Roxborough resident takes her artistic talent to the Whole Foods chalkboards
October 4, 2012By Matthew Grady for NewsWorks
Tegan Bellitta works at the Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
I like to call us 'the creative stewards' of the store
- Tegan Bellitta, Whole Foods store artist from Roxborough.
From illustrations of apples to detailed genre pieces in the Art Nouveau style of Alphonse Mucha, it's all in a day's work for Tegan Bellitta.
Bellitta, 30, is a store artist for Whole Foods Market in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. Bellitta, of Roxborough, joined Whole Foods in 2006, when she started in the North Wales, Pa. store.
As one of two artists at the store, Bellitta is in charge of all the signage, creating illustrations for chalkboards that attract customers to produce, special sales and other organic products – over 200 such signs by her own estimates. She also works on three-dimensional pieces, portraits of team members, murals, and whatever else catches her keen illustrator's eye.
"I like to call us 'the creative stewards' of the store," Bellitta said.
The role of a Whole Foods artist
A tour of the store, led by Bellitta and her design colleague Jen Kelly, is a testament to the prevalence of their handiwork – and that of their chalk marker, which they say is their principal illustrative instrument.
It begins outside, where the would-be patron is captured by the size and scope of an autumnally-themed window mural, which flanks the entranceway and incorporates stickers designed in-house along with the ubiquitous chalk marker, which is similar to a paint pen.
Reinforcing the omnipresence of their craft, an A-frame display adjacent to the mural bears the signature Whole Foods font known as the "Molly font," found on practically every display in and out of the market. There's uniformity – but also a personal touch on every letter.
"You can tell the differences between her handwriting and mine," said Kelly, to which Bellitta replied, "At least we can."
Much of their work takes place backstage in the store's conference room, where the two can spread their work out. Time management is key – there's usually multiple projects going on at the same time, be it creating new signs, erasing old ones, or taking on more ambitious projects like the portraits of their team members that grace several departments.
In addition to the chalk marker, Bellitta and Kelly utilize digital technology like Adobe Illustrator to assist in their creation.
"We're trained on that," said Bellitta, observing both she and Kelly had graphic design training as part of her coursework in college.
"I think the majority of the people who have our job have bachelor's degrees in art," she continued. "You have to have the training for that aspect of the design part – it's hard to just pick that up."
A 'dream come true'
In fact, Bellitta's artistic training might have begun in utero. Her mother was an artist, and worked for years at The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough.
"My mother definitely facilitated my career," said Bellitta, noting that early encouragement – and a lot of sketchbooks – influenced her immensely. Traveling from her family home next to Gorgas Park, Bellitta graduated from John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School in Center City – she admits she was the "art teacher's pet" – and took additional after-school classes at the nearby Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Bellitta completed her training at her mother's alma mater, Moore College of Art and Design in Center City, graduating in 2003 with a concentration in illustration. After a few years of freelance art work, teaching, and a day job, she was browsing on Craigslist in 2006 for additional opportunities and happened upon a listing for a store artist position at the Whole Foods in North Wales, Pa.
After applying – and undergoing a "chalk test" – the job was hers. In 2009, she came to the Plymouth Meeting location, which opened in 2010.
"I wasn't even looking for a full-time job," said Bellitta, remarking on her good fortune. "It was like a dream come true."
Setting a standard for a job in the arts
Bellitta's dreams are appearing to have an impact.
"It really helps to contribute to the customer experience," related Amy Chidichimo, marketing team leader at the Plymouth Meeting Whole Foods. Chidichimo said that each store has one or two in-store artists, largely depending upon the size of the store – and the number of chalkboards, with Plymouth Meeting's 200-plus chalkboards ranking the store second place in the region.
While Chidichimo observed that Whole Foods stores are similar from location to location, the hand drawn signs create an "original experience" from store to store.
"The customers are in awe," she said, specifically citing Bellitta and Kelly's mural. "The customers did not know we have talented people creating art in the store."
Belena Chapp, director of the Locks Career Center at Moore College, wasn't personally acquainted with Bellitta or her work, but said "it sounds like a good gig."
Chapp said that students entering college are increasingly aware of the job market and college costs, and are spending their time networking and gaining skill-sets that are transferrable among disciplines and career paths.
For experienced career artists like Bellitta, they are in a position to influence the industry.
"Being a journeyman artist," said Chapp, "you set the standard for how the job is done."
And while an artist's career path is perhaps less clearly defined than other disciplines, Chapp believes that the field will continue to define itself, with new technologies and trades requiring time-tested techniques continuing to drive the job market.
"In ten years, there will be jobs we can't even think of," she predicted.