Alumni Profiles is an ongoing series highlighting successful graduates who, with a SUNY education, achieved interesting and influential careers.
Erica Bapst is an artist, entrepreneur, and community member. She received an A.A.S. in Graphic Arts from Finger Lakes Community College in 1998 before committing to complete a B.F.A. in Metalsmithing from nearby Syracuse University in 2001.
Ms. Bapst opened her boutique, Adorn, in Canandaigua in 2004. Half of the jewelry pieces featured in the Central New York boutique are her own creations that she creates from wide variety of materials ranging from copper to freshwater pearls. Ms. Bapst believes that “wearing jewelry is all about self expression and celebrating life” and poises jewelry as something that goes beyond an accessory.
Ms. Bapst is a member of the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce and Board Member of the Downtown Canandaigua Merchants Association. She regularly shows jewelry, paintings and sculpture through her alma mater and donates a portion of the proceeds from those items to the FLCC Art Student Supply Fund that she started in 2010.
Last year, Ms. Bapst was named a “Woman of Distinction” by the Professional Women of the Finger Lakes for her entrepreneurship and for “Outstanding Alumni Art Achievement” by the Finger Lakes Community College Alumni Association.
1. You attended FLCC to get started at a two-year school. Why did you “commit to complete” a four-year degree, and was it your plan from the start?
Yes, it was my plan all along. That’s what I was supposed to do. I started out at FLCC with graphic design and transferred into the communication design at Syracuse University. I quickly decided that communication design was actually something I did not wish to spend the rest of my life doing. Originally, out of high school, I wanted to go into metalsmithing. However, once I realized that I wanted to do more, the foundation skill set helped me make the switch.
2. As a small business owner, you are responsible for a myriad of things. Is this role something you imagined yourself in through your education? Was it a natural step or something else? How did you start your business?
I guess for a good portion of my life, it was lingering in my the back of my mind but it wasn’t a straightforward goal. As things progressed in life, opportunities arose. It happened organically and just grew. As I finished my bachelor degree, I took a job in a store that did jewelry design and repairs and really liked it. Through circumstance, I eventually found myself running that store. My mom, as my drive toward everything, pointed out a vacant space for me to move to in order to go on my own. I was 24 and didn’t think I was ready, but my mom did, and she helped me get my start.
I worked my heart out and worked every single day for one to maximize my customer base. “Slow and steady wins the race.” “Do it as you can afford it.” It turned out to be the perfect time in life. If I were to go back and open up in the same way I did today, it would be impossible.
3. You are an advocate for giving current FLCC students opportunities to delve into the arts. Can you speak to this?
I work with the College’s Honors House on the FLCC Student Art Fund, where I sell a certain amount of things and a portion of the proceeds go to this fund. The art department uses the support for extra art supplies that the students would otherwise have to supply themselves. Sometimes, it helps bring in something different that the budget cannot normally bring in.
4. How did SUNY and your education help prepare you for life and your career, overall?
Everything I learned at FLCC, I use every day of my life. It is the foundation of my career. I tell everybody that the experience was so amazing and the group of professors that I learned from and gave me attention was incredible. I am thankful for that every day of my life. I do all of my own design work for the store and, as much as I initially didn’t want to go in the graphics program (thanks, Mom!), I have saved myself so much money over the years.
5. What advice do you have for current SUNY students who may either be pursuing art and design or entrepreneurs?
Make sure you love what you do because if you are going to do something entrepreneurial, you have no time off. As you go home, work continues — your brain continues to think about what you do. My customers love that about me. I love what I do and my enthusiasm resonates through the community. I love going to work every day. Finally, consistency is key. You need to be there for your customers because they are there for you.
Maxwell was a Coordinator of Digital Engagement for The State University of New York.