left for a business trip, she took time to talk about her two successful businesses in Downtown Racine – all the while stringing beads at a work table in her classroom at Funky Hannah’s Beads & Art, 324 Main St.
Why string beads before leaving town for a conference?
Well, if you’re a glass artist getting ready to fly to Murano, Italy (the world’s glassmaking mecca) for the Seattle-based Glass Art Society’s first international conference, you want to wear a necklace made with your best handmade Venetian beads from the 18th century. After all, you’ll be spending four days in the company of people and places you’ve admired from afar, as well as other artists who love working with glass as much as you do.
According to Wikipedia, “Murano’s reputation as a center for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still associated with Venetian glass.”
Paffrath will share the experience with Daniel Sviland, her business partner at Hot Shop Glass, 239 Wisconsin Ave., along with Hot Shop Glass artist Margaret Capitani, Sviland’s wife, Tina and their best friend Allison. Paffrath’s husband Mark stayed home to hold down the fort.
She expects to come home with lots of inspiration for both businesses, neither of which were in her plans when she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989 with a degree in Sociology and Social Welfare.
Advocate for Battered Women
After college, Paffrath returned to her hometown and served as the volunteer coordinator for the Women’s Resource Center for three years.
In 1991, she began work with Dr. Kevin Fullin in Kenosha to develop the state’s first Domestic Violence Advocate Program in the hospitals where he worked as a cardiologist. As coordinator of the Domestic Violence Program, Paffrath helped develop the policy, conduct trainings, write grants and lead a support group for battered women.
While she was proud of her accomplishments, by 1997 she was ready to explore her creative side. She quit her job that May and took on consulting projects while she worked on her next career move.
Art has been a part of Paffrath’s life since childhood. She took her first art class at the Racine Art Museum’s Wustum campus at age 5 and began creating beaded jewelry when her mother returned from a business trip with a bead kit when she was 8.
She was introduced to glass blowing in high school as an art student of Dave Drewek at The Prairie School and also took several semesters of glass sculpture in college.
Through the years, she continued making beaded jewelry and would sell her work through a relative’s hair salon. She learned about the rich history of beads: in religion, as currency and for beauty.
It was actually Dr. Fullin’s wife, Patty, who invited Paffrath to teach a bead class at her children’s bookstore in Kenosha. It dawned on the artist that there were no such opportunities available in Racine.
So, she got busy writing a business plan to establish her own bead store and went to see a local banker to finance her new venture and was immediately denied.
She was devastated, but not willing to quit once she decided to seek help for her proposal from the woman who taught a workshop she had previously attended the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
Paffrath learned when she contacted the center that director Pat Deutsch no longer worked there. She had taken a position as a loan officer at Johnson Bank.
By October 1997, Paffrath had her Small Business Administration-backed loan from Johnson Bank and found a space to lease at 326 Main St. Thanks to help from lots of friends and the purchase of $400 in used department store display cases, Funky Hannah’s was born the day after Thanksgiving and made enough money to pay the first month’s rent.
But who’s Hannah? Hannah Wosilait is Paffrath’s mother. What she didn’t know until she proposed the shop’s name to her mom was that the name Hannah went back five generations in her family.
And it was a gift from her grandmother, Miriam Gottshall, that inspired the logo for her store. Paffrath was working on her business plan and happened to glance up at the tea set displayed on shelf in her dining room, thinking that the design reminded her of beads. She learned later that the design had been hand-painted by her grandmother, whose middle name was Hannah.
About a month after she opened the store, Paffrath held her first birthday party for a friend’s five-year-old daughter and 11 of her closest friends. That was the day she established the age minimum for beading birthday parties at age 7.
Twenty years and thousands of children and adult classes later, Paffrath still has the VHS video tape of that first party and still sees the now 25-year-old birthday girl working at Piggly Wiggly.
In 2000, the building immediately north of became available for sale and Deutsch suggested she take a look at it. Paffrath bought the building in May and after extensive renovation opened the store in the new location in October.
The trickiest part of the move was the U-shaped, solid oak display case that had to be carried by four men – out the double back door of the old place, around the block and through the double front doors of the new place. Paffrath said she was in charge of the blanket that she had to lay down every 20 feet, so the men could set down the case to rest between each heave-ho.
Hot Shop Glass
Hot Shop Glass was born in 2005, when Paffrath and a couple of her artist friends were thinking about the possibility of opening a glass blowing studio in Racine. They had been making the trek to Sturgeon Bay a couple times a year to take glass blowing classes and wanted to establish a local facility. She soon learned that a former glass instructor at Prairie, Doug Chaussee, was retiring from his job as a police detective and was also thinking about starting a studio.
Paffrath again went to work on a business plan.
The group got together and talked about it and within 10 days had found a building – a former stable built in the 1880s that had been vacant for about 25 years.
Once they established that the building was structurally sound, the newly formed LLC with four partners purchased the building in May, and after the building renovation and equipment installation, opened the studio in November.
Cathy McCombs left the partnership after about six months and Liz Gabriel stayed for about seven years. Chaussee and Paffrath remained partners for 11 years, until his retirement in 2016.
Sviland, an experienced glass artist and longtime Hot Shop Glass renter, happily stepped in and bought Chausee’s share in the company.
Sviland introduced Paffrath to the Glass Pumpkin Patch annual fundraising event held at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill.
This event draws thousands of people to the grounds of the arboretum in the middle of October for a five-day event to explore a collection of 5,000-7,000 one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass pumpkins. Visitors preview the artwork and meet the 16-18 artists over the first few days of the event and then return for the last few days to purchase the artwork.
Sviland was among the first artists to participate during the inaugural event held in 2011 and said it’s grown every year.
Paffrath participated for the first time last year and brought home the “Pick of the Patch” award and $300 in glass blowing tools.
The partners will be busy preparing several hundred pumpkins for this year’s event.
In the meantime, they’ll savor their experiences from the conference in Murano and maybe bring home some new ideas for pumpkin designs and apply what they’ve learned to enhance Racine’s art scene.
For more information about Funky Hannah’s, call (262) 634-6088 or visit funkyhannahs.com.
For more information about Hot Shop Glass, call (262) 833-0095 or visit hotshopglass.com.