Career Path

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If you push through the clothing displays at Anthropologie in Rockville and open a nondescript door at the back of the store, you may find Annalily Charles knee-deep in felt and paper scraps.

Charles handcrafts nearly every display and decoration in the two-story store -- so her workday can involve sewing paper snowflakes into 20-foot strands, or making decorative light boxes out of vellum and packing tape.

"I don't think I ever would have expected to get paid for this," Charles said.

Like many studio art majors, Charles worked a job in a coffee shop while trying to figure out how to parlay her creativity into rent money. When she saw a Craigslist ad for a display coordinator at the upscale retail chain, Charles knew she had found her dream job.

While many clothing chains strictly dictate display design, Anthropologie's central office sends Charles an inspiration book with broad themes that she can interpret.

At the Hirshhorn Museum recently, she saw a sculpture by Dan Steinhilber made of wire hangers suspended from the ceiling and hooked together to create waves of diaphanous paper and light. Inspired, Charles bought 1,200 hangers from a dry cleaner, covered them in fabric and made a hanging sculpture.

"I like transforming mundane materials, things we use on a daily basis, and manipulating them into something beautiful," she said.

Ordinary objects -- paper plates, clothespins and old romance novels -- turn into works of art in her hands. And customers have taken note -- one recently hired Charles to do an installation in her home.

But whether Charles is creating commercial or abstract art, she feels lucky to have found her job at Anthropologie.

"Even though I don't have a gallery," she said, "my stuff is always on display."

-- Sadie Dingfelder

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