Martha Stewart is even prettier than you’d expect. She’s shorter, too. But meeting her in person only reemphasizes one important, oft-noted fact: The woman is a Big Deal.
Stewart was in Sarasota as a guest of the Ringling College of Art and Design’s digital filmmaking program, the school’s newest academic major. After speaking to a packed group of Ringling College students and supporters, she headed to the Siesta Key home of David Shoemaker and Yara Michaels, who were hosting a dinner party in her honor.
Despite sometimes being portrayed as aloof or difficult, the Stewart standing behind Shoemaker and Michaels’ kitchen counter is kind and gracious. Dressed in a white-collared, button-down shirt, brown cardigan, scarf, cropped khaki pants and flats, she responds thoughtfully to questions. And though she must have been tired—she traveled to Sarasota from North Carolina just that afternoon—she didn’t act it. “I didn’t get to see enough of the city,” she laments. “But I did get a very good tour of the college, and that was excellent.”
She was enthusiastic about Ringling’s digital filmmaking program. “It fits in with everything we [at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia] do,” she says. “We’re all about art and design and graphic design and photography and digital, and that’s exactly what they’re training young people to be experts in, so it’s perfect.”
Her advice to young people—like the Ringling students who attended her lecture? “Find something you like, that you're passionate about, that you want to learn a lot about, and dive in,” she says.
These days, in addition to homemaking, Stewart’s list of things she’s passionate about includes technology and social media. In fact, she’s a friend of Biz Stone, the co-founder of the wildly popular social media platform Twitter, who was in Sarasota the same day for a Farm Sanctuary event at Marina Jack—and at his event, Stone said he planned on texting Stewart to say hello.
With more than 2 million followers on Twitter, Stewart knows social networking is more than just a way to keep in touch. “It’s a very good tool for informing people about events, taking surveys, and getting ideas and opinions,” she says. “It’s instantaneous research, and it’s a very, very fine tool—if used well.”
She uses that research for the slew of projects she’s currently working on, like new television shows—particularly Martha Bakes, which recently premiered on the Hallmark Channel. “That was Baking 101,” she says with a smile. “Now we’re working on Baking 101.2. We have a lot of new initiatives.”
The initiative Stewart is perhaps most excited is about her new book, to be published this November. It’s a follow-up to her iconic Entertaining, which was published almost three decades ago, in 1982. “This is Volume Two—a very large-format, illustrated book that really sort of [shows] how my entertaining has changed over the last 30 years, since Entertaining was published,” she explains.
Add to this long list of professional projects one very important personal one—the impending birth of a grandchild (the baby is due “any minute!” Stewart says happily)—and it’s hard not to wonder how Stewart—or any of us, really—can ever truly unplug. When asked about her thoughts on how to do so in this age of laptops, BlackBerrys, iPhones and iPads, she smiles wryly.
“Turn off the computer!” she says. “Limit your time in front of it to a certain number of minutes a day—that’s really good advice. Garden, have animals, take care of the kids.”
Good tips, indeed, from someone who’s created an empire from the idea of living a gracious life.