Monday, February 14, 2011

Blue Mountain Cards

Company History:

Blue Mountain Arts, Inc. publishes cards, books, calendars, prints, and other gift items which feature the company's signature style: poetry and prose printed on a backdrop of colorful nature illustrations. The company offers over 1,000 designs of everyday, all-occasion greeting cards in addition to holiday and special day greeting cards. In addition, over 1,000 Blue Mountain card designs are deliverable through electronic mail from the company's Internet domain. By the late 1990s, Blue Mountain Arts had sold more than 350 million greeting cards and 16 million books of prose and poetry. Their products, sold worldwide, have been translated into French, German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Finnish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Hebrew, and Afrikaans.

Togetherness Creates a Business in the 1970s

Blue Mountain Arts combines the complementary creative abilities of artist Stephen Schutz and poet Susan Polis Schutz. Before founding the company Stephen was employed as a physicist at an atmospheric research center in Boulder, Colorado, while Susan taught English and pursued free-lance writing. The initial intention was not to develop a business, but to unite their hobbies as a catalyst for togetherness. Stephen superimposed Susan's free-form poems on his watercolor paintings of mountain and human silhouettes. Stephen and Susan created posters that expressed their thoughts about life, love, and nature, which reflected the hippie stylings of the early 1970s.

Upon seeing the pictures in the couple's home, friends commented on their salability. The business took hold when the two convinced the manager of a local Boulder bookseller to offer a dozen posters for sale on a consignment basis. The posters sold quickly and other stores began to carry the posters as well.

When Stephen and Susan transferred their poster designs to greeting cards, they innovated the all-occasion greeting card in two ways. The first innovation was their development of an all-occasion card which was blank inside, in which personal messages could be written. The second innovation was the inclusion of Susan's poetry, which was intimate and sentimental. Previously, standard greeting card messages included poetry of a rhymed, more formal style. Susan's emotional, free-form poetry reflected an era that rejected such conventions in favor of heartfelt self-expression.

Stephen and Susan transformed their creative aspirations into a business in 1971 when the couple founded Blue Mountain Arts. The Schutzes rented the main floor of the home in which they lived to support the business, while they lived in the basement. The two traveled around the United States, in a pick-up truck with a camper shell on the back, and sold their artwork at stores and trade shows along the way.

Blue Mountain Arts products found a loyal customer base, and business expanded accordingly. The product line expanded to include calendars, stationery, and gift books. Moreover, Susan wrote a book of poetry entitled, Come into the Mountains, Dear Friend, which Blue Mountain Arts published in 1972. The book was highly successful and others books followed, including Peace Flows from the Sky (1974) and Someone Else to Love (1976). Greeting cards and another gift book, published in 1974, contained prose quoted from such diverse authors as Mark Twain, Kahlil Gibran, and Helen Keller. As with the cards and posters, the written contents of the books were complemented with Stephen Schutz's illustrations.

After five years, the company had achieved great success; Blue Mountain Arts had grown to approximately $7 million in sales in 1976. The company's product line included 24 poster and stationery designs, 120 card designs, eight calendars, and 40 inspirational scrolls, sold through over 12,000 retail outlets. The company had also published 16 books of poetry and inspirational prose. Many of their products were available in several languages. Having employed several kindred artists and writers, Blue Mountain Arts soon entered the business of traditional greeting cards as well, providing holiday, birthday, and other special day cards for the first time in 1981.

During this time, their innovation and success attracted attention to the Schutzes and Blue Mountain Arts. Popular magazines including Time, American Home, Marriage Encounter, Family Weekly, and People, featured stories on the company. The business also attracted the attention of Hallmark Cards, Inc., the largest company in the greeting card industry. In 1985 Hallmark approached Blue Mountain Arts with an offer to acquire it or to engage in joint ventures. Stephen and Susan Schutz refused, however, deciding that their company embodied their values and a partner or parent might cramp their style.

1986--88 Legal Dispute with Hallmark

In April 1986, while shopping in a California card store, Susan Polis Schutz was surprised to mistake Hallmark's Personal Touch line of greeting cards for her own company's Airbrush Feelings and Watercolor Feelings line of greetings cards. Blue Mountain Arts contacted Hallmark by letter, noting the similarity and asking the latter to forgo production and distribution of the Personal Touch line. When Hallmark refused, Blue Mountain Arts hired a specialist in intellectual property rights and filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver for violation of the company's trade dress and copyright. In November 1986 Blue Mountain Arts won a preliminary injunction which required Hallmark to remove 83 of the 90 offending cards from stores until the dispute was resolved. Hallmark followed the court order but distributed 83 new, similar card designs in the meantime.

While Hallmark conceded that it had copied the Blue Mountain Arts style, it did not view the practice as illegal and appealed to higher courts. In August 1987, Hallmark filed a brief in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which contained the expert opinion of the Society of Illustrators, a prestigious, non-profit organization in New York City. The opinion stated that a monopoly on a particular artistic style should not allowed. Upon examining the brief, however, Blue Mountain Arts lawyers found the words "Property of Hallmark Cards Creative Department" stamped on the back of an exhibit. The lawyers then submitted a plea to the U.S. Court of Appeals to reject the brief based on Hallmark's obvious association with the Society of Illustrators. Eventually, the Court rejected the brief and upheld the injunction in May 1988.

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