Thomas and Grace Stewart are no strangers to this area, as they both grew up just outside Paducah. They met by a twist of fate at Chick-Fil-A, and they’ve been inseparable since. These newlyweds are expecting their first child next summer! They are both involved in many different artistic endeavors, including their newest business venture - Thesis Books. iMeet this inspiring, book-loving, life-living couple!
Hi, Thomas & Grace. Welcome to iMeet! Please tell us about yourselves...
We both grew up close to Paducah - Thomas grew up in Wingo, and I was raised on the threshold of the Shawnee National Forest. We both were imaginative children and spent most of our playtime out in nature. We liked playing in the mud and climbing trees - becoming the chosen ones of our own imaginations.
Thomas was fixated on photography from a young age and shares his memory of warmth and adventure from that period of his life even now. I would pretend I was a forest elf and would write stories with my siblings about our adventures!
You two are newlyweds. Congrats! Tell us how you met...
Grace: Our separate adventures met by a stroke of luck one night in 2013. I was working at Chick-Fil-A, and when I saw Thomas walk through the door I was immediately taken aback and confused by the stroke of visions that danced across my minds’ eye. For something unexplained told me that this man was important me and would mean the world to me in the future.
Thomas: On the same night, I walked through the door to come pick up my friend who worked at Chick-Fil-A and I saw Grace on the other side of the counter. Later, I fell to my knees in the parking lot, asking my friend to give him Grace’s name, and when she told me, I said, “Grace. Of course it is.”
You guys are expecting your first child. Congrats!
Yes, we are expecting our first child, who will be due late June or early July. We plan on naming the child Miles, whether the child is a boy or a girl.
We currently have some pets - two rambunctious dogs, Percy and Bonnie. Percy loves tug of war, and Bonnie loves the game “keep away”; everyone is a big fan of cuddles (although Percy is more cat-like and only wants cuddles for about five minutes at a time).
Christmas is around the corner. Have you started shopping yet?
We plan on making a lot of our gifts for family this Christmas, to bridge the gap between affordable and personal. We’re spending Christmas with their families in and around Paducah, looking forward to next year when our addition to our families will be present for the festivities.
Tell us about your business venture, Thesis Books...
Our loves extend to their life-long love affair with books. We think that books are a consensual glimpse into the mind of another person. Books have been a holy place for us both and we want to share this connection and adventure with everyone we come in contact with. So, when you find what you love, you should share it with as many people as possible.
On this basis, we have started an endeavor called “Thesis Books”. Thesis Books is a mobile bookstore built into a mini-bus, (which we are currently renovating, projected to be completed around late spring or midsummer). This book store will be able to go to events and fundraisers, festivals and schools throughout Kentucky, promoting literacy and adventure, imagination and community, sharing our love with as many people as possible. We are planning on teaching bookbinding, puppet-making, drawing, photography and many other workshops out of the bus as well.
Do you set up in one certain place or do you constantly move around? How do people find out where you will be?
Thesis Books will be in a series of places and we plan to set up for a month at a time. People can sign up for email updates, and/or follow us on instagram:@thesisbooks for bus updates, creative workshops and locations. Or, check out our website thesisbooks.com where you can personalize your own journal or buy an existing one – they make great gifts!
Do you love owning your own business…
We love the feeling of personal fulfillment and being an entrepreneur is like building your own puzzle. The first puzzle is to find out what you want and then from there it gets easier to see what your second, third and fourth steps are.
The hardest part is another aspect of the best part: while personal fulfillment is amazing, the risk and learning curve for anyone setting out on the entrepreneurial adventure is at times very stressful. The journey can be fraught with nerves and self-doubt.
Because things can be stressful and potentially cause forgetfulness, it is very helpful to have a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist in a physical place where you can reference it every day and check things off for daily encouragement. So, the hardest part is also the best part of puzzles, finding out your weaknesses and exercising them is incredibly rewarding especially when you’re doing it for yourself.
