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Interview with Carol Duvall:

"The Queen of Crafting..."

Carol Duvall photo...grew up "making things," but it was Carol Duvall's love of performing that sparked her television career. What began as a literature assignment at Michigan State University grew into local performances of her dramatic readings from “Winnie the Pooh.” Soon, she and a friend were entertaining children during intermissions at a local theater. Their break came in 1951, when the Grand Rapids radio station purchased a fledgling TV station. The friends auditioned to produce a live children's show, and landed a regular slot on the first local TV program - 15 minutes, five days a week. Now with a husband and two small children, Carol progressed to hosting 17 live shows a week, including an occasional segment called "Doing Day," where she demonstrated crafts for children to make at home.

Carol had found her niche, and over the next 18 years she hosted and co-produced "Living", an hour-long morning show in Detroit, and managed to teach a little crafting during her five-minute program, "Here's Carol Duvall," that aired daily for 14 years. That segment launched her very successful subscription newsletter, Carol Duvall's Craft Letter, and Carol started fielding requests for national appearances at stores, conventions and on radio and TV. Hollywood called, and from 1988 to 1994, she commuted from Michigan as a mainstay on ABC's "The Home Show." When the cable network HGTV (Home and Garden Television) launched in December of 1994, they tapped Carol to produce an original program, "The Carol Duvall Show". As one of HGTV's most popular shows, it was produced into 2006, topping 1,300 shows -- and the recorded shows are still aired on the DIY (Do It Yourself) Network.

Do the math, and Carol Duvall has been "making things" on television for 58 years so far. Reason enough to be crowned the "Queen of Crafting." But, that is only part of her story.

Carol's performing talent and lighthearted teaching approach delivered a major boost to the early crafting industry in several ways. First, she exposed millions of people to a wide variety of craft forms and techniques, while keeping the required skills and materials reasonable.  At the same time, she reinforced crafting as a fun, interactive activity, so well illustrated by her sharing of crafts and photos that viewers sent to her for her "shoe box" segment. Finally, she helped launch the careers of many renowned crafters, authors and designers. Known as a very generous host, Carol invited artists to demonstrate their work on all of her shows. As a result, several of her guests and colleagues became close friends, and she began arranging week-long gatherings at her Michigan home, dubbed The Summit, where they often exchange crafting ideas and techniques. Why her home? "I have so many supplies here, we could do anything," said Carol.

© Carol Duvall
Carol Duvall, Wanna Make Something Out of It book cover photo
Her first craft book, published in 1972, was titled "Wanna Make Something Out of It?" This collection of "recycled" crafts used household castoffs like tin cans, pill bottles, egg cartons, jars, yarn, paper clips, L'eggs containers and flash cubes (remember those?), and paper of all kinds. Before there was such a thing as crafting stores and products, Carol was simply using her creativity to fashion original objects out of what was on hand. “That’s where my mind still goes when I have a project to create,” she says. “I think ‘What do I have in the house?’”

© Carol Duvall
Paper Crafting with Carol Duval book cover photo
Her next book, 35 years later, reflected her international reputation. “Paper Crafting with Carol Duvall,” published by DRG, has more than 45 projects in a variety of paper crafting categories, including card and envelope making, gift boxes, crafting with photos, embellishments, paper craft ideas from Carol's viewers, and more. It is instructive for crafters at all skill levels, with color photos of each finished project and step-by-step instructions. "I began making things with paper before paper crafting was called an art," she said, "and many of the designs in my book are projects I've developed over many years. There are also new ideas that I've created just for the book." In her usual style, Carol employs ordinary, easy to find materials, and a good dose of humor.

Did we mention the sock monkey? Later. We were honored to talk with Carol in April of 2009 about her amazing television career, her relationships with her viewers and her crafting peers, and about her remarkable book on paper crafting:

VIC: You've credited your success on TV to being more of a performer who could craft, and not a crafter who could also perform. How did your performing talent and early theater experience contribute to your TV career?

© Carol Duvall
Crol Duvall photo, 1972
"When I first auditioned for the camera I was auditioning as a performer, not a crafter, so that was my mind set. Having been involved in school plays and public speaking from grade school through college, as well as acting in our local community theater and a stint in summer stock, the camera did not intimidate me. Whenever I was on the stage I was in my comfort zone and I would see individuals in the audience one at a time. That is what I also saw when I looked into the camera, one person at a time, and that's who I spoke to. Truth is, I never really thought about it until you asked me, so I'm trying to explain what I just took for granted. And keep in mind that was all "live" television back then, To me, that was much easier than tape because it's like being on a stage... it's real and happening in real time. "

VIC: Early live television must have been a panic, especially working at a station that had never produced a TV show before. What were some of the "live" experiences that taught you how to be quick on your feet and unflappable in front of the camera?

