Joni Ulman Lewis was heading out of town one day in May this year when she got a call from a friend she knew from gift shows in New York.
Lewis owns the Visual Treats studio in the city, where she creates custom greeting cards, scarves and a host of vintage-looking items, was instantly intrigued by what her friend Mary Fellows was calling about.
“In addition to the organic baby products she sells at gift shows, Mary has a job-job working for a set design company,” Lewis said. “And she was calling looking for some very specific products to use on an episode of the second season of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ an Amazon Prime show about a female comic that cleaned up in this year’s Emmy honors.”
In the phone call and text exchanges over the next few days, while Lewis and her husband David were still on a mini-vacation, the two friends worked out a special order for Lewis to fill.
“I’d been sworn to secrecy about saying anything that would go public until the shows premiered,” Lewis said. That happened this past Wednesday. “It involves a plot line for the show this year, when Mrs. Maisel goes to perform in the Catskills.”
And because the show was decorating a real-life Catskills resort to look like late 1950s Catskills—Scott’s Family Resort in Deposit, N.Y. becomes Steiner Mountain Resort—period items were needed for countless scenes, including one that happens in a gift shop.
“Mary remembered that I used to make lavender sachets with custom scenes on them, and was interested in me making 30 of them for the gift shop,” said Lewis. “But instead of the lavender scent, she wanted balsam, because it seemed more like Catskills and woodsy.”
That immediately led to a question from Lewis: “This is television. What difference does it make how it smells?”
Well, her friend had an answer for that.
After the products in the gift shop are used on the set, they go into gift bags that are given as swag to the cast members and crew.
After asking for the sachets, the friends brainstormed a bit about another product Lewis might make. They settled on an autograph book that would also have the scenes and logo of the Catskills resort.
“Making 30 of the sachets and 40 of the autograph books wasn’t that much of a challenge,” said Lewis. “But then came the kicker: she needed them there in five days. And we were still away from home.”
And that’s how Lewis discovered she could still work in overdrive, as she and her husband went into fast production. Between the two of them, they cut, trimmed, sewed and ironed on transfers of images they’d received from the show.
“We had to use next-day shipping, but we got them there on time,” said Lewis.
She’s excited to see if her products show up on screen, but even if they don’t, she chalks up the order and delivery as a win.
“Who knows if they’ll need other items for other shows, but it’s a possibility, and it was exciting to be part of it all, even in a small way,” she said, noting that it’s always good to meet deadlines, especially on rush orders.
Lewis, who majored in art at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she decorated store windows for a while after college, and then worked for a long time as a waitress.
“My advice to all art majors is to get a good job in a good restaurant until they can figure out how to turn the training into money,” she said with a smile.
Lewis eventually developed a line of greeting cards that she makes, sews and develops by hand. She sells them one at a time in her studio, but has supplied 1,000 at a time to a major retailer.
“My cards go for funny, because that’s my personality,” she said.
Her business expanded for a while into a retail shop downtown on Princess Anne Street under the “Visual Treats” name that included her cards, other handmade items like sachets, pillows and vintage items made by others.
Along the way, the business evolved into selling at big gift and craft shows and to retailers. She closed the downtown store and eventually built a studio at 1101 Littlepage Street that’s next door to her home.
She’ll have an open house there Dec. 14-16, where visitors can see the products made for Mrs. Maisel and a host of other products, including scarves made from sweater remnants.
Though she’s made a host of different products and items over the years, Lewis said it was exciting to have a challenge like making a custom item in a hurry.
“This is set in 1958 or so, and we came at that by thinking about what items we might have seen in Stuckey’s when we were kids,” she said. “The autograph books with images of the resort felt right.”