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Skin deep: Handmade beauty products among offerings at art center show

Monica King displays products in her Discordia's Apple skin care line.

WORTHINGTON -- When Monica King was pondering a name for her line of handmade soaps and lotions, her interest in mythology provided inspiration. In particular, a story about Discordia (also known as Eris) -- goddess of strife, discord, contention and rivalry -- caught her fancy.

"In mythology, when Peleus and Thetis were getting married, Zeus was giving out the invitations, and he didn't invite Discordia," explained King.

The snub didn't set well with the disagreeable goddess, so she showed up anyway -- crashing the party, King continued, and when she was refused admittance to the festivities, Discordia threw a golden apple, inscribed with the words "To the fairest" among the other goddesses who were gathered there. The apple caused a squabble among the female deities, and their rivalry brought about the events that led to the Trojan War.

So King dubbed her product line Discordia's Apple.

"It just came to me right away," she explained. "I make beauty products. It's a little abstract, but still relatable."

King, currently an art student at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, will share her Discordia's Apple products, along with some other handmade items, during the Holiday Show & Sale at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington.

Although she hails from Jeannette, Pa., a community south of Pittsburgh, King has a connection to the local community -- her fiancé, Joe Von Holtum, son of Mary and the late Dave Von Holtum of Worthington. It was a shared interest that initially brought the two together across the long distance.

"Joe and I used to play video games online," King explained. "That's how we met. We became really good friends, really clicked online. Eventually the question was asked: Do you want to be in a relationship?"

King and VonHoltum first came face-to-face in the spring of 2008, when VonHoltum made the trip to Pennsylvania. Six weeks later, King repaid the visit.

"We clicked in person, too," she said.

The connection was strong enough, in fact, to influence King to pursue an art degree at USD -- where VonHoltum has completed his studies and is now contemplating a career in radio -- although she admits the strong printing program at the university was also a factor.

"Frogman's Press is there," she said, referring to a prestigious workshop that is offered at USD every summer. "It's quite an exclusive thing to spend the summer with Frogman's at the school. I haven't had the chance yet, since this was just my first semester at USD and I missed the signup, but I hope to do it next summer."

Having grown up in an urban area, King also claims a fondness for the open spaces of the Midwest.

"I like the smaller towns out here," she said, "how you can tell when one town ends and another begins. You don't have that out East."

While printmaking is her passion, King dabbles in a number of other creative enterprises, including sewing, crocheting and making soaps and lotions.

"I started experimenting with soap-making about two and a half years ago," she explained. "My mom and I were at a local craft store and saw the bases for making soap, and my mom said, 'We should try this.' By that, she meant, 'You should make soap.'"

So King bought the supplies and set out to make a better -- and natural -- soap to care for her own sensitive skin.

"When I started out, it was a lot of trial and error," she admitted. "It's hard to find natural additives that work well together. You have to be careful what you add in to make the bar smooth. The first thing I made was a green tea and goat's milk soap. I was using loose-leaf tea, and the leaves expanded. I learned to used chopped leaves; it makes it much nicer."

At first, the endeavor was a private one.

"I mostly just made it for my mom and me, and she sent some to her sister," King said. "Once I moved out here, I got going to make soaps to sell online."

King prides herself on using only the best ingredients.

"I start out with 100 percent pure vegetable glycerin soap base and add organic coconut or olive oil, to make it froth up better," she explained about the soap. "It lathers better with oil in it. In the soaps I make, there are very few inorganic chemicals. Since 60 percent of what is put on the skin is absorbed into it, you're getting much better things into your skin. A lot of soaps are technically detergents, not soaps.

The process begins with melting everything down, although the mixture can't be poured into molds until it's just barely above body temperature -- about 110 degrees, King specified.

"If I add anything to it, I have to keep whisking to keep everything where it's supposed to be," she noted. "I like to use organic green tea, and I'm trying to find locally produced honey in South Dakota. Those are two of my favorite things to add. I also like witch hazel, because I have acne treatment soaps, and it gets this nice woodsy smell when you add it to the green tea and honey."

Green tea, in particular, is an antioxidant.

"I like its smell and its properties," King explained. "It brings all the nastiness up to the surface of the skin where the suds wash it away. Green tea has definitely been a mainstay in my ingredient list."

Through her experimentations, King has expanded her line to include lotions, lip balms and body scrubs.

"Lotion is definitely the most tricky," she said. "The trickiest part is you have to blend oils with water, and if you've ever been in chemistry class, you know you can't do that at room temperature. You have to get it really hot, almost to the boiling point."

There have been a few products that haven't turned out exactly as King hoped.

"I tried to make shampoo bars -- solid bars of a shampoo soap," she shared. "I found a recipe online, and it didn't work at all. It was too oily. I ended up throwing the whole batch out."

King's new enterprise includes an online Etsy store:, where she markets what she calls "artisan handcrafted skincare and accessories." She's also excited to share her creations with a local clientele through the art center.

"I'm going to bring all my soaps, scrubs, lotions, and also some sewn accessories that I make -- scarves, hats, things like that," King said. "I've been sewing since I was 6 years old. The hats I've made -- people call them Russian hats -- are fake fur hats. I'll also have some fleece scarves and crocheted scarves."

While King hopes to put some cash in her pocket in the process, she makes beauty products because it's something she really enjoys doing and learning about.

"I've spent a lot of time studying the effects of things on the skin," she said. "If I fail at being an artist, I figure I could be a dermatologist instead."

The opening reception for artists participating in the Holiday Show & Sale will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center. The show will continue through Dec. 27. Hours are 2 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Phone 372-8245 for more information. All vendors will donate a portion of their proceeds to the gallery.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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