By Mary Duggan


Wednesday, 10 AM: Annie and our friend Ron unload the “Duggan Sister Experience” onto the dock at the Merchandise Mart and then head to the 8th floor to find our booth and get our badges for the Beckman’s Handcrafted section within the Chicago Market. All Annie wants to do is race home to her Joey. She has been up all night encouraging Joey to breathe, please breathe, and eat, please eat.



Thursday, 12 noon: Annie and Mary and Clare stand around a metal examining table at LaPar Animal Hospital, watching and weeping as the vet puts our enchanting little Ragdoll cat and guardian of almost 15 years to sleep. Joey gone – from sickness to death in less than 10 days. Some three weeks after losing our beloved Tabby, Seamus, Joey’s best friend and champion of many years. We ache with grief.



Thursday, 1 PM: We go home, clean Joey’s litter box for the last time, throw all of Annie’s urine-stained bedding in the washer (I think Joey must have done this when I was loading her into the carrier) and then stare at the phone numb and waiting for the vet to call with the autopsy results. A physician, stunned and saddened, wondering what went wrong, has offered a free autopsy and biopsies. An autopsy: unthinkable and unimaginable just a few days ago, but now somehow necessary for all of us to heal.


Thursday, 2 PM: Joey has been gone from our lives for 2 hours and we are discussing the shocking results of her autopsy. We have survived part one, the information from the autopsy, and now we begin the ten day wait for the biopsies to provide I don’t know what. There are new images that we do not want to think about. Is this all part of that concept everyone calls closure?


Thursday, 3 PM: Annie sets down the phone, looks across the table at me and says I have to work or I will lose my mind. So we go to the Merchandise Mart and set up our booth and never stop working until today, some six days later.


Beckman’s: Post-Mortem

We are so tired that we’re nauseous. That is what a show, wholesale or retail, does to every single artist every single time. You assemble a singular and stunning booth showcasing your wares. You stand and explain and educate and sell and endure insults and ignorance and accolades. You do it indoors under lights too bright with unforgiving concrete beneath you. You do it outdoors in wind that sometimes becomes a microburst or a tornado and you stand shivering in snow in early October and you get rained on until you are soaked to your kneecaps. You sometimes sell big and sometimes hardly get noticed in the crowd. And then you disassemble your perfect booth and pack it into a van and drive to your home which might be across town or across many state lines. You are an artist. These shows are absolute bread and butter essential and they kill you every time.


They also do something else; especially when you are hurting so badly that your breath is very shallow from the pain in your chest. Artists create beauty and wonderful ragtag community. Community and beauty are the one two punch that heals if you can keep your broken heart open just enough to let the light in.


We got LUECK-Y!

When your heart is aching and small and sore from the too recent loss of a pet, there is no better booth to stand in than the Anne Lueck Feldhaus “Gallery of Love for Animals.” Okay, I invented the name, but it’s accurate.

As Anne listens to your tale of woe, she is simultaneously grabbing her photo flipper of snapshots of animals she has rescued and loved and lost. Anne graciously agreed to barter with us and sent us home with her one of a kind animal folk art that is cheering and whimsical and healing. Having this artwork inspired by Anne’s love of animals hanging in our home puts us instantly back in touch with the joy and wonder of sharing your life with a pet. Her art is far, far away from all the sickness and worry; though she has known that too.

Thanks Anne, your art is helping a lot. It greets us each morning and is like getting yet another big warm I understand how you feel hug from the enchanting Anne herself. Pain will subside, joy will survive.


And the lifestinks award goes to…

Anne also helped us to maintain perspective by sharing with us the horrific story of the gentleman in the booth next to hers. The day before the Beckman Show, his studio containing his work of 25 years, his $25,000 vehicle, his tools and family heirlooms, woodworking patterns, everything, burned to the ground before his eyes. And he still came to the show with the few items that remained. Artists are the gentlest and strongest people I know. And Dale Popp adds resilience, fortitude and commitment to my definition of an artist.

