By Elizabeth Doran
Deborah Mishan was hurrying
to an appointment at The American International Toy Fair when she spotted
Geddes couple Joe and Sandy Buchmann's display of assorted wooden doll
That was four years ago, and Mishan scored with her prediction. The hand crafted, hand painted doll furniture designed and made by The Buchmann Toymaker Shop Inc. in Geddes is in constant demand at What a Doll. Regulars return each year searching for more Buchmann pieces, and the store has a waiting list of customers who want more Buchmann toy furniture.
The Buchmanns' handiwork also has been purchased by several celebrities. Rock star Bruce Springsteen recently ordered doll-sized bunk beds and an armoire, talk show host Geraldo Rivera selected several doll house pieces for his children, and rock musician Jon Bon Jovi also bought numerous pieces for his daughter, Stephanie, Mishan said.
Buchmann Toymaker is virtually unknown in the Syracuse area, but Joe and Sandy Buchmann have been fashioning handmade pieces from their basement on Spruce Tree Lane in Geddes since 1976. Joe, a former printer and art director, designs and builds the pieces while Sandy does the painting and artwork.
The line of doll house furniture, children's furniture and wooden toys, with its Bavarian folk-art motif, has been sold at FAO Schwarz, Saks Fifth Avenue, Franklin Mint and by about 30 specialty shops throughout the country and world. The couple also operated a shop at the Crown Mill in Marcellus from 1984 to 1990.
The Buchmanns' work and their flair for originality also has been showcased since 1994 in the Parade of Homes. This year's event, held in the Boulder Heights subdivision in DeWitt, featured children's furniture by the Buchmanns for the girl's and boy's room featured in one of the homes. Among the pieces the Buchmanns crafted was a Noah's Ark headboard and a bookcase-style doll house for this year's home.
The Buchmanns designed a boat-shaped bed for one show, and a castle-shaped bed with two 6-foot towers another year. They also designed a children's Bavarian-theme corner cabinet and entertainment center, and a 7-foot-long child's kitchen set. For a benefit event, they designed and built a toy box with gold accents and hand carved roses, and a full-length children's mirror.
Prices range from $15 for a small wooden toy to $150 for a doll bed and $1,000 for a child's play kitchen set.
The Buchmanns' workmanship and creativity makes their pieces unique, Mishan said. "The product most in demand at our store is their line," she said. "People start ordering for Christmas in July, and we have a waiting list that started Aug.15."
The Buchmanns never expected their furniture to become such a big seller. The couple, who met at Rochester Institute of Technology, have never had formal art training. But Sandy Buchmann said she always enjoyed painting, making jewelry and any artistic work.
"In first grade my mother said most of the artwork on the walls was mine," she said. "I've always been a perfectionist."
Buchmann, who's 59, said she didn't start painting professionally until she was 36. While at home raising the couple's two children, Wendy and Joseph, the pair started talking about all the wooden toys passed down in the family and how they lasted for years and didn't break.
After seeing photographs of wooden toys with German folk art painted on them, the couple decided to try making them in their basement. Joe Buchmann, who worked first as a printer at The Post-Standard and The Herald-Journal and later as art director for the Scotsman Press, helped Sandy at night in their basement.
The couple started selling their pieces, which include wooden toy giraffes, Noah's Arks and dollhouses, at crafts festivals. At their first show, the DeWitt Art Open, the couple sold five Noah's Arks in the first several minutes.
"It was just a hobby for us then, and we'd only go to five or so art shows, "Joe Buchmann said. "Selling the toys made enough money for us to pay for our children's music lessons and then put them through college."
The couple talked about turning their hobby into a full-time business, but they were reluctant to give up the security of a weekly paycheck. Then, in 1990. Joe found out a company restructuring had eliminated his job. "We didn't know where to turn, but the one thing we knew we could do is make toys," Buchmann said.
The Buchmanns took their line to the toy fair that year, and sold about $8,000 worth of merchandise. Sales increased each year, until the Buchmanns had all the commercial work they could handle.
The Buchmanns say they relish the creative challenge, particularly when a customer orders a complex, specialized piece. Their only regret, they say, is that they didn't take the full plunge into this years ago.
"If I was 30 years old,"
Joe Buchmann says, "we'd definitely be starting a toy factory."
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