Posted December 29, 2010
Iowa City family’s art goes national

Laura McCarragher, left, Connie Berends, center, and Jill Brown, all from Iowa City, display some of their art that will be marketed as "This Thing Called Family" through the Demdaco company starting next month. Demdaco is most commonly known for its "Willow Tree Angels" line. (Molly Rossiter/SourceMedia Group News)

IOWA CITY — Some things happen for a reason.

That’s what Connie Berends, 60, of Iowa City believes. Why else would her lifelong hobby of creating art be passed on to her three daughters? And why else would those three daughters — Jill Brown, 35, and Laura McCarragher, 34, both of Iowa City, and Emily Ward, 29, of Austin, Texas — join her in creating art and selling their wares at craft shows, in locally-owned shops and in Internet markets such as Etsy. com?

And why else would two independent art scouts from the national Demdaco line, best known for the “Willow Tree Angels” line, find McCarragher’s work and Brown’s work online, present it to the Demdaco board and later discover the women were sisters?

“It’s a God thing,” Berends said. “We didn’t orchestrate any of this, it just happened.”

“This” is a five-year contract allowing Demdaco to produce and market 47 items from the family’s collection of artwork. The women have been selling their art under the “Things with Wings” name; the pieces picked up by Demdaco will make up the “This Thing Called Family” collection and will begin appearing in stores across the country in January.

“This is a dream for them,” Berends said of daughters Brown and McCarragher, “but it’s a really, really long dream of mine.”

These are just some of the wall plaques included in the "This Thing Called Family" line created by three Iowa City women and that will be marketed by the Demdaco company starting in January. (Molly Rossiter/SourceMedia Group News)

The women don’t know yet where their pieces will appear, but said Demdaco’s website,, will eventually feature the products and include a store locator.

Berends, Brown and McCarragher are the primary creators of the physical art for “Things with Wings,” and Ward is a singer/songwriter who occasionally helps with the craft shows and presents her music.

As the matriarch of the creative family, Berends started creating her own art about 30 years ago, when the girls were still small. She did all kinds of paintings, and eventually started painting things with angels, even adding wings to inanimate items like hearts and stars. Berends started selling her work at various craft shows, and about eight years ago Brown joined in. A few years later, McCarragher joined the team.

Though they all have various mediums and products, there is a common theme that resonates in each woman’s work: faith and family values.

“The things we like to use in our art are things that speak to us,” Brown said. “We want to grow, but we want our faith to grow with it.”

While Berends had sold most of her pieces at the craft shows the younger artists took to the Internet, creating a blog for Things with Wings — — and each creating an on online “shop” through the marketing site, Brown under Paper Prayers and McCarragher through Green Girl Designs.

It was through that online presence, McCarragher said, that the Demdaco scouts found them.

“One person was presenting some of Jill’s things, and then another was presenting some of mine,” she said. “Once they started talking to us the realized that, ‘Oh, they’re sisters! And there’s a mom who’s an artist, too!’”

That was in late 2009. Over the course of the past year the women have met with Demdaco officials, signed contracts, and learned a lot about the world of national marketing.

“Now we’ve seen what all this hard work is for, the product line will open in January,” Brown said.

Though they’ve known what was happening for several months, it’s still hard for each woman to believe.

“There’s still this little part of me that feels … this is so surreal,” McCarragher said. “We didn’t go and try to sell ourselves to this company. Everything that’s happened has just been part of the flow.”

Berends varies from anxiety to excitement to just pure joy.

“I’ve gone through a whole range of emotions over the last year,” Berends said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope people like it.”

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