In Her Shoes
Lauren Rundquist leads the way to the dimly lit bottom floor of her house in southeastern Columbia. With each step, her blond ponytail swings from side to side as the stairs groan softly beneath her feet. Outside her bedroom door, she pauses to apologize for the mess. She’s been painting all morning, and her room doubles as her studio.
She pushes open the door with one hand. Light pours in through the only window. Scattered across the top of her wooden dresser lies a half-strung beaded bracelet, three empty picture frames displaying earrings on wires and a pair of white Converse sneakers, size 11.
“Those aren’t mine,” she says pointing at the shoes that are at least four sizes too large for the thin 20-year-old. “A woman ordered them for her husband’s birthday. He’s a Cubs fan.”
Lauren is a sophomore at the University of Missouri, majoring in strategic communications with a focus in art direction. She’s also the owner of LaQuist, a business she’s been running for the past year and a half. She sells her handmade jewelry and custom-painted shoes online through her shop on Etsy.com. Some of her creations are available in area boutiques — five in her hometown of St. Louis and two in Columbia.
The blue comforter on Lauren’s bed is littered with small, brightly colored tubes of acrylic paint and brushes. She returns to the only open spot on the bed where she was working minutes earlier. Sitting with her legs folded beneath her, she is surrounded by her latest craft. The wall that runs from the door to the bathroom is lined with more than a dozen shoeboxes: TOMS, Converse, Keds.
A stack of papers sits at the foot of the bed. Each sheet holds an illustration of another one-of-a-kind shoe design. Some feature flowers or swooping curved shapes. A green and yellow pair cheer “Go Eagles.” Sports themes are the most popular. Lauren shuffles through the sheaf to show some of her favorites. She prefers abstract art to sports team logos, but she’ll make whatever a customer requests. One of her more unusual orders was for a pair of TOMS decorated with the logos of the buyer’s favorite snacks: SunRype apple juice on the right shoe, Premium Plus saltine crackers on the left.
Each shoe begins on paper with a design plan sketched in pencil and colored with markers or watercolor paints. Depending on the intricacies of the pattern, Lauren might draw on the shoes or paint freehand. The entire process, from the time an order is placed to when it is shipped, takes five to eight weeks. She currently has 50 orders.
She’s at ease in her familiar, well-honed process. Short, quick strokes with the edge of the brush keep her work precise. She paints before and after classes and calls customers and boutiques any time in between, whether she’s at the grocery store or on the bus to campus. Her side business has kept her from relying on a part-time job for spending money, unlike many of her friends.
The idea for the business, like so many of her ideas, came in such a flurry that Lauren doesn’t remember how or when the thought first occurred to her. Inspiration struck one day; the next, she was off putting the idea into action — that part she remembers.
The specifics are unclear, but she knows it was during the summer of 2011, a few weeks before she left for her freshman year of college. She visited a St. Louis boutique, showed the owner her jewelry and landed her first order in a matter of minutes. That afternoon, she began drawing up a business plan, designing a logo and printing business cards.
Since then, a lot of Lauren’s business has changed. The logo was retired. The product line, which began with wire rings and earrings, now includes customized shoes. The shop opened online in September. And she began The Creativation Project, Lauren’s homegrown charity organization.
The passion that drives her work and sparks her ideas is one constant that has remained since childhood.
No Fear In Failure
Ask Lauren’s parents, Molly and John, when their daughter’s interest in art began, and they will pause to reflect on the years. “Her whole life,” Molly says, breaking the few seconds of silence. Her answer may be trite, she concedes, but in Lauren’s case, it’s true. Molly remembers Lauren drawing a picture of a little bird when she was 18 months old, an age when most children imitate drawing and writing with scribbles.
Lauren has been making things since she was a toddler and could wrap her small fingers around a crayon.
When she was 8, she drew an imaginary animal and won an art contest at her dentist’s office. When she was 10, she melted crayons and painted a giraffe on a piece of cloth. Her parents still have the artwork hanging on a wall in their St. Louis home, along with four other paintings and more than a dozen sculptural pieces.
As she got older, her projects grew more ambitious. One weekend, she built a horseshoe pit in the backyard for her father when he was out of town.
Lauren credits her family with her motivation, artistic and otherwise. Her father dabbled in art during his high school years and kept his old portfolio in a black leather trunk tucked away in the home office. As a child, Lauren would unlatch the brass locks and sift through the box that contained her parents’ memories — letters to each other, MU memorabilia from their college days, photographs and her dad’s old drawings.
