Meet Lee Moretz, owner of First Colony Engraving, Smithfield
Four hundred years ago, when the area that would later become Isle of Wight County was first settled, and prior to the invention of the printing press or photographic process, the art of engraving was an essential skill. Today that ancient tradition continues at First Colony Engraving, a specialty gift and engraving shop, by artist, engraver and owner, Lee Moretz – though Lee uses slightly more up-to-date tools.
Becoming a small business entrepreneur came naturally to Lee. Her family converted a grocery store that her great-grandparents and great-aunt owned and operated for over 50 years into the Great Dismal Swamp Art Gallery. The gallery operated for over 26 years until closing in the early 2000s.
But Lee felt compelled to create her own art and express herself through her passion for creating and designing one-of-a-kind items. As Lee describes it, “I love creating a vision in my mind and then seeing it through until the final product is completed, whether it be designing and engraving a decorative cutting board or a larger project such as a wall of photographs engraved and placed in collage fashion on wood.”
So Lee took a leap of faith and opened First Colony Engraving, located in the heart of downtown Smithfield at 207C Main Street. She knew she had a product that would sell since prior to opening the shop in December of 2013, she had been working on custom engraved art and products for four years out of her home. She was convinced though that there was a niche in town that her new shop would fill. And she was right!
Lee has created a multi-sensory experience in her shop. Visitors are immediately greeted with music, typically classical, the rich aroma of scented candles and seasonal decorations. Lee’s skilled hand is seen in the many examples of engraved and laser-etched items that fill the store. Text, graphics, photos – whatever the customer requests – have been artistically added to a large array of gifts and keepsakes such as holiday ornaments, photographs, plaques, cutlery, recipe boxes, glassware, awards, and more.
The shop offers great gift ideas for weddings, retirements, births, housewarming, and holidays, as well as awards and recognition gifts. Customer favorites include wooden baby blocks, Bible and book covers, and cutting boards engraved with handwritten recipes.
One of Lee’s favorite commissions was the “Tree of Hands” now on display at the Christian Outreach Center on Grace Street. Each hand was laser cut and engraved with the names of donors to the Center.
Lee’s heart and soul go into each item as evidenced by her customers’ responses. “The customers that stand out are those who have shed tears, given hugs, told stories, or otherwise let me know what the gift has meant to them or to someone else.”
While Lee has honed her laser-etching and engraving skills, her artistic background gives her the unique ability to also add hand-painting to many of her designs. Her mother and grandmother were artists and Lee herself paints. In fact, her first art exhibit was a mother/daughter show in Chesapeake when Lee was in junior high.
But it takes a special skill for an artist to be able to translate that ability into computer language to prepare it for engraving. “It really comes down to what you do with the knowledge, skills, vision and talent you have that makes the engraving turn out to be the best it can be.”
This Chesapeake native, who now calls Smithfield home, is proud to say that First Colony Engraving is a one-woman, owned and operated business. “I can think of no other thing that I have enjoyed more than creating and owning my own business. I have designed everything from the window and door graphics to the bags labels, order forms, invoices, and business cards.”
Of course, Lee enjoys the full support of her husband, Danny and son Daniel, as well as furry encouragement from Whiskers, the family cat and Charlie, the beloved Yorkie she was given, once owned by a dear church friend of hers who passed away (who often keeps Lee company at the shop and is another customer favorite!).
Most people don’t know that Lee taught high school English for 15 years in local schools before “retiring” to homeschool her son. She and her family are very involved with their church, traveling on local and international mission trips including several trips to Romanian orphanages and schools. They have been involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and the “Out of the Darkness Walk,” a yearly event to raise awareness of depression, a treatable disease and awareness of suicide, which is preventable. (SOS-walk.org).
Sadly, Lee will be relocating with her family to New York state at the end of the year, but First Colony Engraving will continue. “The business is very viable with lots of growth potential. I am in the process of selling the business to someone who is also very creative, and I am confident that it will continue as an important service offered in Smithfield.”
While the community will be very sorry to see Lee and her family go, Lee has certainly left her mark here with the many beautiful, unique gifts she created for so many. And more than that, Lee has learned the true secret to success which she has graciously agreed to pass on. It’s really pretty simple. “True joy comes from using your skills and talents to benefit others.” And that’s what Lee has done at First Colony Engraving for the past several years.
Thanks for sharing your joy and talents with us. We wish you all the very best in your new home and your new artistic adventures!
First Colony Engraving
207C Main Street in downtown Smithfield, VA