"Oh my... there were so many! One of the early experiences I recall was doing a commercial for a local grocery store chain and promoting the sale price of their big 10 lb. bag of flour. The flour was in a brown paper bag and I was to pull it out to show it to the audience - "This great big bag of flour for just $..." Try to pull a heavy bag out of a lightweight paper bag... especially one that fit a bit snugly. It can't be done. I probably should have stopped struggling and just torn the bag, but instead I just pointed to it and said, 'Believe me... it's in there.'

"The fun of early television was that it WAS live. Nobody ever knew for sure what might happen. Fortunately, my days in live television did not completely end even after tape came along. The six years on "The Home Show" on ABC were all live, as were the annual Holiday Shows on HGTV. The unexpected happened more than once. In fact, on one of the last Christmas shows I ever did, I blundered. I was demonstrating a particular fold in a paper napkin ring and for some reason I couldn't seem to get it right. I tried and tried and finally I was getting the signal to wrap it up. In my frustration I just pulled a bunch of napkin rings into the picture and said, 'Look! I made all these! I really CAN do it.' Then I buried my face in my hands and we went to black. The audience loved it. I didn't."

VIC: Don Meyer of the Hobby Industry Association considered you a major force, saying, "What she's done is bring crafting into the realm of the mainstream." As you produced your show and made personal appearances around the country, did you see evidence of your own influence? How did you see the crafting field changing and what were some of the major turning points?

© Carol Duvall
Carol Duvall show photo
"I definitely saw the influence of my show... not just in traveling around the country but in the mail I received from the viewers. As for the craft field changing, it was incredibly evident over the years. It was the materials and the tools that were available to the crafter that made all the difference. From cutting with scissors to punching with paper punches to having your own die-cut machine, crafters were now able to make items that really looked professionally done and not by 'loving hands at home.' It's like moving from a manual typewriter to an IBM Selectomatic to a computer. A world of difference."

VIC: We proudly own an autographed copy of your book, "Wanna Make Something Out of It?", which was the original "recycled crafts" book. We have the same bias - using what we have around the house – and that has led to a storage nightmare in the garage. What exactly does your supply room look like now?

©Carol Duvall - autographed book
Carol Duvall autographed book
"Oh boy, do I relate! In the days when my supplies were egg cartons and milk cartons and bleach bottles and eye glasses and clothes pins etc., I used a number of free-standing metal shelves and cardboard boxes for the big stuff and stored smaller items in many flat-backed baskets hung on the walls or behind closet doors. In fact, I hung a lot of things on the walls.

"These days, drawers and labels are the answer. When I finally, after many many years, got a real craft room, I realized that it had only one solid wall where the TV was placed and three walls that were practically all windows. No wall space! No space for shelves! I bought three steel-topped kitchen tables from Pottery Barn, two of which were counter-top height (36") and one dining table height (29"). I work at one table and every inch of space underneath the tall tables is filled with those plastic drawer units from Staples. Every drawer is labeled...Scissors, Cutting Tools, Glue, Knitting Needles, Tapes, Punches, etc. I do have some Ikea storage cubes on the TV wall and several book shelves. It's perfect....and I can still look out and see the lake."

VIC: Your 10th anniversary special for "The Carol Duvall Show" was a virtual parade of famous artists expressing their gratitude to you. It seems that each step you took throughout your career was the result of strong, supportive friendships in your life - now rare in the television industry. How have your relationships contributed to your professional growth, and how have you maintained them through your five-decade, cross-continental career?

© Carol Duvall - 10th Anniversary Show
Carol Duvall 10th anniversary show
"It was my relationships with those I worked with that made it all fun and really worthwhile, and they just happened. When you start out with one thing in common... the show... you have a head start to begin with. Some of the friendships that formed back at the very first station in Grand Rapids have continued to this day. In several instances, several of us moved to another city but went to the same station. As for others who have gone off in different directions through the years, we keep in touch by phone and/or e-mail, and some of us try to get together either here or there at least once a year. Next month, for example, one of my absolutely closest friends and co-workers from my show who lives in California and I are taking a week to travel to New York to see shows and visit museums. It's our second such trip. Plans are also currently in the works for this year's Summit. And so it goes."

VIC: You've talked about how personal pride in crafting depends on being able to produce something that has a professional, finished appearance. Crafters can now find an infinite variety of short-cut embellishments, pre-designed materials, and craft kits. How do you think this may be impacting the fundamental human urge to create something of quality, but still be unique?

© Carol Duvall
Carol Duvall in her studio
"I think all the pre-cut, pre-designed, pre-everything items have their place in that they allow the timid or those who think they have no talent to go ahead and give it a try. When things turn out looking pretty good it gives them the nerve and encouragement to try again, and many times they will find themselves ad libbing as it were... adding their own touch here or there or substituting something. Before too many projects they will find they are doing their own creating. With some folks, just following the directions is satisfaction enough and that's ok too. Does it stifle the creativity in some? Yes, I suppose it does in some cases and that is their loss perhaps. But today so many find that "time saved" is more important. Then too, others would prefer to do their creating in the kitchen or garden."

