Mary Engelbreit

ARTIST, ENTREPRENEURMary Engelbreit

“A Vast Empire of Cuteness.”
—Wall Street Journal

Mary Engelbreit is first and foremost an artist, but the industry she created around her artwork truly makes her a legend of the business world. She continues to receive high accolades, being called a contemporary Norman Rockwell by People Magazine. Her “vast empire of cuteness,” as dubbed by the Wall Street Journal, began at an early age and has continued to this day as she churns out an amazing number of original works on a yearly basis. In the early 2000s, the “cute empire” had sales of around $100 million a year.

Location of Saint Louis in MissouriTHE EARLY YEARS

Mary Engelbreit was born on June 5, 1952, and grew up in St. Louis. Her artistic abilities began early, where by the age of eleven she was already producing works of art. Her high school guidance counselor at Visitation Academy encouraged her to go college to become a teacher, but Mary had already decided what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She ignored the advice and skipped both college and design school to begin working immediately on a career in the arts.

RISE TO FAME

After completing school, Engelbreit worked at an art supply store in St. Louis. She also held down jobs at an advertising agency, working as a freelance artist for clients around her hometown, and even as an editorial cartoonist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Mary’s desire was to draw illustrations that came from her own memories and imagination. Her big break came on a trip to New York in 1977 when a publisher suggested drawing art for greeting cards. At first, she was crushed by the advice, but she soon realized the idea had some merit. After a few years of working for other greeting card makers, she got frustrated by the bureaucratic ways of large companies that were slow to act and lacked imaginations. So in 1983, she began designing and producing her own cards. By 1985, she was ready for bigger and better things and signed a license with Sunrise Greetings, a major greeting card publisher and distributor. That risky decision was the best business move she ever made and paved the way for worldwide popularity and incredible sales.

SHOW ME SUCCESS

Engelbreit’s greeting card line was growing fast, but so was the interest in expanding her blossoming empire. Numerous national companies came calling to use her artwork on a full range of products, including t-shirts, calendars, gift books, mugs, and practically anything they could put a print on. By the mid-1990s her empire was a multi-million-dollar company, and it was time to expand once again. She launched a national consumer magazine called Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion.

In 1993, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of illustrating children’s books with Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen. Her dream expanded in 2001 when she signed a contract for more than twenty books starting with her The Night Before Christmas. This illustration of Clement C. Moore’s beloved poem commanded a spot on the New York Times best-seller list for eleven weeks. Soon after, her first animated video based on the book hit the shelves. She went on to illustrate other classic titles, including a collection of Mother Goose rhymes that also became a New York Times best-seller as well as a series of original children’s books based on her alter ego, Ann Estelle.

The “Vast Empire of Cuteness” continued to grow and included hundreds of books, a national magazine with readership in the millions, a retail and online
store, and nearly seven thousand licensed products. Even though the business is worldwide, she still imagines every concept in her head and draws every original illustration with her own hand. In 2005, Mary hit the prestigious honor of $1 billion in lifetime retail sales.

EXTRA, EXTRA!

*Mary’s first studio was a closet in her childhood home.

*She sold her first three card designs for $150.

*She was eight months pregnant when she decided to start up her own company.

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