Where do you get most of the books that you sell? Price ranges?
Thesis Books has been doing book drives within the community and we have obtained some of the books from various online wholesalers. Retail prices run from $2-$15, with the exception of some collector’s edition books which we have valued all the way up to $150.
We also bind customizable journals that are made out of unique fabric prints and leather, with your choice of different paper. They can be inexpensive or elaborate, and prices range from $10-$80 depending on size, paper quality, and cover material.
Is it challenging starting a family and running a business?
Starting up a new business as a young couple presents its own series of challenges - financial hurdles are by far not the least among these. Luckily, Thomas is also bartender and props up whatever expenses are not covered by our combined artistic freelancing. I focus on setting up the business, organizing events for the pop-up while the bus is being renovated and preparing for baby Miles.
You’re both very creative people...tell us about that...
Thomas has been honing his photography skills for his entire life and just recently has been focusing on it professionally. His abilities grows every month and he enjoys adding to these skills. He began with the purity of no-edit photography and is now playing with color and light in Photoshop to more finely tune his art. This will help him to convey the feelings he wants.
I may be biased, but I think he’s a very talented photographer, having worked with many families, bands, podcasts, festivals, events and corporations around Paducah. He loves on-site, natural light photography, and has a natural predisposition for helping the models feel comfortable in front of his camera.
I am somewhat a jack-of-all-trades. I switch back and forth and use a variety of different visual mediums including oil, watercolor, ink, acrylic, digital, colored pencil, and then I’ll focus on the written word – switch back and forth constantly. I have been a member of RCP (River City Poetry) but have taken a hiatus from writing for painting and forays into digital arts.
When I was younger, I started off with ink and watercolor and then moved to charcoal and acrylic paints. More recently, I’m into oil and digital painting, logos and vector designs. I just recently started learning digital animation. Someday, I hope to mix all of my learned mediums together and create a graphic novel of some kind.
Grace, you write poetry as well. How about sharing one here?
“Momma stacked plants on their heads in the spring time.
I’d watch her, turn the soil with yellow gloves,
her hair thrown up under any one of Dad’s baseball caps as she lullabied the Earth worms.
Sunlight would lay on her back and though momma told me not to swear,
I swore it sometimes sang along while the radio mumbled distantly.
“Damn beetles” I’d sometimes catch her mutter underneath her tongue as
She’d dump them immediately into a jar for a later offering to the birds.
We stood pallets on their sides
and filled them with pungent soil to grow thyme and lavender and such.
I don’t quite really remember all of the plants
that made their home in that makeshift garden wall,
but momma told me we were a part of the future;
that men with millions of dollars,
very far away were planting trees on skyscrapers.
So I’d try to build higher too,
until momma stopped me,
‘Just do what you can do, sweetie. Someday you can go higher.’
I’d slow down,
and The birds would watch me with sharp eyes as I turned the soil with bare hands.
The radio would sing and sometimes
I’d hear about car wrecks,
black clouds and murder.
Each time, I’d throw a beetle to the birds.
Sustain life, and let nature take its course with the parasites.
At that time, it was all I could do.”
What do you two like to do in your free time?
We are very lucky because we love to practice our respective art forms and that can overlap into our money-making endeavors. When we aren’t creating, however, we are playing with our dogs, spending quality time with each other, exploring cinema, and playing puzzle-type or strategy video games – we like Monument Valley, Portal, Age of Empires.
We have recently joined the board at Yeiser Art Center and we’re excited to integrate our interests and skills in collaborative efforts throughout Paducah. We are almost constantly creating something at any point in our work days and don’t see that subsiding any time soon. We look forward to contributing in whatever ways we can to improve ourselves and the community around us.
What piece of advice would you give budding artists?
Remember, find what you love, let it teach you, and share it with anyone who is interested. Never stop being curious, and always take a second to breathe.