April 19, 2021

Collector's Corner: Norma Franco

Collector's Corner:  Norma Franco

I had the honor and privilege to sit down (on the phone) and chat with a fellow Texan and collector, Norma Franco on April 3rd.  While originally from essentially the same area of Texas, she now calls Washington State her home where she resides with her husband and dog Barnabas.  Since she has family remaining in the Houston area, we chatted a bit about how much the area has grown, but her heart has been in the Pacific Northwest for quite some time. 

Norma, the youngest of 7 brothers, is a military wife that devotes her life to her family.   

Read on to find out more about Norma, how she makes friends with some artists and what she loves to collect (and what she doesn’t love to collect):

I first saw you on a Johanna Parker Facebook group and I can tell you know a lot about her collector’s items.  Tell me how you came to love her work.

Norma considers herself an “adventurer”.  It doesn’t matter where she lives, she will get out and explore the area.  She has spend time in Europe and in many places throughout the United States, but it was in the mid 2000’s while briefly living in Colorado that she came across Johanna Parker at the Glens Art Walk event and was literally “blown away” with Johanna’s work.  She would look and drool over the handmade originals that wasn’t quite in her budget as a military wife.  The handmade, painted original stuck in her mind through the years, she once tried to enter a Johanna Parker contest to win a set of Love & Cherish Valentines Cherubs that wanted to win ‘soooo bad’, but didn’t ☹.  Fortunately, she found the Bethany Lowe Designs reproductions and all was well with the world!

What is your favorite holiday?  Tell me why it’s your favorite holiday to decorate and what you love about it.

Growing up, Norma didn’t celebrate holidays.  It wasn’t until her teens that she really started to notice and love the glitter, sparkle and lights of Christmas and it wasn’t until 2010 when she returned to Washington State that she really even started looking at Halloween.  She loves the magical feeling at Christmas time and even considers herself gaudy because of her love for all things shiny.

She remembers it was in 2003, now happily married, that she asked her husband if they could ‘get a Christmas tree’.  He of course was all for it, thinking the only reason they never really decorated before was because she didn’t like it.  OH NO!!  That wasn’t it at all!  She just never had.  Well this was the year that opened the flood gates!  Let the decorating begin!

Norma isn’t a traditionalist.  She doesn’t decorate with the typical red and greens at Christmas.  Instead, she loves more vibrant hues.  At Halloween, she prefers the muted colors that compliment black and white like the orange and brown on Johanna Parker’s owl and skeleton candy dish.

When it comes to Halloween, she loves the vintage look.  She loves quirkiness and not necessarily the same decorations that were used when she was growing up.  Picky?  Yes.  And there’s a reason for that! Norma finds herself drawn to less of the traditional colors of each holiday and more towards non-traditional.  She doesn’t like the use of red or red tones much in her decorating, but will sometimes add in a little pink.   She’ll even add in her own handmade crafts during the holidays to personalize things a bit.

How did you start your collection and what are some of the favorite items or artists that you collect?

It was in 2007 that Norma started her journey into collecting.  Her aunt was an avid collector of Rae Dunn Teapots.  These aren’t the teapots that you get in the store today.  These were the tall handmade versions that have the cute spout and handle.  The ones you could order from the Sundance catalog.  Her aunt had several of them, including 2 vases.  This was her introduction to Rae Dunn and how the love for Rae’s pottery took hold.

One day her aunt told her to ‘come on, we’re going to Rae’s studio’.  It was a ‘seconds’ sale at the older studio and Norma was so overwhelmed by everything that she only walked away with a small trinket dish.   What stuck with her was when she heard from Rae that what wasn’t sold was ‘taken out back and smashed up’.  Can you imagine??  When the retail line became popular Norma’s collecting spiraled out of control.  Totally out of control. 

I asked Norma if she could share some of her favorite pieces and tell us a bit about them:

Some of Norma’s favorite pieces include the Johanna Parker cherub’s that were mentioned above.  These are from Bethany Lowe Designs and are hard to find these days.  Her few Rae Dunn handmade pieces and her cherished Sur LaTable set.


Some of her favorite Halloween pieces include pieces from Johanna Parker Designs and the Rae Dunn Wicked hat canister.  She loves the muted orange that compliments the browns.

Norma could lose all her collector’s items if she had to, but not this one.  This is specially made for her by Rae.  It’s an urn that holds her puppy’s ashes and will forever be treasured.

If you could sit down and talk to the artists, what would you want to see more of?

From Norma’s perspective, and I’m sure a lot of other collectors, it’s not that she would like to see more of their things, but would like to tell them to “go back to the basics that we fell in love with”.  A lot can get lost in translation between an artist and the manufacturing or production of the artist’s work.  Maybe it’s the in between and what’s left to interpretation that is what is missing.  Collectors fall in love with an artist for a reason and when reproductions are made, some of that uniqueness of the artist is lost.

How do you envision your current collection growing?  Do you think you’ll keep expanding with the same artists or do you think you’ll want to see more artists in your collection?

One of her dreams isn’t necessarily to grow her collection, but how to display her collection.  She has a lot of Rae Dunn birdhouses.  Her dream is to have a green house with either shelves to display them or she visualizes them somehow floating.  She says this dream is coming closer to reality as her and her husband look to buying land and building a barndominium.  I know we would all love to see her display when she gets it completed!

What other things do you collect (if any) or do for fun (around your collections)?

I knew that Norma had at least one other obsession….bottle brush trees.  So I asked her to tell me more about that.  She said her obsession started when she was in Germany.  In fact, she laughs when she remembers the movers carrying the cartons and questioning her because they were so light they didn’t even believe there was anything in the box.  I’ve seen a picture and remember that they are indeed not in the colors of a traditional Christmas, but that’s what makes them so unique and beautiful as they sit along her fan-tal (a full mantel over an non-existent fireplace that her husband built). 

Do you have another holiday that you like to decorate?  Tell me about it!

Ahhhh, still Christmas as the holiday, but Glitterville as the artist.  Norma’s husband says that it looks like a “rainbow has puked in the house”.  She loves the bright colors of the Glitterville collection and can’t wait to add some additional items this year like the Sugar Plum Fairy.  She even wants to sprinkle in some Glitterville Halloween into her decorating theme this year by adding in the Itchy Witchy Bust.  We talk about the bright colors and how they remind us of the Broadway show ‘Wicked’!

Norma has a great collection of original art.  She treasures her collection and was excited to share it with us.  I felt as if I had made another friend, one that loves this world of everything Rae Dunn, Johanna Parker, Glitterville, Rachel Garrison, Halloween, Christmas, and just all around decorating.  It's a process that evolves through the years as we grow to know and love certain artists for the very uniqueness and creative characters they bring to us.  

I hope to see more of Norma's collection, especially how her greenhouse turns out with the extraordinary display of birdhouses!  I appreciate her time and sharing with us all!  If you are a collector like Norma, send us a note!  We'd love to learn more about what inspires you in your collections!