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Her Empire Is Crafted by Hand

Kellene Giloff has turned a love of art and piecework into publishing business


Kellene Giloff plunges into her overflowing stash of flattened shoe boxes, vintage adding machine keys, floral cellophane wrap and torn-out magazine pages with the zeal of a child encountering a new box of crayons. What some see as trash, she sees as limitless possibilities for art. "Look at these," she says, smoothing out some copper and gold metallic Godiva chocolate wrappers. "I just had to keep them. They're so beautiful."

Her affinity for scraps is understandable to readers of the many craft magazines she has published since the first, the Stampers' Sampler, debuted in 1994. Somerset Studio is a bimonthly devoted to stamping, paper crafts and calligraphy. The quarterly Inspirations features projects using Giloff's own Stampington line of stamps. Belle Armoire, introduced last year, is a quarterly dedicated to wearable art and jewelry, and the new Legacy is another quarterly that draws on family history and heirlooms as the basis for scrapbooks, art journals and quilts. Set to hit newsstands next year is Art Doll Quarterly, on handmade dolls. It grew out of "The Art Doll Chronicles," a book published this year by parent company Stampington that details the efforts of nine artists collaborating on a series of dolls.

Although publications such as Crafts Magazine and Doll Crafter have been on the stands for years, the 42-year-old Giloff has introduced a sophisticated sensibility to paper arts that reflects an evolution from cutesy country teddy bears to the use of images taken from paintings, botanical illustrations and hand-carved designs, as well as vintage photographs, Victorian ephemera and found objects. Recent themes have included "Gone With the Wind," Tuscany, the circus and India. The magazines' showcasing of collage and assemblage in lush photographs of note cards, journals and shadow boxes has not only become a signature style, but it has also nudged craft and fine art closer together.

"It's no longer just homespun crafts," Giloff says, sitting in her office in a nondescript Laguna Hills business park. "I think we've given people a new perspective on what crafting is about. When I was planning Somerset Studio, I was talking to [multimedia artist] Rona Chumbook, and we never talked about collage as much as the romance of paper. When I started stamping, there was just glossy cardstock, and all of a sudden there were these new papers, and I was enthralled because I could tear off a piece of handmade paper and add it to my stamped image and all of a sudden it was a new thing."

Giloff, a petite woman with ginger hair who seems in perpetual motion even when sitting still, says it was her love of stamping--and an entrepreneurial leaning--that led her to start a line of rubber stamps and launch her first magazine a year later. She had been the director of sales and marketing for a Salt Lake City hotel, but she found it wasn't a perfect fit. "For at least 20 minutes a day," she says, "I'd sneak a note pad and write down ideas for businesses I wanted to start."

When she and her husband, a hotel manager, moved to Orange County in 1986, Giloff started her own event-planning business, but she was dismayed by the long hours and lack of tangible results. Inspired by Alexandra Stoddard's book "Living a Beautiful Life," she stopped in at a local rubber stamp store one day to look for "beautiful stationery to write beautiful letters." Giloff was struck instead by a wall of stamps and grilled the sales staff about how to use them. She walked out with $400 worth of supplies.

Caught up in her stamp infatuation, she found something missing: Noncute stamps. Giloff located images that were more to her liking, including Victorian women and grapevine wreaths, had an artist tweak them, then turned them into a line of stamps called Stampington, which she sold to stamp stores. But she still wasn't satisfied.

"I'd go to a stamp store and look at all their samples," she recalls, "but I wanted more. I thought there must be a way stampers could share ideas."

After crunching some numbers, she realized she could put together a full-color publication featuring handmade cards. Rubberstampmadness magazine had beaten her to the punch on the subject matter, but it took a more general approach to the craft. For the first two years, she put out Stampers' Sampler solo, acting as publisher, writer, editor and art director.

Wanting to offer crafters even more inspiration and to run a magazine with advertising, Giloff started Somerset Studio after buying Chumbook's newsletter, "Paper Crafters." The magazine, which has a circulation of 65,000, has propelled artists such as Claudine Hellmuth, Lynne Perrella, Nina Bagley and Michelle Ward from virtual obscurity to superstar status in the crafting world.

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