Why I became a designer: a tale of two influencers. / by Tricia Dugat

Some of us know early on in life what we want to be when we grow up, while many of us change our minds at least four times before we reach fifth grade. For me the journey to figuring out my professional path was shaped by two amazing women: my great-grandmother, Grace and my mother, Susan. 

Going to my Grandma Grace’s house was always a treat. From sniffing the prolific honeysuckle climbing the fence in the backyard, to playing in the warm, golden sunlight streaming into the living room in the late afternoons, there was beauty and joy infused in every memory of being there. My grandma appreciated beauty very much, and she wanted to share that with me in many ways. She would set up a card table near the front window with an Arches watercolor block and tubes of paints. I had an assortment of brushes and all of the necessary supplies for watercolor painting at my small fingertips. 

Goofy shot of me working on something (maybe a collage?) in my great grandma's living room. That gray lamp in the background lives in my daughter's room now. 

Goofy shot of me working on something (maybe a collage?) in my great grandma's living room. That gray lamp in the background lives in my daughter's room now. 

Grandma Grace encouraged my creativity and appreciation for beauty in a variety of ways. We once watched the Miss America pageant and afterward made crowns out of aluminum foil that rivaled in height the one worn by Miss Universe. She sat for what seemed like hours while I styled her hair in my “beauty shop.” She gave me a variety of paper dolls that I styled and dressed for fashion shows on a set of primary-colored wooden blocks made into a runway. We took walks and talked about plants, sat on the front porch and sang songs while watching the sun sink behind the Franklin Mountains, and dumped crushed eggshells off the back stoop onto her gigantic red rosebush.

My great grandma, Grace. 

My great grandma, Grace. 

She gave the great gifts of her time, her life experience in sharing and showing me treasures she collected around the country and the world, and her interest in my development whether creatively or through academics (she was a retired teacher with no shortage of workbooks). I deeply value the time we had together and the beauty she shared with me, even in the smallest of ways – her giant jar of collected buttons, for example.

Luckily I have many treasures and trinkets of my grandma's. This is a small sampling of items owned by her, my grandmother Hope and my mom.

Luckily I have many treasures and trinkets of my grandma's. This is a small sampling of items owned by her, my grandmother Hope and my mom.

My mom also grew up frequently visiting Grandma Grace and it was clear that the same influences impacted her. She loved pretty things. Her mother, my grandma Hope, also made a point of dressing my mom well, complete with accessories to coordinate (gloves and hats on young girls in the sixties were especially keen). 

This is a doll my grandma picked up during her global travels that I was lucky to inherit. Her vibrant colors are so gorgeous. She hangs out in my office these days.

This is a doll my grandma picked up during her global travels that I was lucky to inherit. Her vibrant colors are so gorgeous. She hangs out in my office these days.

I have several boxes like these beauties full of costume jewelry, gloves and hair accessories that belonged to my grandmother and mom. The painting of the dancers is from Grace's trip to France and the hand painted fan from her adventures in Asia.

I have several boxes like these beauties full of costume jewelry, gloves and hair accessories that belonged to my grandmother and mom. The painting of the dancers is from Grace's trip to France and the hand painted fan from her adventures in Asia.

This beauty was purchased at the same time as the painting above. Sadly the frames became so warped and worn over the years that I had to take the paintings out. These two pieces have been with me since high school, and have always inspired me.

This beauty was purchased at the same time as the painting above. Sadly the frames became so warped and worn over the years that I had to take the paintings out. These two pieces have been with me since high school, and have always inspired me.

I credit my mom with teaching me color theory, pattern pairing and basic composition, though she was likely unaware of it at the time. Her collection of fashion mags piqued my interest in editorial layout early on. Once I went to work with her on a Saturday and spent the day creating my own magazine from scratch – writing and illustrating every page by hand.

Her vast collection of dresses and blouses, along with the many accessories she bought to match, taught me appreciation of a well-composed ensemble. To say she loved clothing and accessories would be an understatement. When we moved her clothes were worse to relocate than a grand piano, I'm convinced. Even when she was barely making ends meet, my mom made sure I had nice things to wear, and that my hair was done (french braids were her specialty). She bought me Tinkerbell nail polish and told me to never leave the house in sweatpants, or without some lip gloss. I learned from her to appreciate femininity and to put my best foot forward.

She taught me however that beauty on the outside meant nothing without inner beauty. Though she never got all philosophical with her lessons, or her daily actions and examples, I learned that there is a deeper purpose in appreciating beautiful things in life – everything should elevate us to this higher sense of meaning rooted in the Divine. When I think of how pretty she was I think about the beauty of her soul reflected outwardly in h

From left: my grandfather Lucien, my mom, me and my grandma Grace, ca. 1980.

From left: my grandfather Lucien, my mom, me and my grandma Grace, ca. 1980.

My beautiful, graceful mom. She passed away in 2011 and not a day goes by that I don't miss her. 

My beautiful, graceful mom. She passed away in 2011 and not a day goes by that I don't miss her. 

The basic aesthetic principles I observed from both of these invaluable people and relationships sparked in me a love of design and appreciation for beauty. I spent my childhood drawing my own comics and portraits of imagined heroines. Hours of fun came from playing in a box of costume jewelry, not necessarily putting the jewelry on but instead developing personalities for each piece as a unique character based on its size, shape and color. I loved visiting museums and staring at paintings because of my great grandmother’s watercolor supplies, so willingly and openly shared with me as a youngster. Clearly I wouldn’t be the person I am without the influence of these two women I treasured so much because they taught me to value creative impulses and expression in positive and meaningful ways.

Who influenced you in your pursuits? Leave a note below – I would love to hear your stories.