An entire industry has grown up around Mary Engelbreit, but it all began with a young girl who just wanted to draw pictures.
Mary moved into her first “studio,” a hastily vacated linen closet in the St. Louis home where she grew up, when she was just 11 years old. “We jammed a desk and chair in there, and I’m sure it was 110 degrees,” she remembers. “But I would happily sit in that closet for hours at a time and draw pictures.”
Mary went to work directly out of high school at an art supply store. Over the next few years she worked for a small ad agency and held independent art showings, but what she truly wanted was to be a children’s book illustrator.
In 1977, she took her portfolio to some well-known publishing houses in New York. She received a “mild reception” and a suggestion from one art director that she try her hand illustrating greeting cards. It wasn’t what she’d hoped for, as she’d already illustrated several lines of cards for local shops, but Mary took the advice and quickly found that the single-frame illustrations for greeting cards were ideal for her style and sense of humor.
Once Mary focused her talent on greeting cards, success came quickly. As her card line grew in size and popularity, it drew attention from other companies anxious to license her artwork on a wide range of products including calendars, T-shirts, mugs, gift books, rubber stamps, ceramic figurines, fabric and a list that’s grown to include nearly 6,500 products in all, with more than $1 billion in lifetime retail sales. Mary was also editor-in-chief of the award-winning creative lifestyle magazine, Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion.
Today, thousands of retailers sell Mary Engelbreit products to her countless fans, and Mary Engelbreit Studios continues to add new licensees and product categories. Nearly 30 years after that first trip to New York, Mary fulfilled her dream of illustrating children’s books, and is now one of a select few artists with three New York Times children’s best sellers. Though many people tried to discourage her through the years, “I believed in myself,” she says, “and now I’m living my dream.”
Mary and her family live in St. Louis, Missouri.