Kingston-based creative Emily Maxwell’s hands are spreading love, positivity, and awareness across the state. Using creative and thoughtful designs depicting American Sign Language (ASL) letters, Emily devises artful prints, notecards, and clothing under Love Letters by Emily. What began as a way to forge opportunities through art has turned into a successful crafting business reaching audiences nationwide and overseas.
Emily has faced and overcome many challenges in her life, beginning when she was born with a complex congenital heart defect. Years after being diagnosed with other physical and developmental conditions, her parents learned she had Charge Syndrome. “Emily’s developmental delays and communication challenges to a great degree put typical employment and social and independent living opportunities out of reach,” explains her mother Carolyn. But in 2012, the creation of Love Letters by Emily paved a path for new possibilities.
The brand came to fruition after Emily’s teacher of the deaf sent her home with a collage of her hands signing “LOVE.” Feeling inspired, Carolyn began gifting a similar framed design of Emily’s hands, and it was a hit. With Carolyn’s graphic design and teaching background, she realized she had something that, if turned into a business, could create job tasks and social opportunities for Emily when her special education school program ended. “Emily’s teacher gave us more than a wonderful expression of love – she gave us the gift of an idea, which has continued to grow and grow.”
Mom and daughter photographed Emily’s ASL alphabet and started creating designs they sold via Etsy. Beyond the sales they made, the venture served another important role. “Love Letters by Emily became the core of her self-directed plan funded by RI Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals, and allowed us to hire day staff to support her needs and assist with her participation in business tasks,” Carolyn says, adding that she and her husband have taken support staff roles due to recent staffing shortages.
With support from organizations like Easterseals of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Parent Information Network, and The Fogarty Center, the business grew and gained visibility. They brought their designs to local art fairs and markets, and were able to open an Amazon store in 2019. Describing their success, Carolyn says, “We are now celebrating 10 years of working together and have been amazed by theopportunities that have come our way.” Emily’s designs can be found all over, from local outlets to the gift shop at the Worcester Art Museum to as far away as Australia.
Emily thoroughly enjoys her work, and she and Carolyn hope to continue making new designs to sell in even more stores, as well as find more helping hands to support Emily. “We’re happy to have the opportunity to share the gifts we make from the heart, to promote deaf awareness and differently abled individuals, and have the support of so many who keep us going,” Carolyn says. They also encourage anyone to learn ASL, because “communication is everything.”
Find Emily’s designs at these Rhode Island shops, as well as LoveLettersByEmily.com
Endeavors and More, Coventry
Fayerweather Craft Guild, Kingston
We Be Jammin’, Warwick
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