words: Marla Cantrell
images:courtesy Eileen Teagle
Eileen Teagle sits inside her Fort Smith, Arkansas home, and the morning sun rushes in through tall windows and glass doors. From where she sits, there’s a view of the woods that abut her property, the trees coming to life early after a meek winter. On a nearby table are books about Monet, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Downton Abbey.
And on the walls are pictures of her family, displayed beside original artwork, some of which are her own.
A self-proclaimed “crafty girl,” Eileen sees life as a state of wonder, and daily she discovers something new that inspires her. That inspiration ends up in her pieces, like hand-painted wooden door hangers and personalized banners she sells at her online Etsy shop, which is called Queenie Eileenie. Others she turns into projects for the craft classes she teaches with such joy.
As a child growing up in Atlanta, Eileen’s mother encouraged her creative bent. She’d ask Eileen to make certain Christmas and birthday gifts, for example, and praise Eileen for the outcome. She was an anomaly in her family; her four younger siblings were athletic instead of artistic, stars on playing fields and in gymnasiums. Eileen would cheer them on, watching them carefully, but always in the back of her mind, her next craft project would be brewing.
When she considered college, she chose to study communications and public relations at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. When she graduated, she headed to New Orleans because the 1984 World’s Fair was coming, and she knew she’d find work. She landed a job as a management trainee at Hilton Hotel and fell in love with The Big Easy.
She also fell in love with John Teagle, the man she later married. The two settled in Texas, where she taught speech and religion at a Catholic school. She also headed the yearbook staff, and as deadlines approached so would the pressure. The kids would stick their heads in the door and ask, “Are you the Dragon Lady, today, or Queenie Eileenie?”
Eileen laughs at the thought of it. She liked the name, and she loved those students. Today, some of her oldest friends call her Queenie.
When she and her family moved to Fort Smith sixteen years ago, for her husband’s career, they made the decision that Eileen would stay home. By then, they had two sons, Patrick and Michael, and after they had settled in, she began making things like holiday and birthday banners that she sold locally, and she began volunteering at her sons’ school and at church.
Her creativity made her invaluable. She could decorate like nobody’s business, and she could come up with crafts that kept the kids engaged. Vacation Bible School at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church was a dream for her—all those happy kids with time to spend in the craft room. Which led her to consider, four years ago, if she should expand what she was doing.
“My kids went to I.C. and Trinity, and I’d always donate a craft party as part of their fundraisers,” Eileen says. “Several years ago, I offered a craft camp, and one mom bought it, and then another mom told me she really wanted it. I figured it was time to get an itinerary started. I knew I wouldn’t make a fortune, but that wasn’t my goal. I was a house mom, adding to the household budget while getting to stay home with my boys. And I believed in what I was doing.”
Eileen started out slowly, but soon more and more moms were signing up their kids. She holds the classes in her dining room and kitchen, keeping a stash of aprons and hospital scrubs at the ready so no one has to worry about spills.
She spends a lot of time coming up with projects that will delight the kids, making everything from soda-can monsters to door hangers for their rooms.
Some classes even include a cooking lesson. The kids will paint an apron or chef’s hat. They’ll also prepare dishes, such as the class where they made guacamole, enchiladas, and flan for dessert. Eileen laughs, and her laugh is big and happy. “My oven decided to die that day. When we realized that, I called my neighbor, and we finished the class at her house.”
One of the best parts for Eileen is when the parents arrive to take their kids home. The kids beam as they show what they’ve done, away from technology, immersed in their imaginations. “I want kids to see that art is everywhere, it’s all around them. You can see it in nature, in architecture. I want them to open their eyes and see the beauty of the world, and not the beauty of an iPad or cell phone.”
She teaches year-round, offering “Artie Parties” for kids and adults alike, which are held at the host’s house, typically, and last two to three hours. But in the summer, Eileen holds morning and afternoon classes three days a week for five weeks. She takes students from six years of age to fifteen and limits her classes to ten students each. Sometimes she creates a theme around a class, such as the cooking class.
Her students are typically eighty percent girls and twenty percent boys, although she’d love to have more boys. Often, she’ll take her students onto her deck, letting them enjoy the morning sun, working on projects that build confidence.
“We do a lot of things with wood. I’ll cut pieces out and have them sand it. We use drills, and sometimes pliers. When they’ve finished, I want them to feel proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
But her reach is far greater than Fort Smith. Through her Etsy shop, she connects with art lovers everywhere. One of her best-selling items is the birthday banner she personalizes for each customer. She asks for photos of the birthday boy or girl (or man or woman) from over the course of their life. Eileen then has the photos professionally printed to the size she needs, adding birthday hats and embellishments, and then strings the photos through a cord that can be hung across a mantle or doorway.
“The banners started because my mom turned eighty, and she didn’t want us to make a big deal. But that’s a big number, and we wanted to celebrate. So I got pictures of my mom at all ages, and I added birthday hats and decorated it.
“Last year, a woman wanted one for her brother-in-law who was turning eighty. I asked things about him, like his favorite sports teams, where he went to college, so I could personalize it. And she said, ‘Well, he’s kind of famous.’ And I said, ‘Who is he?’ And she said, ‘Engelbert Humperdinck.’ I said, ‘I cannot wait to tell my mother!’”
Engelbert Humperdinck, for those who don’t already know, is a swoon-worthy, heavily side-burned, sometimes mustached English pop singer, who’s sold 150 million records worldwide, including “After the Lovin’,” a song that still garners a reaction from women of a certain age.
“I made it all the sex symbol Engelbert. The old, the young. When I called my mom, she said, ‘Engelbert!’”
Eileen laughs again, the sound like music on this bright spring morning. When she started out, this crafty girl from Georgia, she hoped she’d end up in advertising, promoting Coca-Cola, which is headquartered in Atlanta. When she passed by the twenty-nine-story building at the corner of North Avenue and Luckie Street, she thought her future resided there.
But looking back, she sees how life works out. She found an even better future, not on Luckie Street, but on an even luckier street in Fort Smith. Here, she lives out her dreams, creating art, and helping others discover it. Eileen looks again to the woods behind her house, to the light falling on the trees. She touches the pearls at her neck, and smiles, so happy it feels contagious.
Find Queenie Eileenie on Facebook; her Etsy shop, QueenieEileenie; or on her blog, queenieeileenie.blogspot.com.