Prompted by a request from their grandmother, three Maryville students have started a business.

“Wow, that is quite an accomplishment for a year locked in your house,” Irene Crowder said of her grandchildren.

Crowder hasn’t visited family or friends since the pandemic began last spring, and when she broke her leg, she appreciated a postcard with a hand-drawn garden scene from a distant friend. So she asked her grandchildren to make her some cards to send.

“And the next thing I know, they’re talking about this business that they’ve started,” Crowder said. “So, it was just really kind of delightful.”

The startup

Since September 2020, Marie, Thomas and Elizabeth Tisdale have been operating Jessamine Studios, an online card shop.

The name was inspired by a plant that grew outside their previous house. With a yellow flower shaped like a trumpet, the jessamine is South Carolina’s state flower.

Marie, 17, needed work-based learning experience for Maryville High School, and Thomas, 14, would have taken a job last summer if not for the pandemic. Instead of going in separate directions, they created the business with Elizabeth, 12.

“It’s fun to work as a family because we like doing it together,” Elizabeth said, “and also we’re stuck together so it’s something to do together.”

With the pandemic they’ve all been working and learning from home.

Marie participates in an online workshop for job shadowing to supplement the work-based learning credit the school gives her for the sibling-owned-and-operated business.

“She’s thinking outside of the box, she’s doing higher than the expectations that some place on teenagers in general,” said Catherine Bledsoe, Marie’s work-based learning coordinator and special education teacher. “Marie has become a poster child of defining odds based on situation.”

Each child focuses on a different part of the business.

Marie produces inventory and keeps it organized. Thomas is the “computer specialist,” mother Kit Tisdale said. He also keeps up with the orders, and Elizabeth concentrates on the customer experience.

The family support “is just inspiring to us as educators because you see everything that this family, every opportunity and every door that they are trying to open for her,” Bledsoe said. “To me, that’s the most inspiring thing about this entire situation and that’s found in our own community here.”

The art

Each sibling contributes a different style of art for the cards. Marie draws with permanent markers and colored pencils. Thomas photographs, and Elizabeth illustrates on an iPad.

“Starting a business, my gosh, even as an adult, that’s an overwhelming thing,” Bledsoe said. “They’ve used all their talents and gifts that they each have and utilized that.”

A scroll through the Jessamine Studios website is in part a journey through Tennessee’s landscape and in part a look into the creative personalities of Marie and Elizabeth.

“Because I know their personalities, I can really pick out who does what,” Crowder said. “It gives a customer a lot of variety to choose from.”

Marie drew a series of states outlined by two black lines and filled with intersecting colors. A home-inspired set of cards included a teapot design, which is now sold out.

Her MHS connection is evident in her red and black thank you card, as well as a Power M design.

Marie also crafted a COVID-19-inspired card with overlapping quarantine bubbles.

Family hikes inspired many of Thomas’ pictures. On a walk in Cades Cove, he photographed a young black bear crossing a gravel path between fields, a closeup of wildflowers reaching to the tops of the distant Smokies and the mountainous Tennessee countryside.

Soft morning sun stretching from the horizon, vacant wooden bridges reaching over water and a careful closeup of a thistle are a few more of the scenes the junior high student found through his lens.

Elizabeth placed a collage of rainbow-colored balloons and another with red and black balloons on cards for birthdays or graduation.

The Coulter Grove Intermediate School student also made themed stickers inspired by her friends.

The Rose collection features a cartoon creation of “the sunniest girl we know,” the description reads. It’s complete with a flamingo inner tube, picnic basket and pink floppy hat, among other summer accessories.

The Sydney collection, “inspired by a most loyal friend,” features another cartoon creation, little gray dog, paw prints and flowers.

“Can you imagine as a sixth grader what doors and knowledge you’ve just gained by doing this?” Bledsoe said.

Although Jessamine Studios may not be their long-term career path, they’ve gained valuable knowledge about what it takes to be a professional, from how to present themselves to how to make a customer happy.

The family

Crowder said their mother taught them responsibility from a young age, starting with laundry. “Gathering up the dirty, washing, folding, running the washing machine and dryer,” Crowder said.

A family Christmas tradition has Marie fixing the cornbread dressing, Elizabeth fixing the fruit salad, “with way too many marshmallows,” Crowder said, and Thomas pitching in, too.

Apart from schoolwork and Jessamine Studios, they all have hobbies.

Marie has always loved intricate coloring books, working on a single page for hours at a time.

Thomas plays soccer and often would travel for games before the pandemic. He also played the clarinet for a while. Elizabeth is learning several different instruments, mostly the ukulele and clarinet, with a bit of guitar on the side.

“How many teenagers do you know out there that can say, ‘Hey I went out there and created my own business that is making a profit?’” Bledsoe said.

Their next step for the business is to increase marketing, and they hope one day their cards will be sitting on store shelves.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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