When Mary Ellen Stottmann began painting exuberant animal artwork for her grandson-to-be in 2005, she did not anticipate the big changes that Baxter’s birth would engender.
The paintings of puppets led to the creation — with writer Linda Villwock Baker — of a series of children’s books, under the women’s organization, Baxter’s Corner. The stories in the series are designed to help both caregivers and children be more emotionally literate in the face of struggles that children face in today’s world, such as having a parent in prison (Ally Alone).
Each book features additional activities to help children understand that the choices they make impact their own lives and those of others. The activities are part of a "Go Beyond" section that reinforce the message of the story, making connections to the child’s life, and motivating the child to be his or her best self.
The women are also working to support those who work closely with kids. As schools have taken on more responsibility for children’s social and emotional learning, Stottmann and Baker are reaching out to educators, counselors, and administrators. Baxter’s Corner plans to introduce all their books to under served families at local libraries and continue their outreach at Cabbage Patch Settlement House, where they have led annual summer writing camps.
“As a business, social and artistic venture, we are most proud of growing our community through relationships and partnerships that help us spread our message about helping young children learn to make better behavioral choices as they grow up,” Stottmann says. “Our hope is to leave a legacy for generations to come by changing children’s lives… one story at a time.”
Stottmann’s grandson Baxter, the namesake of their company, is now a preteen who offers his critiques of their new books. Just as Stottmann has watched her grandson grow from an infant to a young man, she has also observed how Baxter’s Corner — as well as herself and Baker — have changed over time. “We feel that we have learned so much through the production of our books, and we are pleased to share these evolutions in our books,” Stottmann says. “We also feel challenged to keep learning and getting better at our craft — just as we ask our young readers and listeners to do.”
Linda Baker, also known as “Chief Pencil” at Baxter’s Corner, is a Louisville native who began her journey with the written word as an avid reader and now author. The route from reader to author saw Linda majoring in journalism in college, where Linda began her career as a reporter for a Wyoming newspaper. She then put her writing skills to work in the public relations arena to develop mission-focused messages for a variety of public and private organizations, and also served as a marketer for nationally-touring Broadway shows.
Mary Ellen Stottmann, also known as “Chief Crayon” at Baxter’s Corner, was born in New Mexico and raised in New Jersey and Louisville, Ky. Her art education began earlier than most. By the age of ten she was oil painting with a style that is still apparent today. After studying art in Paris she moved to New York City to major in graphic design at the internationally recognized Parson School of Design. She began her professional career working for an advertising studio. Then co-founded a “Printing While You Wait” company which eventually led to her owning a digital offset printing company. Her career in printing allowed her to continue designing material for her clients, some of which is still being used today.
One of the many opportunities offset print gave her was an expert understanding of color and how it reacts by overlapping intensity. After retiring in 2005, Mary Ellen began oil painting, taking a very graphic approach to her style.