When I first met Nichole, it was about 8am on a Sunday morning and we were at the Alameda Flea Market in the East Bay. Back then I didn’t know that trying to engage with her this early in the morning is just not a good idea. She is not exactly a morning person, but one of my favorite people on the planet and has many other fine qualities and talents.
Nichole bursts with creative energy and just about every aspect of her life is a reflection of her individuality and a seemingly endless stream of ideas. Whether she is making a paper maché chastity belt for her friend’s bachelorette party, redesigning her bedroom or sewing a net-onesie for Burning Man in less than 4 hours - she's always creating, dreaming up and making things. Already in high school she adjusted and sewed her own clothes. By the time she went to college, she’d been asked by several clothing stores, if she would make 'stuff' for them. She never did, maybe because commercializing her hobby would spoil the fun aspect for her, but certainly also because Nichole is just not so much motivated by money, she does things because she loves doing them and that has always been that way.
She grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota and is the product of an eclectic mix of different nationalities and cultures - quarter Native American, French Canadian, German and Polish. Her parents were practicing members of The Worldwide Church of God, which was based on the early teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong that were often at odds with the traditional Christian beliefs and focused solely on the Old Testament - not acknowledging Jesus Christ. For Nichole that translated to never celebrating birthdays or Christmas as a child - neither at home nor anywhere else. When I asked her if that made her feel weird, not being able to go to her friends' birthday parties or get presents around Christmas time, she said that it did affect her. "I was taken out of school for everything. So it was hard to fit in and feel normal amongst all the ‘others’. As a child I assumed there were only two kinds of religions, theirs and mine. I was very shy up until the age of 14.” Shortly before his death Herbert W. Armstrong rejected many of his own beliefs and converted to a more orthodox understanding of the Christian faith as did The Worldwide Church of God.
Nichole was already in her teens when that paradigm shift took place and her family no longer attended the church and she more than made up for all the childhood parties that she didn't go. "I became quite the rebel and very quickly emancipated from my parents." The only difference she sees today between herself and friends around her is that she doesn't have the same nostalgic and romantic associations with Christmas than for example her husband Alex does, but the two are successfully working on their own interpretation of the holidays tracking to Europe this year for inspiration.
Professionally Nichole's ambitions have always been very straightforward. "Since I was a child my path has followed working with children every step of the way ... always babysitting neighbors and cousins at a young age, my first ‘real’ paid job at the neighborhood play center where parents would drop off their children for a few hours, paying for my school payments during college working as a Nanny in Minnesota and later in New York City and of course 10 years of teaching preschool after college. "
Today Nichole is an early childhood educator with a Masters in Special Education from Fordham University and a passionate arts teacher, who runs Little Tree Studios, a children’s art school in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. When she first took on the project of starting her own business, she was working on a tight budget. She recruited family and friends to help her with the built-out of the space and invested countless hours of crafting and making to create a cozy colorful oasis for little artists and creative talents. A lot of sweat, love and imagination went into her passion project and made Little Tree Studios what it is today.
Two years in Nichole has established herself. Her self-designed classes, where she coaches kids aged 2½ to 12 into making Robot Portraits, Japanese Hot Air Ballons or designing and sewing their very own Rag-a-Muffin Stuffed Creature sell out months in advance. The classes together with her parent friendly monthly Date Night have garnered a solid fellowship of younger and older fans - parents and fellow-educators alike. Among her peers Nichole is known for enabling the her entrusted kids to create things that are way beyond their age group without overtaxing or pushing them. All she does is believe in them instead of doubting them. It is quite impressive to see what even the 2 year olds produce under her guidance. She regularly speaks and holds workshops in pre-schools in the Bay Area to share her experience and boost the confidence of educators in their little students’ capabilities. "Our educational system itself is teaching the teachers to mistrust kids rather than to trust in them. So, I don't expect to see fast results. It's a process. Everything takes time and patience."
When I first visited the studio, of this modern day Mary Poppins and child charmer, I almost felt transported back into my childhood vision of my dream room. Everything was there: the cozy cuddle corner ‘castle’ separated by a curtain and filled with cushy pillows, the big square worktable with countless craft materials, colors and tools to work with, the colorful walls over and over decorated with Nichole’s and the students’ artwork and a life-size paper maché tree towering over the whole space. I literally wanted to move in or at least come back to spend more time there and make my own stuffed rag-monster. I believe I'm not the only adult that had that kind of reaction upon entering Little Tree Studios. More and more parents have asked Nichole to help them with the design of their kids' rooms. So many that she decided to officially offer her services and design abilities to help families create children’s spaces for creativity and play whether it's their bedroom, playroom or backyard. Using and organizing the materials they have and finding new furniture to better layout their rooms to offer easy access and clean up she maximizes the existing resources and keeps it easy on the family wallet. Her primary goal is to show kids and families how they can have fun with their creativity and add personality and magic through the self-made art and individually created art installations.
"Everything about what I do excites me - minus answering emails :) - I find creating and implementing art lessons, designing inspiring play and creative spaces and learning about art with the children so much fun. I do what I love and hope to find ways to continue in the field as long as I can!" I hope so too, because this world needs more artists, dreamers, storytellers and people with moral courage - just like Nichole.
What would you say were the biggest obstacles and challenges you had or have to overcome on your way?
I wouldn’t say that there were any clear obstacles on the way except the constant feeling of needing more and wanting something that would be all mine. I found working and pouring my passions into others business was taking the acknowledgement away from how much I was doing. Everyone needs to receive the right kind of acknowledgement for how much they offer or give in a position.
What helped/helps you overcome them?
I continued moving forward, taking every opportunity to learn more through working at a variety of schools, furthering my education, always giving it every drop of my time … and always dreaming and knowing what I wanted to reach for.
What do you consider most important in your life? What makes you happy?
What makes me happy is taking time for myself and watching parents and children excited about what they have made in the art studio during class.