CHARLESTON, Ill. — Lori Sawyer sits on the deck of her rural Charleston home surrounded by angels, snowmen, Santas, reindeer and other holiday symbols, working at what she considers the best possible job.

A primitive artist, Sawyer is her own boss, chooses her own hours and works, usually, at her own pace, although as the holidays approach and Christmas craft shows loom, she is working harder and faster.

"Christmas is year-round at my house," she said, noting that to keep up with the demand, she works on Christmas pieces even in the summer.

Her primitives are hand-crafted treasures that she has made to have a time-worn look.

"I often use vintage fabrics or small antique pieces to enhance them," she said.

She also "grunges" the pieces, giving them her own unique, distressed look with painting, staining and sanding techniques.

"Grunging" is what gives the pieces the lovingly worn look that is popular in primitive items, and also can include dying fabrics in coffee or tea, she said.

Sawyer and her husband, John, a postal worker and member of the popular Sawyer Brothers Band, have one daughter, Tia, 17. When Tia was 3 or 4, Sawyer began working with primitives.

She was influenced by her mother, Linda Bough of Charleston, who was working in ceramics and, at the time, sold her work at area craft shows.

"She asked me one day why I didn't bring a few of my snowmen to sell at her booth," Sawyer said. "I did, and I sold them and made $53 that first day. I thought that was a really big deal, so I started taking a little more and a little more."

Soon, they were sharing a double booth. "Tia was there, and my dad (Johnny) and mom. We really had a lot of fun," she said.

As interest in primitive art grew, Sawyer began going to shows on her own, and has made a name for herself in the field.

"Once I really got into it, I wanted to do some of the bigger shows, like Cris Cringle at the Assembly Hall in Champaign."

Sawyer applied eight years ago and was accepted at the juried show that attracts 6,000 to 8,000 visitors annually.

She also began taking her work to the Gordyville Christmas Craft Show put on by the Gifford State Bank.

"I got really lucky. Someone canceled at the last minute while I was on the phone with them, and the woman said, 'I don't have time to go through the list. If you want to come, come on.'

"Those are the two shows that I do on a regular basis."

Three or four years ago, Sawyer also began showing at Arts and Antiques at Osage Farm near Charleston, a show conducted the third weeks of April and September by Gary and Diane Cole.

Sawyer said she finds all sorts of things that provide inspiration for her work.

"Sometimes I'll buy a pattern and let that inspire me. Maybe I'll start out with it and then go on in other directions. Sometimes I don't really know where I'm going, but as I'm making something it just kind of evolves.

"Sometimes an idea will come to me when I'm lying in bed and I'll grab my notepad and pen so I don't forget."

She said she finds inspiration in things she sees.

"I'm always finding something that I can incorporate into my designs - sewing machine bobbins, old bedsprings... I like putting things on antique bedsprings," she said.

"I had a woman walk up to my booth and say, 'Oh, I've been looking everywhere for a tree topper.'"

What she was looking at was a Santa perched on an old bed spring, Sawyer said.

"It hadn't been a tree topper until that moment, but, I decided real quick that it was; you bet it was. And, from that point on, I've been putting one on my Christmas tree in the booth. I label them 'tree toppers' and I have people say they're going to place theirs on the mantle instead."

Sawyer says one thing that can be good or not-so-good about working at home is that her work is always there.

"I don't walk away and leave it at 5 o'clock. But, it's good, too, because if I have some free time, I can pick something up and work on it for 20 minutes and put it down."

Sawyer said she has her own little corner of the living room where she works on projects while the family watches movies.

"I always think I'll go into my studio and work and everything will be contained, but when we decide to watch a movie, I can't just sit still and watch. I always have to be doing something."

Sawyer said she pursues her craft for a lot of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that she has been able to take summers off to spend with her daughter.

"And I take a month off when I mushroom hunt from sun up to sun down," she said.

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"It's not as lucrative as another full-time job might be, but it does enable me to do some kind of project every year with my craft money - like a new kitchen with granite countertops, or the new bathroom. And, I have extra spending money and extra Christmas and vacation money.

"I got to stay at home and raise my daughter; I got to go to school functions; be a room mother; belong to PTA; do shows with my family.

"There are a lot of great things about what I do."

Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette,