Ione Talese comes clean

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  Ione Talese opened Artisan Soaps on Asbury Avenue recently.
Ione Talese opened Artisan Soaps on Asbury Avenue recently.

Soaps offer a new business plan for OC artist

OCEAN CITY — For many years, Ione Talese brought new life to old furnishings at her hand-painted Furniture and Design Studio.

The combined effects of Hurricane Sandy and an ailing back led her to close the West Avenue shop last year. Looking for a new challenge, Talese opened Artisan Soaps on Asbury Avenue, offering a line of colorful soaps, oils and lotions, mixed with gift items and trinkets from her furniture-painting days.

Soap is sold by the slice.

“I’m thrilled, just thrilled,” Talese said. “Soap opened up a whole new world for me.”

Despite Talese’s best efforts to protect her studio as Hurricane Sandy approached in October, 2012, much of her furniture and artwork was flooded. At the same time, she suffered health issues.

“My back was deteriorating and I needed surgery,” she said. Years of painting and moving heavy furniture had taken a toll. The clean-up from Sandy was heart-wrenching and back-breaking.

“My doctor told me I would be limited,” she said. “I had to stop. My back had been bothering me, but after 28 years you don’t even think about it. With the pain I was in, it made me think it was time to switch gears.”

She found both a new career and creative outlet while searching for non-surgical remedies to heal her ailing back. 

“I was in agony and pain, and I was looking for ways to medicate with soaps and oils,” she said, adding that she gravitates toward a holistic approach to healing. She came across a woman who made her own soaps, oils and candles, which would figure into relaxation techniques. “I got interested in how she did it.”

Talese followed a trail, leading to numerous artists who designed and crafted their own line of soaps.

“It was a real eye opener, how important what you put on your skin is,” she said. Looking over various lines of soap, she realized that the traditional bar of soap took on a whole new life when an artist got involved.

“These are true works of art,” she said. “There is no limit in how you can put things together. The colors are vibrant, the soaps are very appealing.”

One thing led to another. Before long, she was in the soap business.  

“It led me down a path and here I am,” she said. Talese still has a hand in the furniture-painting business. She hired an apprentice, Racheal Bachman, to take over. The two think and paint alike, so she can continue to offer hand-painted furnishings to customers she collected over the years, she said.

“Racheal does all the grunt work, the sanding, priming and painting that I cannot,” she said. “I make sure it’s on track and give it the final thumbs up. She just ‘gets it,’ just how I do it.”

Talese said she enjoyed being surrounded by an eclectic mix of furnishings, from cherished antiques to yard sale finds, discarded lamps and old-fashioned ceiling tins looking for a colorful new identity.

Talese did not seek a career in art, it found her. She was headed for a career in business, waitressing her way through college.

In 1985, she tried something different, house-painting. An ad for interior painting led to a job.

Her first customer’s shiny new walls made the furniture look dull, so Talese offered to paint a bureau. Soon she was painting every piece of furniture in the house and a career was born.

Talese was hooked. She could get creative, the furniture became her canvas. Soon she began painting scenery and landscapes.

Talese moved from her small garage to larger digs on Tenth Street. She raised two daughters, Ciara and Liza. She moved to 628 West Ave. in 2005.

Transitioning to a new creative outlet has been seamless, she said.

 “I wanted people to come in and feel like they are coming into my home,” she said, whether it’s an art studio or a soap shop. Talese said she enjoys personal service when she shops, so she provides it for others.

 “I always loved art,” she said. The daughter of artist Marian Talese and the niece of author Gay Talese, she was raised in the arts. Her grandparents, Joseph and Nan Talese operated The Talese Shop, a downtown ladies clothing store. Family life revolved around music, art and gourmet Italian cooking.

“There was always music, the arts were big; we used to make marionettes,” said Talese. “I was always in my grandparents store, I sewed on buttons, I swept the store.”

She credits Sister Joyce at Holy Spirit High School for inspiring her, for teaching her not to be afraid of color.

In soap, color is very important, she said.

 “I’ve been very selective, quality is important to me,” she said. “I know who made each of these soaps, where they were made and what’s in them.”

To spur business, Talese works with some of the neighboring shops. She is selling some men’s shaving products for Julie’s Headquarters, located in the 800 block of Asbury Avenue, in return, some of her products are available at Julie’s.

“We’re collaborating, helping each other,” she said.

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