CORINTH, Miss. — Channing Baxter Lewis, owner of Baxter and Company in downtown Corinth, is a busy lady with a remarkable story.
Her brick-walled boutique has a distinct Southern vibe. It’s tastefully stocked with women’s apparel, Mississippi-made pottery and jewelry, candles, cosmetics, specialty food items and monogrammed children’s clothing.
But what sets Baxter and Company apart is Lewis’ original artwork, displayed throughout the store, printed on T-shirts, woodblocks, throw pillows and totes. Every piece is simple, bright and cheerful, overlaid with inspirational quotes, Bible verses or words from familiar Christian songs, written in Lewis’ signature script.
“One of my favorite quotes, and I paint it all the time, is ‘I am thankful for my struggle, because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength,’ ” Lewis said.
The 30-year-old Lewis said she stumbled across her art and her new career as the result of her own struggle — a painful and unexpected divorce seven years ago when her son Baxter was 3 years old. She said her faith helped her endure the ordeal.
“It was a dark time,” she said. “I found myself on the floor, feeling unlovable and abandoned. I called out to God in desperation, trying to figure it all out. Sometimes you grow closer to Christ in the valley, not on the mountain. It was a terrible time, but I had to figure out what I had to do.”
Lewis said one of the first things she did was start painting.
“I’d never picked up a paint brush in my life. They were doing new construction at the apartment complex where I was working, and for some reason I decided to start painting. I’d pick up scraps — random pieces of two-by-fours — and paint little scenes and uplifting messages on them. It was just Baxter and me,” she said.
Lewis said painting the inspirational messages was a way to lift her own spirits, occupy her son, and earn extra income, using re-purposed lumber as her medium, and her son as her assistant.
“We were literally taking scrap lumber from the dumpster,” she said. “I didn’t own a sander or a saw, and if a board had a funky shape, we just went with it. Baxter was 3, and he would paint the solid colors for me, and I’d do the rest.”
Lewis said she started out selling her artwork locally at the Green Market in downtown Corinth.
“I painted enough stuff to fill the back of my Ford Fusion. I put Baxter in the car seat and headed to the Green Market,” she said.
Lewis said she got lots of encouragement and affirmation at that first show.
“God was with me through the whole process — going from a place of feeling rejected and alone to all of a sudden painting pretty things and people being complimentary, or being touched by something I had painted. It was wonderful,” Lewis said, as she wiped away a tear.
After a year or so, Lewis said she felt her confidence grow, and she sensed God nudging her toward a new career path.
“I started painting in 2010, but I was still working at my regular job,” she said. “After a while, I felt like the Lord put it on me to fully invest in it. It was scary taking the leap as a single mom.”
Six years ago, Lewis took the leap. She opened a small shop in the old Pickwick Theater on Cruise Street, selling only her artwork at first. Over time, business picked up and the shop morphed into a gift boutique. Lewis’ mother and sister joined in to help.
Lewis started shipping her wares — still all hand-painted — to stores across the country. Demand for her work eventually outpaced her ability to keep up.
“I was painting night and day,” she said. “I was in stores in 26 states and it just wasn’t feasible to keep up. We had to start printing.”
Now Lewis has a warehouse where a full-time crew builds wood frames, stretches canvas, and prints copies of Lewis’ work to ship to stores from Virginia to New Mexico. Her work has been featured on “Good Morning America” and is also licensed and reproduced for retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond and Home Goods.
The boutique has moved into a larger space on Waldron Street, where business, both in the store and through its online presence, is booming. Lewis said she’s never looked back, and she looks forward to the future.
Lewis, who has not remarried, said she wants other young women to discover what she’s learned.
“All I know to say is what God says: We are loved and we are worthy and through Christ we can do anything. God can use your failures and disappointments for his glory. God sees what you can become. You can only see what you are now,” she said. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t ever be married again, but I’ve found my joy in other things.”