“I want my artwork to sweep people up and take them to another place, where they can imagine a very exciting future.”
Joe Wirtheim is a man with a message. Under the name “Victory Garden of Tomorrow” Joe produces scenes that give a snapshot of a greener, more optimistic future. Today, his poster prints have a national circulation, and in early 2011, appeared in Martha Stewart Living magazine. This holiday season, Joe is traveling around the country to share his art at craft shows and holiday bazaars.
Originally trained as an systems engineer, Joe discovered that he had an even stronger passion for communication, and became inspired by the WPA-era* poster art that implored people to live better. “Today’s marketing plays on your insecurities and just tries to entice you to consume,” Joe tells us, “These older posters were the complete opposite. They tried to get you to go do something in your backyard. They said ‘Don’t be wasteful. Be healthy.’ There’s an urgency to this message.”
Joe made his first posters an art project, selling an occasional print or two on Etsy or at the Alberta St. Fair. “I didn’t even really know who was buying them,” Joe says, “Then I landed a spot in Whole Living, and I started receiving a lot of orders. It began supplementing my income during school, and when I graduated, rather than look for a job, I poured all of my energy into this.”
Joe’s tiny bedroom quickly became a full-service studio and shipping center. Through sweat equity, he was able to make the purchases that allowed him to grow. A printer enabled Joe to print his own postage. With increased cash flow, Joe was able to rent out the bedroom next door as a work space.
Although his business had taken on a life of its own, Joe knew that he could use some support. “I was in way over my head, and didn’t know how to grow. The Mercy Corps Northwest Business Foundations Course got me to think like a business person. I realized that if this is going to pay my rent, I need to track my sales and expenses more closely and set the right prices. I owe that to myself.”
The Victory Garden of Tomorrow also needed capital. With an IDA matched savings grant, Joe was able to purchase software and imaging equipment. “I had been using the student computer lab to access Adobe Creative Suite before this,” he remembers, “The camera I purchased has increased my ability to produce professional imagery. It’s a durable good that will serve me for years to come.”
Once started as an art project, and then a source of supplementary income, The Victory Garden of Tomorrow now allows Joe to employ himself full-time and pay a part time employee to manage all of his shipping. “I’m just making the world a little bit of a better place, and also making money so I can support myself.”
Ultimately though, The Victory Garden of Tomorrow’s mission is deeper than just making money. Joe tells us “I want my artwork to sweep people up and take them to another place, where they can imagine a very exciting future. People need positive images about our future, and in today’s culture we lack positivity. I want to help people to feel empowered.
See more of Joe’s artwork at his website.
*Works Project Administration – the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, which employed millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects. http://www.wikipedia.org