Two Iowa women are forming a similar partnership as Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz of American Pickers. These ladies aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, or rummage through a discarded pile of "treasures," looking for items they can repurpose.
Robyn Mihm and Tara Hamilton have dubbed themselves the "Princess Pickers." While they think nothing of haggling with a seller over a possible antique or vintage piece of furniture, their taste in the goods they buy and sell leans toward shabby chic and French country.
Friends since they attended dental assistant school together 30 years ago, the pair went their own ways for awhile, but ended up working for the same orthodontist, Dr. Michael Hollen, a few years later.
"Who knew when we graduated from college we'd end up working together as the Princess Pickers?" laughs Hamilton, a native of Burlington now living in Waterloo.
Smiling, Mihm adds, "She was the outgoing class president who sat on one side of the room and I was the shy one on the other side." Through their decades-long friendship, the pair has become like sisters, sometimes disagreeing on an idea but often sharing similar taste in furniture, clothing and jewelry. When they share work days a few days a month at the West Union Dental Clinic, the two always have something to talk about during work breaks due to common interests.
"We both love dentistry," explains Mihm. "We don't plan on quitting our day jobs any time soon, but this is a creative outlet for us."
While Hamilton grew up going to auctions and flea markets with her family, Mihm says the "flea" and repurposing "bug" came to her as a result of her growing love for decorating and furnishing the home she shares with husband, Cary Mihm, near St. Lucas.
Hamilton says she calls her friend, "the paint whisperer," for her ability to turn something shabby into a fine piece of art. She describes the upright console radio cabinet with a broken door, that the two found. Mihm repaired the door, added a coat of off-white paint and her special touches of artistry, and voila! With a little bit of imagination, a deteriorating piece of furniture becomes aesthetically pleasing. Vision for seeing a repurposed piece of art from junk, is essential to their work, the pair admit.
Hamilton admits that as a child she often found uses for things others would have discarded. "It's true what they say about one man's trash being another's treasure!" she says with a laugh. And most often when they are 'picking' Hamilton says she wears her "good luck picking boots" – bedecked with jewels of course. Their other signatures are the olive-colored jackets they wear, complete with princess crown brooches on the lapels.
Undaunted by power tools, the women have repurposed wooden pallets, such as the wall art Mihm created, giving the wood a coat of trendy aqua-colored paint, and adding a white starfish to the surface. She transformed another discarded pallet to take on the appearance of a flag, and used yet another scrap to create space for keeping necklaces and other jewelry.
Like Wolfe and Fritz, Mihm and Hamilton look forward to road trips when they can "junk" or "pick" for new finds. On one particular jaunt, Mihm borrowed her husband's truck to attend a flea market in southern Iowa. By the end of the day, she worried there wouldn't be room to transport everything back home. As it turned out, Tara says, "I still had room on my lap!"
While the gals have been collecting and restoring items for a couple of years, this spring they decided to find an outlet to sell some of the items in their collections. In February, they began renting space in the Turkey River Mall at Elkader, dubbing themselves the Princess Pickers. Once inside the mall, take a left at the top of the stairs and their space is on the right. They are vendors 2 and 18, as marked on the door.
As pickers, Mihm and Hamilton are having fun with their venture, frequently visiting their outlet space to "fluff" their merchandise. In addition to their flea market finds, the Princess Pickers offer clothing, jewelry, purses (many brand new) and furniture. See photographs of more of their merchandise on their Facebook site. Search Princess Pickers, Elkader.