In today’s digital age, sending or receiving a handwritten card or note may seem like a lost art to some. But if you ask Three Oaks maker Bridget Verdun, that’s exactly what drives her passion for connecting people.
“Being inundated with thousands of digital messages on a daily basis makes the simple act of sending a card to someone you love that much more special — it changes the narrative in a way,” Bridget says.
A graphic designer by trade, Bridget has always had an eye for taking something simple and making it beautiful. After graduating from Illinois State University, she began her career in advertising and later transitioned to a staffing role in Chicago, connecting creative talent with Fortune 100 companies. All the while, she never lost sight of her real dream – to one day open her own art gallery.
“The gallery became my side hustle,” Bridget says. “I spent most nights and weekends drafting a business plan while saving up as much money as possible.”
It wasn’t until she stumbled upon the historic Decker Electric building in the heart of downtown Three Oaks that she knew it was time to take a leap of faith. Bridget and her husband, Tad, purchased the building — which she describes as “needing lots of love” — in 2004 and began renovating the space shortly after. In May 2005, a few weeks after giving birth to her son, Bridget opened the doors to Studio b. — a fine art gallery featuring large scale paintings and sculptures created by artists from around the world.
“The gallery did really well for a few years, but with the downturn of the economy around 2008, people were no longer building homes or buying art the way they once were,” Bridget says. “It caused us to take a hard look at our business and think about where we wanted to take it in the future.”
With her forward-thinking mindset, Bridget decided to expand the gallery’s offerings to include smaller works of art, prints and handmade jewelry. Along with the revamp of the space, she also launched her own line of greeting cards, Occasionally Speaking.
“The cards seemed to pair really well with the gallery and our vision to create and curate objects for living well,” Bridget says.
Inspired by famous quotations, the cards depict a timeless sophistication. Each design is letterpress printed on a vintage German Kluge press using soy ink in shades of slate grey, blue and antique gold. The paper itself is 100 percent cotton stationery imported from Italy with a subtle deckle edge on all sides. While the front of the card is designed to capture and evoke emotion, the inside remains blank for a personal message.
Adding to the personal touches, each card is folded and assembled by hand with the help of Bridget’s mother, Pam Durkin, who also serves as the director of the gallery.
“During the economic shift, we discovered that people were still spending, they were just doing it differently, focusing more on tiny luxuries as opposed to large scale pieces,” Bridget says. “We invested in a small print run of cards the first time around and quickly began receiving more and more orders. That’s when I realized we were on to something.”
What began as somewhat of a creative experiment has since expanded into a line of 45 different cards which are available online and in more than 20 retail locations nationwide, including Paper Source and Whole Foods Market. However, unlike many greeting cards customers find in stores today, Occasionally Speaking cards are designed by themes such as love, friendship or inspiration as opposed to a specific event.
“The simplicity of our cards makes them suitable for an array of occasions,” Bridget says. “They are appropriate for both personal and professional correspondence and appeal to men and women.”
In 2018, inspired by the local maker’s movement happening in Three Oaks, Studio b. made another shift in its business model. The space was reimagined as “just b.,” a working artist studio and retail space.
“In addition to moving our greeting card production entirely to Three Oaks, my vision for just b. is to serve as a shared working space for other local makers and artists,” Bridget says. “It’s inspiring to have so much artistic energy in the building while getting back to the roots of why we started our business 15 years ago.” χ
Those in search of a bit of inspiration are encouraged to stop in to the seasonal gallery located in downtown Three Oaks or visit justbinspired.com