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Super Women: Brook Mowrey, Paper Artist

July 10, 2014

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UNTIL SHE GOT TO COLLEGE, Rebecca Mowrey was Rebecca. Then classmates started calling her “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” then “Sunnybrook” and, finally, just “Brook.”

Going with the flow, today Rebecca goes by Brook Mowrey. “If I hear someone call out ‘Rebecca!’ I know it’s someone from back in Chadds Ford,” she says, referring to her Pennsylvania hometown.

Brook’s career has evolved over the years too. Once an art director at Time-Life Books, she  freelanced for a long time as a graphic designer, and then decided with her husband, David Nelson,  that she would stay at home, in Loudoun County, with daughter Sage to help the little girl cope with three years of  back-to-back surgeries to fix nerves and tendons that could have stood in the way of her ability to walk correctly.

It was while trying to amuse her daughter, who just turned 15, during those long days of surgery and recuperation–and lots of physical therapy–that Brook started making little paper displays and ornaments out of paper–little birds with paper hats, paper crowns, decorations for Halloween. A tree branch that Brook brought into the house and painted became a Christmas tree, an Easter tree, a Halloween tree, all decked out with paper ornaments Brook and Sage worked on together.

Then one day Brook’s best friend of 40 years, Dan Kessler, introduced her to Judy Philactos, owner of Periwinkle Gifts, an exuberantly charming candy and gift shop in upper Northwest Washington. “Show her,” Kessler nudged her.  And Brook showed Judy the colorful little birds she was making, with silly hand-cut paper hats on them. Judy was smitten and decided to sell them. Today Judy recalls her reaction as being just commonsense: “I have a shop. Why not put them in the shop and see if they sell?”

The charming little birds attracted oohs and aahs and virtually flew (sorry) out of the shop. They were soon followed by various little hand-sculpted animals (“charlottes,” Brook calls them * ) trimmed with paper clothes and decoration. And then elaborately trimmed little paper slippers that the shop fills with candy. And effusively decorated paper headbands and crowns to help little girls (and big ones) celebrate birthdays, communions and sometimes just themselves. (In fact, the crowns are incredibly popular and, at around $50, are about the most expensive thing Periwinkle sells.)

“Judy helped me to change my life,” a grateful Brook says today. “She encouraged me.”

Brook has repaid that encouragement in the past couple of years by “dressing up” the shop every few months with a paper confection fitted on a vintage dress form–now a Marie Antoinette-inspired gown, recently a lace and flowers spring dress, a “spring botanicals” gown–all fashioned from cut paper and bits of ribbon and artificial flowers (“We like to call them ‘permanent florals,’ ” Brook says with a grin). There have been paper butterflies, paper lace, paper just about everything.

People are noticing: Brook has been commissioned to do several seasonal gowns for the upscale Dupont Circle consignment boutique Secondi. She maintains scads of Pinterest bulletin boards–headdresses, masks, antlers(!). Some 2,900 people follow her, and her images have been “pinned” around 15,000 times.

“I’ve always collected paper,” Brook says. She figures out what to do with it later. Brook’s evolution probably wouldn’t surprise Mrs. Brugler, her first-grade teacher, who had Brook do seasonal bulletin boards with pieces of construction paper. Mrs. Brugler even lent her out to other classrooms to dress up the whole school.

With Mrs. Brugler starting her off young and Judy Philactos pushing her forward now, people are getting to see what Brook can do with bits and pieces of paper and lace the rest of us throw away.

Today it’s fanciful dresses in the windows of Periwinkle and Secondi. Tomorrow? “I’d love to do those big, elaborate displays, like what Anthropologie does.” Brook ‘s eyes are dancing. You know she sees in her mind exactly what kinds of confections she would come up with for them.

–Nancy McKeon




14 thoughts on “Super Women: Brook Mowrey, Paper Artist

  1. Patti says:

    I have been in awe of Brook’s work for many years. Her crowns are magnificent! Perfect gifts for birthdays, congratulations, or if you just want to be queen for a day! I can’t say enough about the “Charlottes”. I think it’s time to place my order for a few of these darling little sculpted animals. People stop in their tracks when they see the Brook’s stunning paper dresses in store windows. Ahhhh to have such talent!! Love the article!

  2. Barbara M. Kessler says:

    Brook is extremely talented. Her work is amazing. I gave a friend of mine one of the crowns that Brook hand crafted.She was so thrilled with the crown that she began wearing it immediately. I personally believe that every girl (regardless of age) deserves a beautiful crown and I strongly suggest they purchase one one or more made by Brook.

  3. Nancy McKeon says:

    * Actually, Brook has now explained to me that her “charlottes” are an extension of a tradition of little Victorian dolls whose legs were “frozen” together and whose arms were attached with pins. As Brook continues, the dolls “were called so because of folk story about a little girl named Charlotte who, wearing a lovely new dress, refused to put a coat on for a sleigh ride…as a result, she became frozen. Kind of macabre, right? but I get a little chuckle out of it. anyway, I named the little characters after the little victorian dolls…” Great story–and Judy Philactos tells me she was actually collecting “frozen Charlotte” dolls even before she met Brook–so great, creative minds collided!

  4. “Rebecca” is so talented! I may have to commission one of the crowns for myself. Wonderfully written article. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Erica Lynn says:

    Wow. Such talent! Thanks for sharing this story!

  6. Stephanie Nelson says:

    Lovely work, nice write-up and wonderful designs – can’t wait to see where this takes you next. I’m sharing this story….

  7. Dawn Rittner says:

    The creative use of unique papers and flowers make for designs that are not only beautiful, but also whimsical. What a lovely article showcasing this talented artist.

  8. Merril Smith says:

    I knew Brook in college, although not very well. I had no idea that she was this talented. Both her designs and their implementation are incredible. I may have to take a trip to see them in person!

  9. Melissa J Mowrey says:

    You are Amazing ….Your Designs are out of this world….So Beautiful….So Proud Of You And Your Work….You are a Great Artist……From Missy

  10. Mimi Harrison says:

    Brooke’s talents are simply astonishing. Taste and sense of design are one thing; but to be able to actually fashion your ideas flawlessly and successfully is something rare indeed. I want to see her doing windows at Barneys!

  11. Karen Bruce Scherer says:

    Congratulations, “Rebecca”,
    It was just a matter of time to see your name in print describing the wonderful talent you have. As a fellow classmate at Unionville High School I’m not surprised to read the wonderful comments about you. However I did not know exactly how your talent was “pushed” along. Hearing what you did for your daughter does not surprise me at all…you are one very special lady. Looking forward to having one of your “charlottes” “fly” my way. Karen

  12. Peggy Wilburn says:

    Wow! What wonderful creations.. Brook has talent yet to come out…. I think the displays are fantastic…. thank you for such a nice article, it is a happy day when you can read about success and not crime.. You go Miss Brook… Looking to see more, bigger and I won’t say better, as your art is perfect as it is!

  13. James Kelly says:

    Great story. Well-written

  14. Jeannetta Gerrish says:

    This artist is so talented. Great article and fabulous work!

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