We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley Wellman and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Ashley, what role has risk played in your life or career?
For anyone who knows me, I am a risk adverse person by nature. I actually despise it. Yet, the reason we are talking today about my creative career, is because I made a conscious decision to push aside fear and anxiety to reclaim a piece of myself that has been suppressed for far too long. I grew up as a creative, wanting to be on Broadway, but we all know the story. Art, theater, writing… that is a hobby. Not a job. However, at some point, I found myself asking, is the comfortably uncomfortable a path to happiness, health, and a life worth living? The moment I honestly answered “no,’ I knew that if I wanted my big dreams to come true, I owed it to myself to risk it all.

Today, I view risk like this: It is not a failure if your dreams do not pan out. The failure is not trying to achieve them.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Tell us about your art. How did you get to where I was?

I earned my PhD in Criminology, Law and Society in 2011 from the University of Florida, where I specialized in homicide. My academic career has focused on the surviving family members of cold case homicides and sexual assault survivors, allowing me to engage in research and advocacy efforts to support victims of violent crime. While my students, research, and many colleagues have forever impacted my life, the reality is, academia is a place that feels like an eternal battle. Far from my idyllic view of sharing knowledge, changing policy and celebrating alongside fellow scholars for one another’s progress, contributions and unique talents, I spend many nights worrying about toxic environments, deadlines, publications, evaluations, etc.

On August 12, 2018, the day before I began my new position at TCU, my husband (44) collapsed in our home and died as a result of a pulmonary embolism. My then 4-year-old daughter, Reagan, and I watched the traumatic, sudden event unfold and in an instant, my world was forever changed. As a widow and single mother, I was left to find a way to navigate grief for both myself and my little girl and to find a way to fulfill the last promise I made to my husband: give his daughter the magical life he would have provided. One of my dearest friends, Pat, challenged me to write creatively after seeing a picture of my daughter dancing with her best friend, Fresno, a posable skeleton. And… the rest is history. What started as a way to survive, became an avenue for healing, and is now unfolding into a way to thrive.

For my first children’s book, The Girl Who Dances with Skeletons: My Friend Fresno, I was partnered with the brilliant artist, Zac Kinkade (nephew of Thomas Kinkade). His illustrations brought our story to life. The story explores the unlikely friendship between a girl and a skeleton, celebrating messages of inclusion, self-acceptance, friendship and overcoming adversity. Parents and educators have used the story to discuss bullying, abuse, grief, and that being different is what makes us special. What started as a book, turned into a line of ancillary products (plush dolls, puzzles, coloring book), and Zac and I are currently working on book 2, Fresno’s First Christmas.

As the pandemic wore on, I continued to write and to network with authors and artists from around the world. After much research and self-exploration, I signed a lease on a store front in Eureka Springs, Arkansas to launch aMUSEd Fine Art & Extraordinary Books, a store focused on celebrating children’s literature and indie artistry. I have contracted with artists from Russia, Morocco, Spain, Iowa, and, of course, Texas, to illustrate children’s books for me and to design original art for the shop. When the doors to the public, I’ll be working behind the scenes to mentor and support indie authors and artists on how to step out of their comfort zone and market their work!
At first, I was worried that people would think I’m crazy (which I am), but the death of my husband taught me that life is far too short and so very precious. To do things that I do not love is a disservice to myself, my family, and the world around me. So watch out world… this criminologist mama is stepping out to be a gallery owner and dedicated author.

Was it easy?

Anything but! Grief changed my life and my place in the world radically. I had two options, lie down and be defeated or try to rebuild a life I wanted. So every day I wake up, put on my heart hat, and chip away at what that life looks like.
Beyond the day to day grind, concerns, responsibilities that each create challenges, being an artist is tough work! There is always a fear of putting your work out into the world. Something so straight from the heart being placed into the hands of a consumer makes you want to tuck your work into a locked desk door. Each book I sell creates a deep joy and a hope that our story will impact the heart and mind of the little one reading it.
I am stepping away from the conventional path to “success,” but I am confident that I’m stepping into a role that allows me to turn the page and continue to write one heck of a new chapter.

Lessons learned:

The biggest lesson I had to learn was that we are more than our titles and our careers. Our hearts, our minds, and our happiness matter. Now, I encourage people to listen to the advice we tell our children and apply it to your adult life. Take risks. Dream big. Believe in yourself. You are capable of anything.

What do you want the world to know about you, your brand/your story.

My brand is designed to make people smile. When people enter the world of aMUSEd, they enter an energetic, whimsical and fun environment. The ultimate goal is to maintain my connection to education by mentoring and partnering with local/indie authors and artists. I am not where I am today without a host of incredible humans behind me, who have lifted me, believed in me, and inspired me to be bigger than I believed I could be. I know it is my responsibility to pay that forward to other artists with dreams that are just one supporter away from coming true.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
When my friends pull into Fort Worth, they all will know my dream is to sit at home, play cards, watch movies and enjoy each other’s sisterhood. But as a good southern girl, I’ll have a whole week planned for their visit. You can’t enter our world without being exposed to performing and fine art. So, naturally, I would ensure my friends visit the Sid Richardson Museum downtown to sneak a peek at one of the world’s greatest collections of western art, featuring Remington and Russell. I’d also have tickets to the intimate experience of theater at Casa Manana. Beyond the amazing shows, they would get a chance to mingle with some of the greatest theater educators who have been pivotal in my daughter’s love of the stage. After booking a babysitter, we’d head to dinner on the balcony of Reata, catch an improv show at 3 Day Weekend, and if we are really rambunctious, we’d finish the night at Pop’s Safari Room Cigar Bar. No way we could resist a day at the Woodhouse Spa for the HydraFacial and a massage. It’s a private oasis away from the chaos of a big city. Finally, I’d take them to a TCU football game so we could watch my daughter run across the field and cheer on students of mine. After the victory, we’d head down to H3 Steakhouse in the Stockyards to dine within the true cowboy essence that is Fort Worth.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Looking back, the person who deserves the largest line in the credits of my life is my mother, Cindy Peake. There was not an event, moment, or experience in my life where my mother did not show up. In fact, I know now, she sacrificed many of her own dreams and goals to ensure that her children never wanted for anything and always had a cheerleader in their corner. Now that I am a mother, I know the days that look easy, the homemade costumes, the handwritten notes can come at a cost to the person making it all happen. I am forever grateful to be her daughter, and to be part of the next generation who is learning that my dreams and my daughter’s dreams can go hand in hand.

Website: www.myfriendfresno.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/myfriendfresno/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drashleywellman/

Twitter: www.twitter.com/myfriendfresno

Facebook: www.facebook.com/myfriendfresno

Other: Follow our journey with aMUSEd Fine Art & Extraordinary Books on Instagram, www.instagram.com/amusedfineart (@amusedfineart).

Image Credits
Headshots are by Krystal Dawn Studios Porch picture of me and my daughter: Cherished Moments by Candy Mclendon

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutDFW is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.