Cards with Heart: Ethel B Designs

Growing up, Kathryn Cushwa Gerace saw art all around her. Her father, an interior designer turned art elementary school teacher with a degree in fine arts, filled Kathryn’s life with opportunities to be creative and express herself artistically. Her mother, a sewer who made every room she touched brighter and more beautiful, did the same. From a young age, Kathryn gravitated towards art mediums like acrylic paints and collaging, dabbling in many artforms, but joking that water colors were the one medium she resisted.

After moving from her hometown of High Point to attend Meredith College, she decided to pursue a double major in art and psychology. But it wasn’t until after the heartbreak of losing her mom that Kathryn finally discovered her love of watercolors.

“I started with watercolors just because,” says Kathryn. “With watercolors, you really have to let go and see where it takes you.”  

The freedom and organic nature of watercoloring brought about something healing in Kathryn’s heart. And it also eventually led her to turn her passion for art into a business: Ethel B Designs.  

“My first name is Ethel, and it’s a name I actually resisted for a while,” says Kathryn, noting how her great-grandmother's name, like watercolors, was something she disliked for much of her life. But after she started to discover how much her great-grandmother meant to her own father, she was proud to carry on the family name. The “B” in Ethel B Designs comes from Kathryn’s best friend’s (and former business partner) last name. But the heart behind the company comes from Kathryn’s mother. 

Kathryn Gerace, the owner of Ethel B Designs watercolors a greeting card in High Point, NC.
Kathryn Gerace sits at a table in High Point, NC watercoloring a greeting card for Ethel B Designs.
Kathryn Cushwa Gerace, Owner of Ethel B Designs

“My mom had this special knack of always making a space look like home – no matter where she was,” Kathryn remembers. She recalls her mother making her Meredith dorm room feel cozier, and her first apartment feel like home. Her mom’s secret tip? Always fill a home with artwork.  

“She is the one who taught me that if you can’t afford an art print, see if there is a beautiful greeting card you can frame,” Kathryn says.  

So it’s no surprise that soon after Kathryn was asked to design stationary, she decided to try her hand at greeting card production. Some of her first greeting card sets she affectionately dubbed: Life is Hard cards. Born out of Kathryn’s own understanding of grief and loss, the Life is Hard cards offers the chance to share empathy even when you’re not sure what to say.  

"Sometimes you just need to know someone is there for you, more than you need a phrase about everything happening for a reason,” Kathryn adds.  

A flat lay of artwork and greeting cards from Ethel B Designs.
Kathryn holds one of her "life is hard" cards
Kathryn and one of her "Life is Hard" Cards

But Kathryn’s cards also function as much more than simple messages sent via mail: they are little works of art worthy of their own frames. Over time, Kathryn began adding more to Ethel B’s lineup – including art prints, custom portraits, calendars, ornaments, and more. But her goal has always been to make her artwork accessible and affordable, as she says art should never be restrictive.

“I want to put beauty and art out there for everyone,” she explains, saying that she always asks herself what her mother would do when she faces decisions in her business. And to make sure that art and beauty is accessible to everyone, Kathryn had to learn to let go of any lingering perfectionism about her artwork.

“I want to put beauty and art out there for everyone.”

Kathry Gerace, Owner of Ethel B Designs

“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says simply. Once she began creating pieces, she loved without worrying about perfectly styled Instagram flat lays, she saw the business take off. The growth, Kathryn says, happened naturally, as her clientele extended beyond her family and friends to a variety of patrons. Today, her cards and other items can be found in a variety of High Point shops, including The Cottage, Just Priceless, Sunrise Books, The Blooming Board, and Carolina Red Café.  

Ultimately, Kathryn hopes her artwork adds warmth, happiness, and love into all of her customers’ lives. She wants her customers to feel that spark of joy when they see her work in their own homes. After all for Kathryn, home and artwork have always gone hand-in-hand – so bringing artwork to her hometown of High Point is something Ethel B Designs plans to do for seasons to come.  

Find the perfect holiday card from Ethel B Designs!

Discover our High Points, 

The HPD Team

Photography by Aura Marzouk Photography

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