Blogging about fantasy figurines is an unusual business. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise. In journalism school, they didn’t offer tips for covering the dragon-griffin-gargoyle beat.
The biggest surprise about this fantasy endeavor is how un-fanciful Melody Peña and John Alberti are. Melody is as much a naturalist as she is an artist. She remains very much a serious student of nature, science and anatomy while drawing and sculpting from fantasy and mythology. John is more of a mechanical genius than a business manager. Perhaps that is just as well. Given the complexity of resurrecting Windstone in the Northwest, any business timeline he might put down to guide Windstone’s return to profitablity would be regarded as fantasy. This is a complex operation in the best of times. The current economic meltdown is only making it harder.
In many respects, the story of this unique company is so ordinary as to be universal. It is the story of a family business trying to build a livelihood based on one member’s remarkable talents. Almost a dozen employees work at Windstone, but the operation is very much a family enterprise. Melody Peña’s sculpture is supported by John Alberti’s mechanical genius. John and Melody’s 18-year-old daughter, “Chessie” (short for Chesapeake) and son, Griffin, a sophomore at Corvallis High school, clock in after school. Chessie’s boyfriend, Adam, worked at Windstone for a time.
John’s sister, Suzie, has been working for her brother for more than 20 years. In August, she left her house and husband behind and came north to make sure order forms were mailed out and incoming orders were filled. She is the master of the inventory. Suzie’s son, John, came north with her to support Windstone’s northwest revival.
Windstone’s story is also a technology story – a case study in how Internet shopping and the price of real estate are rapidly extinguishing the small specialty shops that have displayed Windstone Edition pieces for decades. Online shoppers cannot see or feel the differences between Asian knockoffs and the real McCoy.
Windstone’s is a banking story – one of the countless examples of how the nation’s credit crunch and the banking collapse is crushing distinctive businesses. It has always been difficult for artists and makers of collectibles to convince bankers that there is a solid market for their work. The value of art will always be intangible, and the fervor of collectors will always be mystifying to the uninitiated.
John and Melody’s move to Corvallis is a real estate story – the collapse of the real estate market in Southern California has left them with a house in Shadow Hills that they cannot sell. Until the house sells, they – like thousands of Americans – are financially frozen in their transition.
Windstone’s story is a transformation story. John and Melody are working to harness the Internet and the myriad innovations that are lumped together under the banner of “Web 2.0.” They are working with website designer, Gregg Goldstone at Nexco in Southern California, to create a website that captures the attention of Internet search engines. If they can get Windstone to the top of the search page, then convert those searchers into buyers, they might supplement the cash flow from brick-and-mortar shops with enough online sales to stay in business.
Can the dragon makers harness the Google dragon and ride it to financial success? That is the story I will be following most closely here at Windstone in the Northwest.