A Rosendale woman’s folk art signs have gained her national recognition and a busload of business.
Lori Brunet, owner of Brunet’s Custom Signs, was among a handful of businesswomen in the United States chosen as a 2008 woman entrepreneur by County Living magazine.
“It is quite an honor considering they have a subscription base of 1.3 million subscribers,” Brunet said. “The orders started pouring in, and I’m still working on trying to complete what I could not get done in time for Christmas gift giving,” said the artist about her new-found fame.
The magazine heralds Brunet’s handiwork: “Idyllic country images, neat lettering and detailed depictions of farm animals are the hallmarks of Lori’s hand-painted, wooden signs.”
“More than signs, they’re personalized paintings,” said Brunet, who spends up to eight hours on each design, matching the backdrops to photos supplied by customers. She works out of a studio in her home while holding down a full-time job as a commercial graphic designer at Zander Press Inc. in Brillion.
After submitting examples of her work to the magazine, the Rosendale resident received a letter confirming she had been chosen to pitch her product before a panel of judges. In March, Brunet traveled to Chicago with samples of her work to compete against 140 other entrepreneur entries, narrowed down from 4,000 original applicants.
“Once there, you were given a timeslot where you had three minutes to show/tell about your product and two minutes to answer questions from the judges. Then that was it,” she said.
In May, she was notified that her product would be featured in the November 2008 issue.
“I couldn't believe it. In the October 2008 issue (which was the magazine’s 30-year anniversary issue), there was an interview with Martha Stewart. She was the very first female entrepreneur honored back in 1978, and she talked about how her business had taken off since then,” Brunet said.
The daughter of Art and Nancy Zietlow, Brunet grew up in the town of Eldorado and graduated from Laconia High School. It was at her sister’s request that Brunet turned her hobby into a full-fledged business.
“I had always painted signs — mostly wildlife, dogs, cottages, people’s homes, but then I did a couple cattle, sheep and pig signs for her to put in her store down in Indiana and they flew off her shelves. So I did a few more for her, and so on. My business has quadrupled each year since,” she said.
Scenes of rural life
Brunet’s creations depict scenes of rural life: red barns and country cottages, favorite dogs and free-range chickens, prize-winning livestock and glimpses of wildlife. Prices range from $85 to $225, depending on the size of the sign.
Each year in August, the artist travels to the Indiana State Fair and paints in public view in the Wool’n Ewe Room. She is also commissioned by sev
eral livestock associations to make award banners for shows.
A fan of the artist, Debbie Werner of Rosendale said Brunet’s ambition can put most people to shame.
“She converted her garage into a bedroom to include skylights, new window, patio door, ceiling fan and vaulted ceiling, etc. She can even pour cement. I had asked her once how she learned all that and she answered, ‘What I did not learn from my father, I taught myself,’” Werner shared.
If Brunet had to choose a favorite sign, it would have to be the one she did for the Gebhard farm. It’s featured on her Web site.
“A lady from New Jersey ordered it for her brother, who recently bought back the family farm after the family had lost it years back. He is a K-9 officer, and the dogs on the sign are his K-9 partners — and the scene is the family farm. There’s just such a nice story to go along with it,” she said.