John never considered making art a full-time career. Lauren remembers him sketching on napkins rather than canvas. As the president of Air Masters Corp., a mechanical contracting company based in St. Louis, John helped Lauren with her art projects instead of his own. Father and daughter later started constructing a tree house between three trunks in the backyard. After about two weeks of work, they had gotten as far as the floor but never finished.
Lauren’s mother is a musician. Molly plays piano and sings when she’s not busy with her work as a middle school counselor. Lauren never turns in an application or a term paper without asking her mother to proofread it first.
Her parents always encouraged her and her younger sister, Leah, to pursue any endeavor.
When she wanted to paint the bar stools in the kitchen, they asked what color. Even now, their basement is crowded with boxes preserving her childhood art projects.
Lauren’s creative nature can be traced back through the branches of her family tree. Her grandfather, William “Bill” Rundquist, started a small business out of his garage in 1966. His son, Lauren’s father, would help the company grow to become what Air Masters is today. Lauren’s aunt is a professional artist, her cousin is a television producer and another is in a band. Even her great-great-grandmother Kate Chopin was a famous feminist author in the 1890s who wrote novels, such as At Fault and The Awakening.
“I’ve grown up around creative people,” Lauren says. “I never once thought, ‘No, that would be too much.’ I always thought, why not try? You can attempt whatever — I’ve never been afraid of failure.” She admits that although she takes on her projects with gusto, she doesn’t always succeed or finish.
She laughs softly and says, “Remember the tree house?” The floorboards had weathered over the years, but they were still nailed in place when the family moved to another St. Louis suburb.
A Spark Of An Idea
In elementary school, Lauren’s quarters weren’t for gumballs. Every shiny coin plinked as it joined the others she had painstakingly saved in a peanut jar that served as her makeshift piggybank. Year-round, she collected change to donate to local charities at Christmastime.
Lauren’s parents encouraged her to use her strengths to help others. As a family, they volunteered at animal shelters and collected cans for food pantries.
When Lauren learned how to braid in elementary school, she made leather beaded bookmarks that she sold for $1 apiece to raise money for the American Cancer Society. When her aunt taught her how to make clay pendants for necklaces and earrings, Lauren made Christmas-themed jewelry for unwed mothers at a local women’s shelter.
For Lauren, art is a bridge that connects her to other people and her work to a purpose. The Creativation Project was another lightning strike of an idea that hit December 2011.
Through Creativation, Lauren has partnered with Harbor House and Rainbow House in Columbia. The project aims to inspire young children to embrace their creativity and imagination by making their own works of art. Lauren and a handful of volunteers visit the children every month or two and bring art projects, or “sparks” as she calls them. A spark is a prompt.
On a recent visit to Harbor House, Lauren showed seven children, ranging in age from 2 to 10, the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. As she explained O’Keeffe’s use of contrasting colors, she held up a color wheel and let the group identify pairs. Afterward, the children gathered around three small tables topped with a palette of watercolors, paper, glue, scissors and red Solo cups filled with crayons and markers. The kids, skinny green paintbrushes in hand, set to work as they created paintings inspired by O’Keeffe’s landscapes and flowers.
Within the next year, Lauren hopes to see The Creativation Project take on a public mural downtown. She’s started discussing her plans with Chris Stevens, the city’s director of cultural affairs, but hasn’t found a location yet. The plan is to divide the lower part of a wall into squares. “We’ll give each child a square to do their own thing,” Lauren says. “It will be like a mosaic of children’s artwork.”
Lauren’s desire to connect children with art is based on her childhood experiences.
Whether contributing to charities or creating a business plan, art is a connection for Lauren. Through her work, she has crossed paths with people she never would have met, from the children who hug her goodbye after a Creativation visit to the customer in Alain, Abu Dhabi, who ordered a pair of Harry Potter-themed shoes.
The prospect of turning her company into a full-time job after graduation is still something she’s mulling over, but she has two more years before she’ll decide. And in two years, lightning could strike again, sending her on another divergent path.
A few weeks later, Lauren is back sitting on her bed. She opens up her laptop to show how the Cubs sneakers, size 11, turned out. This time, the comforter is bare. There are no brushes or tubes of paint. But to her left in the corner of the bed where the palette once sat, a small black line and two white splotches remain on the pale blue sheets. She rubs her hand across the markings and shrugs.
“Art,” she says with a smile, “gets everywhere.”