Spotlight Iowa City: Turning faces into art

BY JON FRANK | NOVEMBER 02, 2010 7:15 AM

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Lori Strasburger’s eyebrows lower as her forehead creases with concentration. The face of the little girl who sits in front of Strasburger is transforming into a black and gold spider web — a pregame tribute to both the Hawkeyes and Halloween.

Strasburger’s final product is artfully sponged with pinpoint accurate lines and a clean pattern — no smudges, no mistakes. The intricate detail and well thought-out design spans from cheek to cheek of the girl’s face.

Based on the quality of her work, it would seem Strasburger had been painting children’s faces her entire life. But the UI alumna’s makeup experience only goes back to June 2009.

Strasburger, 65, first tried her hand at face painting while hosting a fairy-theme party for her granddaughters.

“It was such a hit at the birthday party my granddaughter said, ‘Well, grandma, come and do it for my birthday party’... I was having a lot of fun with it.

“Then last November, I retired,” the Marion native said. “I sat around for like three weeks saying, ‘I’m not having fun now; what do I do with myself?’”

Since her business opened in January, her list of customers has ballooned.

“A couple of weeks ago, I was painting almost every single day,” Strasburger said. “We go into preschools and daycares ... If people want us, they have to book us early. Business is just great.”

Strasburger’s schedule became so hectic that she enlisted her daughter, Anne Mackenzie — a former cosmetologist — to help carry the load.

Mackenzie, 41, said Strasburger’s ambition and energy play in the business’ success. Mackenzie recalls her mother always being on the go from a young age.

“She has always had one or two jobs all the time, she’s always working,”Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie said Strasburger’s high energy has been passed down to her. Mackenzie rattled off event after event the two have worked together — including Hooverfest, Hog Wild Days, Lone Tree Festival, and a three-day-long renaissance fair, to name a few.

“[Strasburger] is really detailed when she paints faces,” said Christy Lamar, the manager of the Play Station — an indoor playground for children located in Cedar Rapids. “Kids see someone with his face painted and then they’re standing in line waiting to get theirs done.”

Strasburger initially invested $5,000 in the company, most of which was spent on a barrage of water-washable face paints she purchased from a cosmetology store located in Florida. She says she is willing to spend extra money on high quality paint.

After a hectic career, she said, her new business is leisurely in nature compared with past jobs.

“I spent all my business years in sales,” she said. “My last two jobs, I was on the road traveling the whole state of Iowa. So this is a piece of cake; I’m loving it. And I can work when I want to.”

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