Muriel Fahrion has spent her whole life as a working artist and designer – Most famously designing the original Strawberry Shortcake characters, as well contributing to the designs of Care Bears and The Get Along Gang whilst she was employed by American Greetings Corporation and their subsidiary Those Characters from Cleveland in the 1970s and 80s.
Currently you can find Muriel creating art, working on new characters, dancing in her kitchen and selling her wares both online and at various meet and greets.
Wanting to know more about Muriel’s wonderful life we sent her some questions to answer over email – Which you can read below…
Name + D.O.B?
I never answer my age in an interview suffice it to say I am old Boomer.
City, State and Country you currently call home?
MidTown Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
City, State and Country you’re from?
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Please describe some memories – such as writing, art, music, relationships, adventures, study, romance, politics, work, crime, religion… anything really – from the stages of your life noted below:
* Your childhood:
Number 3 daughter in a family of seven. Born with poor vision. Only one good eye and that was great. Sat in the corner taking in what I could.
I was held back in 1st grade because I wouldn’t talk. I had speech impediment and I didn’t want to be ridiculed.
Started drawing and doing by the age of 4. Took free classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art with my older sisters.
Loved learning but felt uncomfortable in school.
Bringing 100% on my papers was my goal.
I would finish my work quickly and classmates would ask for drawings from me.
We had very little money so fun was built around imagination and home made toys.
* Your teenage years:
Went to an all girl Catholic High School.
I did not date.
I felt awkward but did socialize with other creative types.
I took every available free class I could. On Saturdays I would go downtown to high school drawing classes (figure and portrait) at Cooper School of art.
I did this for 3 years.
I was an “A” student in HS except for chemistry. I will blame the teacher for not being able to reach me.
I baby sat and taught summer play school at a local public school to earn extra money.
My English teacher bought a piece of art from me. My first art sale. I illustrated “in just spring” by e.e. cummings.
I had started writing poetry when I was in grade school this continued through my life.
I had 2 younger sisters and 2 younger brothers.
I became the “oldest” when my 2 older sisters married young.
I earned a half tuition scholarship to Cooper School of Art.
I had finally found my people.
Made some good friends that I had endless cups of tea with and talked art, future goals and philosophy. (When asked what my goals were I said I wanted to be “Famous”. I forgot to add rich.)
It wasn’t easy as being an art student among a throng of other art students, didn’t make me a stand out. I got decent grades but skipped the classes I didn’t want to take, like Keyline Paste-up, studio arts and the like. Instead I took every drawing and illustration class I could.
I worked for the other half by substituting for vacationing employees at Greyhound Bus Lines. (My father was in management there.) I worked after school at a Jewish bakery – who doesn’t love a job where everyone is happy to be there buying bagels, challah bread and cookies.
* Your 20s:
Earned my diploma but was pulled aside by the Director because of not fulfilling my requirements but by that time I had scored a job at American Greetings. So he relented and gave my diploma.
Struggled through “art training’ at AG. They were just about to fire me for not being able to paint roses (one had to do color separations) I admit it I was an epic FAIL at roses. Luckily for me the art training director quit to take a better position.
I was rescued and got a position in Humorous/Juvenile Planning. My father called it the “Funny Idea Department”.
I was dating then – 2 different guys on different days of the week.
Married the smartest of the two, Michael. He was also an artist – he had passed all his studio classes!
After several years of greeting cards (designing, training new artists and planning lines) I drew what was become “Strawberry Shortcake” then only one cute ragdoll character (my direction from an art director) but added Apple Dumplin’, Huckleberry Pie and Blueberry Muffin.
It was then picked up for licensing by the President of General Mills. I transitioned over Those Characters from Cleveland aka TCFC. It was a small select toy and licensing think tank group housed off campus from the very large corporates headquarters.
By then I had my first child.
* Your 30s:
Developed 39 Characters for the Shortcake line. Concepted and developed the first introductions of the Care Bears and the Concept for the Get-Along-Gang along with writer Tom Jacobs.
I often worked in tandem with writers for all the lines. That is what TCFC was known for, having a story line that went with its lines.