VIC: “Paper Crafting with Carol Duvall” is a joy, not just for the detailed information, but also for your practical 'have fun and don't sweat your mistakes' storyline. What was your process for writing it, and how did you work collaboratively with your editors to reflect your personal style? 

"The editor I worked with at the publisher, Tanya Fox, was absolutely the best. We were both new at what we were doing. It was my first time working with an editor and her first time working with a "name" performer so we both learned from each other. Fortunately I was given very free rein at how the projects were presented. I was given my space limitations and made it work. When it didn't. we would discuss and work things out together. I valued her input and respected her knowledge and experience and she valued and respected my abilities. I couldn't have asked for a better relationship. The only thing I remember having a few hang-up about were the colors. We didn't quite speak the same language but even so the fellow in charge of such things did his best to meet my requests and I gave in on a few things, so that too worked out ok."

VIC: Your childhood experiences continue to feed your rich creative life. In “Paper Crafting with Carol Duvall,” you introduce the Jacob's Ladder craft by saying that your father taught you to make one when you were 10 years old. What advice would you offer to parents who want to encourage and nurture the creative ventures of their children?

© Carol Duvall - Jacob's Ladder craft
Carol Duvall Jacobs Ladder craft photo
"That's a bit of a guess because all children aren't the same, nor are their parents. If a mother or dad is involved in crafts it's much easier because the children are around it and will frequently want to try, too. I think it's great to let them know that you would love to share this nifty idea, but don't push it and don't force your own enthusiasm. Kids are smart enough to know when you're faking. When I would visit my two grandsons... or they visit me... I would always have something that I was working on that I hoped might be of interest to them. In most cases, one was always interested - "What did you bring for us to make Grandma?" - and the other one could care less. Unless, of course, it was something like Easter baskets and dying and decorating eggs. Then their mom would get involved too, so it became a family affair."

VIC: Okay, time for the sock monkey. When did the infamous sock monkey first enter your life, and how did it ultimately become the unofficial mascot of "The Carol Duvall Show?"

© Carol Duvall
Carol Duvall with sock monkey mask
"Oh my... I should have known I wouldn't get away without a question about the monkey. It actually all started on "The Home Show" when a viewer wrote in asking about the sock monkey that she remembered from her childhood and wondered if I could help her find the socks that were required and the directions. It took awhile but I was able to track down the company. I don't remember all the details now but there was some potential problem with the company that made the socks... anyway, I finally got some socks along with directions and made a monkey on the show. OH MY GOSH the response!!! I had no idea how important that little animal had been to so many children back in the early 30's and 40's. Anyway, I planned to use many of the stories and photos and do a follow-up segment... Son of Sock Monkey or something, but then the show went off the air! I never got to it.


"So several months later when "The Carol Duvall Show" started production I brought out the socks and letters and made another monkey. I received lots of response to that one too, but it was really our prop master, Dave Lowe, who picked up on the idea and began putting the monkey in different introductions to different segments. Many of his costumes and actions were incredibly clever and when there would be a plug for mail during a break he would have the monkey open a mail box and insert a letter, etc. People began to look for the sock monkey's appearance each day. Then we had a guest who made different sock animals and wrote stories to go with them and so it continued and before long the sock monkey and I were a couple!"

VIC: You helped move crafting from “making things” to a multi-million dollar, global industry. What do you see ahead for the next generation of crafters, and for you personally?

"What I see ahead for the next generation of crafters is continued growth in learning, sharing, experimenting, bonding and selling on the Internet. I would like to think that craft magazines, books and even television will also play a part in communicating and sharing of ideas, but I may just be doing some wishful thinking. In any case, I don't see a lessening of interest in crafting or creativity. I just hope that crafting doesn't turn into another competitive sport where faster means better and pride of workmanship gets lost in the shuffle. The enjoyment should be in the process and the satisfaction of a project well done. As for myself... I would never say never, but for now I have no plans to continue crafting anyplace other than in my own home while gazing at the lake. Maybe I'll eventually get around to some of those unfinished sweaters... if the moths haven't beaten me to it."

Carol Duvall show logoArchive episodes of "The Carol Duvall Show" can be seen on the DIY cable network, or on the HGTV website. Carol's book, Paper Crafting with Carol Duvall, and the DVD of an art retreat she hosted, Art Unscripted, are available from bookstores, craft stores, and at Amazon.com and other online retailers.


Be sure to read about our follow-up visit with Carol Duvall in our November 2009 newsletter!

 

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