Ann’s Tree: A Thread Capital Small Business Success Story
Spend any length of time with Ann Miller Woodford and you’re bound to hear a story. The Cherokee County artist, historian, and author is full of them.
And so are her paintings.
She started her online store, Ann’s Tree—named after a beloved poplar tree in her parents’ Cherokee County yard—to sell her artwork and other products. But when she needed help buying equipment or making prints, she turned to Thread Capital for help. “It made a lot of difference in my life,” she says of the small business loan she secured thanks to a recommendation from her small business advisor, Kathryn Jenkins of Tri-County Community College’s Small Business Center.
“That is my born talent,” Woodford says of painting. Born in the town of Andrews, she was one of a small number of African Americans in far-western North Carolina. She discovered her inner creativity out of necessity as a six-year-old. “We had a one-room, one-teacher African-American school,” she says. The teacher was often busy with other students, so she encouraged her pupils to focus on their passions. “She turned me loose on the elementary table to work on clay, just regular modeling clay. I started to make little animals and little buildings,” Woodford recalls warmly. “The first year I had a small clay farm going there. And then the next year I kept going with more animals. And before long I had half of the whole table covered with clay figures and animals.”
So began a decades-long love of art, fed along the way by family, friends, and mentors—but most of all by Woodford’s own determination and curiosity.
From fourth to eighth grade, she had a teacher who encouraged her artistry, submitting Woodford’s paintings for awards and competitions. “I had quite a few blue ribbons and gold keys,” Woodford says. “I didn’t know until later in life how much of an influence she would have on me.”
A school nurse saw her art and gave her a hand-me-down set of oil paints and some advice: “She said if you can’t find canvas, you can always paint on drywall.” Woodford still has two paintings of horses she did as a girl on pieces of drywall.
As she grew up, graduating from boarding school in Asheville and then from Ohio University, she focused on her grandfather’s advice. “He always told me, ‘Ann, you can do anything.’ I didn’t know it then, but I worked for years to fulfill his prediction,” she says. “I wanted to make sure I could make my family proud of me.”
After college, she first worked as an interior designer. “I knew they always said ‘starving’ in front of ‘artist.’ So I knew art wasn’t anything that I could make a living at,” Woodford laughs.
What came after that was a dizzying array of jobs across the country—and plenty of stories—that have become part of Woodford’s fabric, making her the charming and warm woman she is today. She was a flight attendant. She created a line of greeting cards that celebrated African Americans. She created and sold plush dolls, Charlie and Annie Ragg. Back in North Carolina, she was a quality control inspector in a Lee denim factory. She was a chamber of commerce executive director, a county planner, a nonprofit director. She wrote a book, When All God’s Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of African- American People in Far Western North Carolina.
Through it all, she continued her love of art. “I always painted,” she says. Her work is representational, with a goal of being hyperrealist.
“I hope that people will look at my artwork and see a story in it, whether it’s my story or their own.”
Now in her 70s, Woodford isn’t slowing down anytime soon. She does volunteer work for a myriad of causes to attend to, prints to make, paintings to create. There are way too many stories to tell.
“I am a person who puts my whole self into what I do,” she says. “I don’t believe in wasting time.”
For more information about Thread Capital’s Small Business program, reach out to the team directly by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.