I worked with licensees, toys, clothing, home decor and the like, creating and approving designs etc.
We adopted a daughter.
* Your 40s:
Bought my first computer, an Amiga, taught ourselves how to create art on it (My husband, me and my son.)
Started teaching computer graphics at the Cleveland Institute of Art continuing education classes at night while working my day job as Master Design at TCFC.
Left TCFC and went freelance with my husband under Fahrion Studios. Worked for World Wildlife Fund, Disney and Co, Fisher Price (Puffalumps and Smooshies creating 2D look for these lines).
Returned to TCFC after 5 years to attain better insurance.
Was “let go” when TCFC was absorbed back into the company.
Moved to Chicago to take a position of Senior Art Director at a giftware company. Love my team clashed with an abusive boss. QUIT.
Accepted a position as Creative Director at United Design in Noble Oklahoma, a giftware company producing figurines and animal sculpture reproduced in resin.
Outside corporate jobs I kept creating on my own. Those lines I still have and own including “the exhausted woman”, Cameow Cats, Raggy Mae and Raggedy Ranch.
* Your 50s:
Rose to the rank of Executive Creative VP at United Design. Worked with over 75 creatives, staff sculptors, freelance sculptors, designers, and paint design dept.
A number of trips to factories in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Philippines and Taiwan to inspect product being produced there.
United Design under a new boss moved most of the operations to overseas, my job was done away with and I was “downsized”.
Moved to Medicine Park in the Wichita Mountains population 419.
* Your 60s:
Taught myself 3D rendering and animation. Created character Lil’ Iffi. Sold art and antiques on eBay, made art tiles and art pillows. Did random freelance jobs with my husband under “Big Rock Works”. Played in western re-enactment troupe “Medicine Park Marauders” as character outlaw “Little Britches”.
My husband developed 4 stage non-hodgkin’s lymphoma.
We moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where my daughter lived because after 2 years of remission he became more and more disabled.
* Your 70s:
My husband died in October of 2018. It completely wiped out all our savings and left me in debt.
November I began my #kitchendance videos. I am now at number 427 I believe.
In February 2019 I launched my Outta Thin Air Studio. My FaceBook following was 300, my Instagram was 80. With my pencil in my hand and my dancing shoes on I took on the challenge.
I developed more new characters and did #kitchendance videos shown on FB & IG.
In 2019 I did Meet & Greets, Toy Cons, Guest speaker gigs – even after being hit by a car suffering a concussion while walking my dogs.
In December 2019 I gave myself the title “artist in residence” at Club House Leathers in small town Beggs, OK. I am there about once a week. It is a custom leather shop of artisans.
My appearances continued into 2020 until every venue was cancelled.
I set up my online store outtathinairstudio.com where I sold my books, prints of my art, leather accessories and tee Shirts from my designs.
In August 2020 I had a stroke.
I got back on my feet back doing what I am doing.
Now for me is a fusion of meet and greets (safely) and selling online.
“One Solution is no solution at all.”
“Make every moment of your day a creative one. “
“Draw every day.”
“I’ll do it when I am good and ready, I’m not good and I’m not ready.”
“What doesn’t kill me makes me STRANGER.”
When and why did you first become interested in art and everything creative?
As long as I can remember.
When I held my first crayon at 4 years old.
If you had to explain your art and creative endeavors to some recently crash-landed aliens… What would you tell them?
I am a storyteller in art, in dancing, and oral tradition. I can draw a story, dance a story and tell a story.
At this point I am paid for drawing stories.
Please describe your usual process for creating your art – From initial idea, to creation and eventual completion?
An idea pops into my head. It can be word, a visual, something I dream.
Or a combo.
I sketch it out often using notes on the sketch.
I let it germinate. Go back and see if it has wings.
Sometimes its get put away for a later date.
I might put it up on IG or FB and see if there is interest.
If the reaction is good I will do more drawings decide on color (I scan in and add color on photoshop) or no color. Then decide what media and what product.
Set prices, market, decide when and how to introduce
How has your sister – Susan Trentel – impacted your personal and artistic life?
