Marin snapshot: Melanoma prompts Nicasio woman to design parasols
Leslie Harlib - Marin IJ

NICASIO, California, July 26, 2008

High on a remote hilltop in Nicasio, in a rambling ranch-style home reachable only by driving switchback roads over two mountains, Priscilla Troy is surrounded by parasols. Her business, Priscilla's Parasols, launched a month ago, with hundreds of different designs and a Web site,

The 61-year-old artist was born and raised in Georgia. She had a 40-year career as an advertising graphics designer, art director and small agency owner. Now, she's designing parasols radically different from the colorful Asian-motif paper umbrellas with which most people are familiar. Some of Troy's creations are inspired by the Victorian and art deco eras. They're made from fabrics foraged at auctions, flea markets and out-of-the-way antique stores and embellished with vintage handles, beadwork, feathers and frills. Or they might be practical and contemporary-looking, covered with sunblock-treated fabrics that would look as at home in modern draperies or furniture as they are on an umbrella frame.

Q: How did you get the idea to go into the parasol business?

A: I went back to the San Francisco Art Institute for graduate school when I was 55. I studied a lot of new genres. It gave me confidence that I had a lot of new ideas to bring to the table. Then in 2007 I took a course called "The Business of Art," put on by the Center for Cultural Innovation at the Marin Arts Council headquarters. What I learned from my years in advertising was about how to be profitable, how to budget and how to deliver on time. During this time I got diagnosed with melanoma. I was immediately thrown into the circumstance of needing sun protection everywhere I went. I was invited to an outdoor wedding and took a parasol with me, a pretty one from Chinatown that I decorated with paper flowers. It was a huge hit. At every wedding I went to, people would ask me where I got it and where could they get one. I thought I could build a business around this.

Q: Where do you make the parasols?

A: I'm currently working with a factory in a remote part of China where they've been hand-making parasols for 1,000 years. It's deep in the mountains and takes 17 hours to get there by train from the nearest city. We're working out the designs to mass produce the frames, which will be made of sustainable bamboo. Currently, they're being made for me by a woman in the Mission and another one in Oakland.

Q: Have you designed a variety of sizes and shapes as well as fabrics?

A: Yes. Some will be almost as large as golf umbrellas. Some are as small as 12 inches. I have one that's shaped like a triangle. I use kite shapes as inspiration as well as traditional parasol shapes from around the world.

Q: Why do you think parasols will be a viable business?

A: It's an excellent time to do something like this because people are aware of how important it is to protect their skin and stay out of the sun. My slogan is, "Wear ever the sun shines." I'm planning to work primarily with businesses, who'll be able to brand the parasols with their logos and names. I can also have the parasols printed with a reproduction of an artwork. They're pretty. And they're a lot of fun. You can flirt with them. You can go to the beach, lie under one and protect yourself, or hold it over your head and get full protection. They're light. And they say, "Look at me." You carry an umbrella, but you wear a parasol.