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Omaha Magazine

Spaghetti Toes & HarpAndSquirrel Designs

May 27, 2022 02:47PM ● By Kara Schweiss
family plays in pink artroom

Photos by Bill Sitzmann

Michelle and Martin Bruckner, both creative types, were a hip young couple with cool interests and stimulating conversations. Then they became parents. 

“When our daughter was about 2, we were having dinner one night and she was playing with her spaghetti, putting it in her hair and dropping it down by her feet. Michelle looked at her and said, ‘Please don’t put spaghetti between your toes,’” Martin recalled. “I looked at Michelle and said, ‘This is our life now. This is what we talk about at dinner.’”   

  Despite the change in focus, the Bruckners love family life and they’ve never lost their sense of fun. Following the spaghetti toes conversation, Martin, a longtime art director for a clothing company, began writing down some of the “hilarious, adorable, and ridiculous things” said by the family and adding simple illustrations. 

“I made a little book on blurb.com and gave it to Michelle for Mother’s Day that year,” Martin said, adding that Michelle shared bits from the book on her Facebook page. “People got a kick out of them, so we started a little Facebook page called Spaghetti Toes. It went all over the internet.” 

Workman Publishing got word and reached out, which led to a 2017 book called I Love You with All My Butt!: An Illustrated Book of Big Thoughts from Little Kids.

Longtime crafter Michelle had already started her business HarpAndSquirrel Designs and launched an Etsy shop for cute and funny baby products, such as mustache pacifiers. Martin began using the existing channel, first to sell Spaghetti Toes artwork with quotes, and later branching out to custom pieces with Martin’s artwork showcasing customers’ own unique sayings, as well as family portraits and original artwork. He even began selling T-shirts and stickers with custom designs.

“When the Spaghetti Toes story went viral, we just added to HarpAndSquirrel. Before we knew it, we had 500 orders from people from all over the world,” Michelle said. 

HarpAndSquirrel continues to feature Spaghetti Toes items and custom art, along with Martin’s art, primarily memorial and topical designs. Spaghetti Toes lives on via Facebook as well, although now that daughter Harper is 10, her artwork is more likely to be featured than her quips (and she insists on being asked for permission, Michelle said). Martin is quick to point out, her art “gets more likes than mine.”  He has recently been involved with an animated series in development, and the Bruckners have ideas for several children’s books. But as busy parents and entrepreneurs, they’re always trying to find more time. 

“We’re kind of open to anything,” Martin said. “We’ll see where it takes us.”

Frequent customer Caroline Downing has commissioned several custom pieces and purchased other merchandise from the Etsy site. 

“My church looked after a kitty, and when she passed away, Marty did a great illustration of Church Kitty and our little church,” Downing said. “An ‘I like makeup and I like bad guys’ [print] is in my bathroom. Most recently, my mom got me a piece for my birthday of my ‘city kitty’ friends in a limo. I’m so proud of how Spaghetti Toes has grown into a phenomenon. The pieces I had made are the best keepsakes, and I have a piece in every room of my apartment.”

Another frequent customer, Denese Koza, especially treasures memorial art Martin created to honor her two beloved dogs. The work, a 10-year anniversary piece, now appears as a sample on the HarpAnd-Squirrel Etsy page. 

“From what I told [Martin], he ‘got it’ and put it together, like there was some cosmic connection. It’s one of my favorite pieces,” Koza said. “I trust him completely that he will come up with something absolutely amazing.” 

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.