“It’s a challenge, but I really enjoy creating a piece of artwork that generates an emotional response in the customer.”
By Laurie Loewenstein
During an internship her junior year at Lafayette, Siobhan Pendergast ’89 found herself placing bids on behalf of the distinguished Didier Aaron Ltd., a London gallery that deals in 18th and 19th-century fine French and Continental furniture as well as 17th to 19th-century Old Master drawings and paintings.
“It was an incredible experience,” she says. “I placed bids on behalf of the managing director, which was exciting and nail biting at times. The bidding process between galleries for certain prized works of art could get very competitive and the bids often were extremely high as galleries vied for different items. After the program ended I continued to attend fine art auctions in London and I met a gentleman from a Spanish gallery who hired me to scout art auctions on the East Coast. He wanted me to locate Spanish paintings for him to purchase and sell in his galleries in London and Madrid. I did this during my senior year while studying and living on campus at Lafayette.”
During her senior year, Pendergast also spent Fridays working as an extern for Piero Corsini Inc., a New York fine art gallery specializing in Italian Old Master paintings from the 14th to 18th centuries. The gallery prides itself on its depth art-historical research and has sold paintings to the Musee du Louvre, the Pinacoteca di Brera, and numerous museums in North America.
“Mr. Corsini has an incredible eye and expertise for being able to select fine paintings that may have been misattributed to a lesser-known master artist,” she says. “When he purchases a painting that he believes to be by another artist, he has the painting researched, authenticated and restored to its original beauty if needed. Then the painting is documented by the research and attributed to the correct old master painter.”
Pendergast met the Piero Corsini staff of conservators during the externship.
“They were experts in their field from Italy and worked on-site repairing and restoring paintings to their original condition and beauty.” she says. “Working in the gallery was breathtaking.”
Her experiences in fine art galleries and auction houses convinced Pendergast that she had correctly chosen a double major in art history and economics and business.
“I felt it was a great way to have a solid foundation in marketing while incorporating the art I loved,” she says.
But what Pendergast hadn’t counted on was the economy.
“In the late 1980s, several major banks were offering art advisory services and some high-end international department stores had buyers specializing in art,” she says.
These services reflected the hot investment status that fine art had achieved during this time.
“People were buying art as investments and speculating on their resale potential,” says Pendergast. “With my dual major in art history and business and economics and internships with art galleries, it seemed like great timing to enter the job market with a major bank or auction house. But unfortunately, this was not the case. After the stock market’s mini crash in October 1989, the art market crashed.”
For a few months following graduation, things didn’t look promising. She wanted to find a position that combined marketing and her love of art.
“Then a position opened up at Lenox and it has been the perfect match for me,” says Pendergast, who has worked there since 1990. “I’m dealing with artists and sculptors while at the same time analyzing trends, the competitive marketplace, and consumer buying preferences.”
Pendergast’s current position at Lenox, known for its fine tableware and giftware, is director of product development. She is responsible for overseeing the creation of graceful ivory china, crystal, and art glass products. The products are sold in several channels via direct-mail, catalog, internet, high-end specialty retailers as well as department stores.
“The direct-mail customers are often collectors purchasing for themselves,” she says. “They may collect Disney items, angels, cats, elephants, frogs or turtles and will look specifically for what items we have in those categories.”
Lenox sculptures, collectibles, and gift items sold at exclusive retailers often go to another type of customer.
“Often they are giving the items as gifts or have received Lenox in the past as a gift and are looking to celebrate a special occasion,” she says. “It is the beauty of Lenox’s artistry, craftsmanship, and dedication to quality that consumers know and trust when selecting a Lenox gift for their friends and family.”
Today’s collectors are looking to form a personal relationship with a company, and Pendergast is regularly asked to attend signing events. She has also appeared on QVC and the Home Shopping Network to present new Lenox products. She has been nominated for five awards from the National Association of Limited Edition Dealers.
In her role she does everything from conceiving a new product idea to selecting the right artists for the project, to critiquing early product samples and approving the final piece for production. All this while ensuring that the finished product fulfills a consumer’s expectation, falls into a target price range, and can be manufactured in the factory (figures standing on one foot are very difficult). Another caveat is that the figurines must be able to be shipped through the U.S. mail without breaking.
“It’s a challenge, but I really enjoy creating a piece of artwork that generates an emotional response in the customer,” she says.
Many of the Lenox sculptures, figurines, and decorative items are rendered in ivory china and accented with gold, platinum, gem stones, enamel, and fine hand painting. Her products can range from graceful Victorian skating couples or angels in flowing frocks to whimsical turtles with enamel floral patterns, to Mickey Mouse in a top hat and tails to art glass teapots.
Each figure represented is the combined vision of Pendergast and the artists she oversees. She describes how an angel figure is born, noting that the process can be very long.
“I begin by looking at all the angel figurines we already have and thinking about how to make a new angel look different and better than the previous ones,” she says.
She describes what she has in mind to an artist who in turn comes back with three to five rough sketches. She has taken a number of classes in sculpture, watercolor painting, and oil painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which has enabled her to better communicate with the artists with whom she is working.
“Once I have determined a pose with the artist, we begin selecting the clothing and what accouterments they may need, such as a dove, a musical instrument or a scroll,” Pendergast says. “The interesting part for me, and where my art history background comes in, is incorporating subtle symbolism. For a millennium angel, I added a 10-pointed star pattern gracing her dress.”
After Pendergast is satisfied with the angel in the sketch, she gives it to a sculptor to produce in clay.
“The artists who work best for my product lines are classically trained,” she says. “They understand the graceful proportions and movements of the human body.”
Once a clay figure is approved, Pendergast has to look at it from a production standpoint, i.e. whether the factory can reproduce it.
“We review every model with our design team and only when the group studies the item and agrees that it can be manufactured is the item sent to the factory,” she says.
Pendergast believes that her experiences at Lafayette — in the classroom, on field trips, as an extern and studying overseas — prepared her well for her job.
“During my career, as I’ve met people from other colleges, I’ve come to realize what a truly amazing place Lafayette is and how much I learned there,” she says. “Not only was the education outstanding, but the business interaction and social skills you learn through the diverse programs and opportunities Lafayette offers its students are priceless.”