Interview with a true Soapsmith, Bonnie Bartley
Bonnie Bartely is that invaluable resource, she has years of soap making experience having made soap since 1979. I introduce to you Bonnie Bartley, a true Soapsmith from Allegheny Hearth.
1. How did you arrive at the name of your business?
I wanted a name that would convey my locality. I live in Central Pennsylvania. The area is abundant in natural beauty. My home is located on 5 wooded acres, atop a hill in the heart of the breathtakingly glorious Allegheny Mountains. I also wanted to evoke the feeling of the comfort of home, the warmth of handmade so I chose the word hearth – thus Allegheny Hearth.
2. How long have you been making soaps?
I made my first batches in the early 1970’s. I am always open to various arts and craftsmen projects and like to be challenged by new methods and techniques. I was at the library and found a soap making book. I checked it out and the rest is history. I have been in business over 40 years selling my wares – floral design, dried herbs and botanicals, hand crafts, wedding and party décor, cookie catering, needlework and soap making. Now, my soap/bath and body product business has grown to full capacity so that is the only thing I sell now.
3. What makes you happy to get out of bed regarding soap making?
After all these years, I still enjoy the process. It is more mass production now utilizing high volume techniques to keep up with orders but I still get a thrill when I see the soap gel. I remember the very first batch I made. After reading up on the process for weeks, ordering supplies (which could only be done by catalog as there was no on line shopping and local stores didn’t carry much more than lard and basic oils) I was a little anxious about making that soap. When it went into gel stage, I literally danced around the kitchen – yay!!!
4. Where do you find your inspiration for your unique soaps? Are there things in your environment that aid in your creativity?
I am inspired by nature: my garden, the spectrum of colors, the textures, the herbs and flowers, the trees, the fragrances – all of creation. Raw crystals, geodes and mineral formation provide the muse for my gemstone soap.
5. What is your favorite part of soap making?
The satisfaction of my customers is always the epitome of my soap journey. I draw inspiration from them. They are the greatest. Many of them are so kind to take the time to write me notes and emails thanking me for the results they get from using my products. They sing my praises to their friends and neighbors, which grows my business. I am grateful to them and dedicate my efforts to them.
6. What do you do that is not soap related, but aids in your creative thinking?
My gardens, there is nothing like surrounding yourself in the stunning beauty of the outdoors, working the soil, observing the progression of the plants, the interaction of the rains, the sun and the bees. Harvesting the fruits of your labors is so satisfying.
7. What have soaps have you created that surprised you?
I was only surprised by the difference in popularity of soaps of on line shoppers and local shoppers. My top sellers for over 4 decades are slow movers on line and items that literally never sell locally are being shipped by the thousands every year. It was a real learning experience. My on line venues started out slowly. Once I started tracking the stats and reacting to the data they provided did I see the demand is completely different. So I adjusted my product line and things just exploded. Once you determine consumer demand and are able to supply those products – selling is easy. I have amassed almost 4 million views to my on line content and shipped about 60,000 items, pretty amazing.
8. What makes you laugh about making soap?
I garner enjoyment seeing trays of hundreds of soaps on the curing racks. They fragrance the room and delight the senses with the simplicity of handmade cold process soap – pure pleasure. I also greatly enjoy utilizing my own garden grown and wild harvested herbs and botanicals. I do herbal infusions, distill my own hydrosols and essential oils and dry my harvests to be used in my products. It is a thrill to go from garden to harvest to products, truly handmade.
9. What do you want readers to know about you or your soap making business i.e. other products, ingredients, research… Anything you’d like to mention here.
I am always mindful of the many generations of craftsmen who have passed along their skills. I strive to work for the advancement of the craft by honing my methods and techniques. I willingly mentor the next generation of artisans. I do demonstrations and presentations at symposiums and gatherings and I actively participate in soap making forums. In all aspects of my life, I am known for my organization and attention to detail. That attribute greatly contributes to my success in my family life, career, business and volunteer work. I manage my time carefully in order to meet the demands of a busy schedule, Life is beautiful!