Dale Popp, Classic Oak Furniture. Cuba City, WI


And it’s a small world after all, even far from Disneyland. Talking with Dale we found out he’s from the same small town in rural Wisconsin where our Duggan family ancestors settled before the Civil War and continue to this day.

Mary Duggan stands to the right of her six siblings and her amazing Busch cousins at their magical dairy farm.
Cuba City, Wisconsin circa 1959


Seven little Duggans visiting Dad’s Aunt Mamie Donohoo.
Cuba City, Wisconsin circa 1959.

Former neighbors bring thoughts of spring.

There is occasional and understandable competition among vendors; but more often tremendous fellowship exists among artists as we do shows together year in and year out. We endure the unpredictable weather and the confusing juries, the fickle nature of buyers, the stresses of bad years and the victories of great years. Our returning neighbors, Brian and Nicole of N. Winter Designs, had a wonderful show this year and it was so much fun to be across the aisle witnessing the swell of buyers.

I love Nicole’s soft, natural artistry and have added some lovely items from her collection to our home. This year I selected 3 simple eggs and the promise they hold of things coming to life again in the spring.


Make new friends, keep the old, one is silver, the other gold.

And of course old neighbors cozy up next to new neighbors. As Robin Kittleson set up her booth of exquisite fused glass artistry just across the aisle from us, I had to imagine how disappointing it must be to set up across from the deodorant sisters and their incessant banter about odor, nodes and bowels. But Robin set our hearts at ease with assurances that was not the case. Her generous bartering, as well, has filled our home with sunshine and silver in the form of an insanely beautiful plate and dish. I will take a plate full of sunshine for breakfast any winter morning in Chicago.


The Amazing Mary Pritchard.

If you follow our blog (yes, all 6 of you) you know what fans we are of Masterpiece Theatre. Before there were the Midwives or Downton Abbey, there was the Amazing Mrs. Pritchard. We have waited for years for PBS to bring us a few more episodes of this wonderful storyline. At Beckman’s we met our own Amazing Mrs. Pritchard.

Yes, artists trade and that is how we manage to have extraordinary art in our homes at the same time that we can barely make the mortgage payments. Trades are not automatic and they are not always easy: first the artist has to express an interest in the work of the deodorant sisters. So, when I saw Mary Pritchard in our booth talking deodorant with Annie I hightailed it into her booth. I was bowled over by the look of the booth: the refinement, imagination and elegance of her presentation. I am not the jewelry freak of the family. That title of distinction goes to Annie. But I am the booth aficionado and this one bowled me over. The jewelry, of course, was wonderful as well.


The blue ones match your eyes.

There is nothing that pleases the Duggan Sisters more than being able to wear the artistry of our fellow vendors. So Mrs. Pritchard patiently waited while the sisters went through their insane and time-consuming debate over what pair of earrings we would select. Three pairs, of course, for our branded look. Mary’s pieces are so perfect for our brand as they are earth-based fired clay in colors that exactly match our flagship products. We like to keep the focus of shoppers on our eyes and off our double chins, bulging tummies, and fallen arches – well, you know. When Mary said you have to get the blue ones to match your eyes we knew she was on our team.

Part of why the decision was so hard is that we fell in love with a simple pair of studs with a matching necklace. And of course the price point was way beyond the limits of what either of us could fairly do as barter. We apologized to Mary for taking so long as we made our final and lovely choice. And I told her why we had been so slow.


Getting decked at the show.

“We have fallen in love I am afraid with this lovely matched set but it is way beyond the pale for trade for any of us. But we have decided that when we go on TV (some day please God willing) we will pop for these as they are so lovely and so perfectly complement our brand.”

TV?! Mary exclaimed. And so we shared with her our goal of getting our butts onto Shark Tank this year, per the wise advice of our very prestigious and never paid on time attorney. OMG, she said, you are perfect for Shark Tank. And, when you get on Shark Tank I will provide you with this jewelry free of charge. I thanked her for her enthusiastic response and said of course I cannot and will not hold you to that offer. Oh yes you will, she said. When you go on Shark Tank I am going to DECK YOU OUT.

