NEW PRESTON — David Whitman, co-owner of Pergola in New Preston and Perch in Kent, describes Stephanie Wargo as a detailed perfectionist who has a passion for what she does.
That would be an understatement.
She designs a myriad of extraordinary paper products from notecards, tent place cards, invitations, to botanical prints to gift tags and calendars. To coin a word I seldom use, they are exquisite. In fact, to receive one of her creations is a gift within itself and the recipient is loath to use it. Wargo not only designs her pieces but she prints them as well.
“I use two different papers pretty exclusively,” explained Wargo. “They are handmade in Italy and they are not commercially printable in this country. So, I print everything myself; it’s the only way I can effectively reproduce the artwork that I create. I am always pursuing new things and I have now found a source that has some beautiful Japanese-made paper. David loves paper as much as I do, so I couldn’t have found a more appropriate partnership.”
Wargo was born and raised in Connecticut, attended the University of Connecticut, and for a time thought she might major in mathematics or Spanish. But she has always aligned herself with the arts.
“My mother was a fabulous artist,” said Wargo. “As a child whenever I picked a pencil, it was a drawing instrument. I learned from the get-go to use high quality materials. My mother was very much into gardening and my siblings and I were there to help her pull up weeds. When you are an artist and a gardener a lot of inspiration comes from nature. I myself am a serious gardener and I learn and interpret so much from the textural and color combinations. The garden is where a lot of my ideas begin percolating.”
To supplement her knowledge gained in college, Wargo got an honorary fellowship at the Rhode Island School of Design where she nurtured her passion for illustration, and had some of her work published. She went to New York to pursue a successful career in apparel design. She then moved to California and while she continued advancing in the apparel world, she never gave up her pursuit of art. While she was trained as a designer, at her core she is an artist.
“I have had some amazing work experiences on the West Coast, including one with the incredible costume designer Edith Head,” said Wargo. “While it doesn’t have any direct bearing on my current work, I learned so much from Edith. She was a great designer, a generous mentor, and someone I considered a friend. We stayed in touch until the end of her life.”
Wargo lived and worked in California for almost ten years and then moved back to New York and while still successful in the apparel business, she continued to get commissions to design stationery and invitations and learned about letterpress printing and engraving. Her reputation began to grow and when she moved full-time to Connecticut, she decided to concentrate solely on what had been a sideline for her. The commission work increased and then she met the owners of Pergola.
“Now that I was designing paper products full time, I decided that I needed to pursue the work in a different way and gain additional exposure,” said Wargo. “A friend of mine was continually telling me about Pergola and how my work would be perfect for that shop. We made a stop there and I met the owners David Whitman and Peter Stiglin. I discussed with them what I did, went back with samples and that’s how it all started.”
“During the nine years we have carried Stephanie’s papers, her popularity has grown and we couldn’t be more pleased,” said Whitman. “She is always creating new work, based on the seasons, so the selection shifts throughout the year. There is always a new product to excite our clients. Her sensitive botanical artwork is certainly the draw, but when people get that card or paper in their hands, they are hooked. The Italian handmade paper is just gorgeous and completely noncommercial. As she mentions in a little story included with each piece, there are two signatures on the cards — hers and the watermark of the paper maker. The cards are gifts in themselves.”
Aside from the collection at Pergola, Wargo does not have a website and receives commissions by word of mouth. Once a person receives a piece of her work, they are hooked and eager to let their friends know about this talented artist and her wares.
“I am very fortunate to work with such great clients,” Wargo says. “They share information and that’s how people learn about me. Once we discuss what someone has in mind, I meet them and show examples of that particular product, in a variety of papers. That’s where I start — the material begins the process. I love doing commissioned work and am very strict with myself about schedules. But I am always adding to my repertoire of designs that could become another product for Pergola.”
Wargo’s cards and botanical prints, available in a 9x12 size suitable for framing, make the perfect Christmas gifts and are available at Pergola Home, 7 East Shore Road, New Preston. Call 860-868-4769, or visit pergolahome.com/ for more information.