How I Came to Know the Man Behind the Curtain

I wish I could get away with saying, “Behind every successful business is a successful woman” because I really do love a good, strong female lead – shocking, I know. However, in the rarest of occasions (I kid. I kid.) a company comes along that turns my new favorite phrase on its head.

A couple weeks ago I had an opportunity to catch up with John Armstrong. Probably only a handful of you know him as the owner of Fair Oak Workshops, a web-based Arts and Crafts gallery (see their wonderful ad over there to the right?!). John is an Oz of sorts. Think more, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” and less, “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said come back tomorrow.” He’s wonderful. And he’s been in the business of selling fine Arts and Crafts items since 1995.

Actually, the Fair Oak ball started rolling in 1992 when John, then a budding collector of Teco pottery, attended his first Grove Park Inn Arts and Crafts Conference. “Here were all these contemporary artists trying to market [their work] and they didn’t know where to start”, John shared.

Now, flashback to 1973 and imagine a young John sitting at a desk in the IT and Clerical Operations department of J.C. Whitney, a then popular national automotive parts mail order company in Chicago (bare with me…it’s relevant.) “I knew the mail order industry like the back of my hand”, John stated.

And so that’s where he started Fair Oak in 1995, as a mail order company. Before the days of 600dpi they were churning out black and white line drawings on Xerox machines and swimming in a sea of floppy disks creating a catalog that was then distributed to their clientele. And the rest is history.

Together with his “behind the scenes woman” Kristin McCormack (I know the feeling, Kristin…), John still publishes a 10 page catalog for mail but the bulk of the business has been through the website since 2000. Helen Foster stencils, block prints, Teco Pottery reproductions, jewelry, flatware — you name it and John probably sells it.

And he sells it well.

From what I can tell, it’s a well-oiled machine over there at Fair Oak and it’s due in large part to that man behind the curtain. So give him a visit and find what you’re looking for – unless it’s a heart, a brain, or courage. He’s fresh out.

To find out more about Fair Oak Workshops visit

Top photo: John at his computer running the show

Bottom photo: John and Kristin at their weekly breakfast business meeting