And that is why I share this story with you. Artists can be some of the most generous and supportive and enthusiastic people you will ever meet. And when you are worn to a nub from sacrificing and suffering for your vision of a healthier world, the enthusiastic support and generosity from a fellow artist can make you forget that when you go home you will have a hole to fill.


When all else fails, eat chocolate.

Gluten free brownies, that is. If you are following our blog (and again folks I am begging you to follow our blog) then you know that we have recently completed a comprehensive and exhaustive and highly caloric search for the perfect gluten free brownie mix and we have the elastic waistbands to prove it. So you can imagine our delight when we cautiously took a spin down the gourmet aisle where we normally have to say no thank you to all the glutenacious products (I know I invented that word) and discovered instead a purveyor of gluten free brownies (Sinfully Delicious Brownies, Darien, Illinois).

Not any old purveyor, mind you, but a gal so sick that it made me ache just to watch her hold herself in a chair. And that’s a big part of being an artist. You are always one step away from having to be tied into your chair because you have to show up no matter what comes up and this year what is coming up for lots of folks is the flu. So here was this poor lady with a throat so sick that she could not speak and thank God a brother supporting her and providing her with a voice, namely his.


And here’s where I’m going to wrap it up folks – with one more amen to the generosity of artists. You got it. Every day, clamshells of gluten free brownies from Shannon arrived in our booth. Every sort from sea salted to snickered to classics arrived and again I’m still wearing the big girl panties to prove it. Sick and exhausted and gracious and generous: an artist. If you are as lucky as we are, they will enter your life and heal you too. And send you home a little more able to face the sadness that sometimes awaits you there.

Joey 1998-2013 & Seamus 1997-2012.
Together forever.



About the author:

Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters.

The Duggan Sisters cracked the code and created a natural deodorant that actually works: lifestinks.  We hope you will spend a few minutes exploring duggansisters.com to experience their spirited approach to wellness through their natural products and healing stories.

Photo illustrated by Clare Duggan


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6 Responses to “JUST SHOW UP”

  1. Your paragraph about shows was one of the best descriptions of what it’s like doing shows and I had to share it. Not sure of what the etiquette is when you want to share but I both linked to your full blog and tagged you in it. Here’s the link: http://www.bonnieblandford.blogspot.com/. I will of course remove it if you don’t want it there. It was just really well written snippet in the middle of a very good post.

  2. Tammy Dempsey Luth says:

    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. That’s so hard. Aside from reading about your loss, I enjoyed your blog. Everything you described about being a”sunshine artist” (or rainy day, terribly windy day artist) was so on the mark. And even though it’s an incredibly physical job with a terrific amount of planning for the unexpected and sometimes deadly booooooring, it’s a fabulous experience. The sense of community and sharing among the art community is unlike anything else I’ve experienced outside my family. Keep on bloggin’! I’ll be number 7 of your blog readers…

  3. anne says:

    awww…love back to you ladies!! xoxox

  4. I walked by your booth a few times, regretfully now never stopping, and never would have known the sorrow if Anne hadn’t posted your blog. First, hugs to you on your heartbreaking loss. No words can make it better, just know you have our healing thoughts and cares. Second, best blog of a show, ever. We too fell in love with Anne and Mary! I didn’t get a chance to meet Nicole, but Brian was awesome. You summed up so eloquently what its really all about… if any of us ever need and answer to ‘why we do this’, you brilliantly wrote it up…

    so from one sister to another(s), i’m gonna make absolutely sure I cross paths with you this summer! sending hugs and condolences and thanks from the south,

  5. Suzanne Ecklund says:

    I had to let go of my kitty yesterday, too. Heartbroken but also grateful for community. Sending wishes for healing and a mended heart.

  6. Kim says:

    What a beautifully written post. I am not an artist – merely an admirer of the love existing between all in Casa de Duggan. Thank you for sharing a snippet into your love, loss and healing. And also for all the links to such fabulous artists’ wares!

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