Arts & Entertainment

A Handmade Holiday

Businesses around the Flathead offer know-how and tools to make an artistic masterpiece to gift this season

EVERGREEN — Route 56 Designs is a workshop of creativity, where people gather to put on their art aprons and paint, stain, stencil, and usually laugh while they put together projects.

If you close your eyes and flex your imagination, it’s possible to hear the work and chatter as if you’re standing in the midst of Santa’s elves preparing for the rush as we approach the heart of the holiday season.

This atmosphere of art and joy is what owner Sabrina Reynolds hoped to achieve when she opened Route 56 about four years ago. It’s a vintage shop with local antiques, but the twist is that customers can also paint their own wooden signs, choosing from nearly 600 designs ranging from scripture in beautiful fonts to tributes to the Great Northern Railway to decorative wedding and event designs.

Customers can also bring in a piece of furniture and learn how to refurbish it. Reynolds’ holiday season special this year is a wooden sled built for painting, and she filled 50 orders for it in the first 48 hours after it was announced.

The response to this artistic space has been pleasantly passionate, Reynolds said. Many of her customers are making a special something for that special someone.

“We aren’t really selling signs; we’re selling an experience,” she said.

Handmade gifts are a hallmark of the season, and several organizations around the valley are ready to help amateur elves of all ages and skillsets produce memorable presents.

Across town, on North Meridian Road, Raette Meredith caters to a similar crowd at her Tipsy Brush Studios. Since opening in 2014, Meredith has seen exponential growth in her client numbers as more people catch on to the idea of learning to paint a masterpiece even with zero experience.

Meredith has 15 years of professional art experience, and she coaches groups of up to 17 people at once through specific paintings. She posts a calendar of paintings she plans to teach — “Cherry Blossoms” on a Wednesday, “Autumn Splendor” on a Monday — while scheduling private parties wherein the party chooses the painting it would like to recreate.

People show up with wine and other refreshments and usually a sense of trepidation if it’s their first interaction with art in a while, Meredith said.

“Everyone when they first start is nervous; everybody feels that way,” she said. “And then it’s kind of addicting.”

She enjoys watching the process of art-induced panic turning into a mellow, calm, joyous painting session, because so many people forget they need art in their lives.

“It’s so good. It’s not just about making a painting. To me, it’s everything; it’s so therapeutic,” Meredith said. “Our creativity is sucked out because we have to fit a certain mold and pay bills. But I think art is part of our lives and good for our brains.”

Reservations are needed at both Route 56 Designs and Tipsy Brush.

In Whitefish, however, Stumptown Art Studio is there for anyone looking for arts and crafts with walk-in availability.

Melanie Drown, executive director at the studio, said they’re open seven days a week for people to drop in and paint ceramics, create mosaics, and glass fusing. Currently, the art studio is running a special on ornaments, both glass and ceramic, and is hosting after-hours parties for businesses and organizations.

Anything that needs to go in the kiln takes about a week to get back, so plan accordingly, Drown said.

“Handmade gifts are just the best,” Drown said.

For scheduling and other information about Route 56 Designs, visit or call (406) 300-1611. For scheduling and more information on Tipsy Brush Studio, visit or call (530) 209-7769. For more information on Stumptown Art Studio, visit or call (406) 862-5929.