… we ask as we know you both worked together at American Greetings / Those Characters from Cleveland (TCFC.)
Susan was a homemaker (my older sister). Susan was doing art before when we were kids. We did art together.
She had 1 1/2 years at Cooper School of Art before me.
When the licensor needed to see a doll prototype I spoke up and said “My sister is a seamstress she can make one”. She had 6 growing children but put one together in her basement sewing room. And so she followed my drawing and created the first Strawberry Shortcake doll and subsequent Care Bears and Get-Along-Gang plush.
Eventually when her six kids were older she came aboard as plush designer.
We work well together.
If people wanted to work with you or buy some of your wares – How should they get in touch and where should they visit?
Join me on IG.
I will keep everyone updated on what’s new and on meet and greets etc etc.
Odds and Ends
Who are some of your favourite toy makers, artists, musicians and writers?
…and what is it about their works that so inspire and move you?
First influence the Campbell Soup Kids.
When I discovered the “cute” formula, Pete Hawley illustrator.
Nikolai Fechin (Taos Artist), Birger Sandzén (Kansas School), Larry Hood (Comanche).
My close art community. So many.
I appreciate the quality that Kenner brought to the Shortcake line and Tomy brought to the Get-Along-Gang.
Musicians of all sorts. Known and not so known: Jill Barber, Deau Eyes, The Coronas, Buckwheat Zydeco, Tami Neilson, George Ezra, Billie Eilish, The Turnpike Troubadours, Joe Purdy, Agent Sasco aka assassin, Bob Dylan.
If you could live in any place, during any historical era – Where and when would that be?
…and why would you choose that time and place?
During the arts and crafts movement. 1890s – 1915.
Although women had a very hard time having their work seen and appreciated.
What role did toys play in your childhood?
I loved dolls but did not own many. I was the one that named them all.
Paper dolls store bought if we got any; but also figures I cut out of catalogues and then cut the clothes out that came close to fitting. Crayons, watercolor paints.
Who was your 1st crush?
John Gillich 4th grade.
He had red hair. Did not bully me. He lent my his #2 yellow Pencil.
By 4th grade all girls were required to pick one of the boys as future boyfriend.
Then you would practice writing your name with their last name.
Does sex change everything?
Love changes everything. A true companion changes a lot.
Who doesn’t need someone who says these 3 things to you everyday, “I love you,” “You are beautiful;” and “you are amazing” – And can not pass you without giving you a hug.
Once you have that you want it the rest of your life and then that companion dies!
So I have a few men in my life now who say those things, all those things and give me 2 arm hugs that last 20 seconds.
During a hug, we release oxytocin, a hormone that relaxes us and lowers anxiety.
It’s often called the ‘cuddle hormone’ and when it’s released during these 20-second hugs it can effectively lower blood pressure and reduce the stress hormone norepinephrine.
What are the top 3 items you own?
As far as importance my Useful.. Rotring pencil and Kneeded eraser.
2. My eyeglasses.
3. My leather custom club chair where I do 90% of my art.
4. My MacBook Pro.
The most important THING to me now is my Rotring Pencil and my Kneeded eraser.
I have also collected since I was 7 years old.
Here are just a few of my collections:
Staplers about 80 Pre 1876 – 1960. I was collecting from 2009 – 2012.
Lucite Rings from 60s & 70x.
American Art Pottery 1900 -1930.
Started collecting Art Pottery in 1976.
Photos of me with very tall men – They must be over 6’ 3” to qualify.
Most of them were strangers.
This guy 7’ was at art walk in Medicine Park. My first XTall guy photo op.
A teenage boy still growing and was 6’11”.
At my Art Workshop 2019.
In a fight between the following characters you helped create: A gang of rowdy Care Bears Vs. Some sugared up Strawberry Shortcakes – Who would win?
…and why would they be victorious?
Not happening. Care Bears, my Care Bears are not rowdy.
The Shortcake crew would win them over.
Of everything you have done, what would you most like to be remembered for?
My inventiveness and continued striving and creating.
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All images supplied by and copyright Muriel Fahrion. Used with permission.