This Grandma Makes Thousands of Dollars Selling Moose Turds as Art
Behold the marketing genius of Maine's Mary Winchenbach, a miracle worker who built a thriving business out of poo and puns.
Images courtesy Tirdy Works
A 57-year-old grandma in Maine might be the greatest bullshit —er, moose shit—artist in the world. Somerville resident Mary Winchenbach has spent the last 15 years selling people shit. They order it online from as far away as Russia. Hundreds of pounds of moose shit flows through her house, where she dries it, waterproofs it, paints it, and packages it for her eager customers.
Winchenbach runs a store called “Tirdy Works,” which has been cruising the Northeastern American craft fair circuit for a decade and a half. [A note on spelling: Winchenbach firmly believes "tird" should be spelled with an "i," not a "u," and intends to contact Webster's Dictionary about it. For our purposes here, we've gone with the traditional spelling.] After a recent, adorable segment about her on a local NBC affiliate, she moved her store online and has been fielding thousands of orders for tchotchkes made from scavenged and processed moose turds collected from the woods around her home.
She rattles off her products with the speed and energy of an auctioneer or a used car salesman: “The first thing that we have is instead of a cuckoo clock is a poo poo clock and we crammed the turds in between the numbers so it would be one turdy, two turdy, three turdy. Now, like any high-quality shirt with the extra buttons on the tail, we provide four extra turds on the back with explicit turd attachment instructions. In addition to that, we're working on incorporating the machines so when it strikes the hour it's gonna go [fart noise].”
It’s a professional and well-practiced bit Winchenbach compares to stand-up comedy. “I get excited about my turds," she tells me on the phone. "And when I talk about it I feed off the laughter. The more people laugh, the faster I'll go.” You get a taste of her routine in the NBC segment...
What the video doesn’t quite capture is Winchenbach's branding genius. She has turned her whole life to shit, and turned that shit into gold. The email address listed on her Facebook page is holycrap[at]midcoast[dot]com. In her off hours, she and a staff of five shoot the shit, come up with shitty products, and then crank shit out to sell on her shitty online store. “I've been blessed with shit for brains,” she says. No shit!
It’s a maxim that a great salesman can sell a glass of water to a drowning man. But Winchenbach, whose day job is at an area fertilizer testing lab, can sell literal bullshit to an international audience. She recalls one particularly stunning sale at a craft fair a few years back. “I took a great big piece of cow poop, stuck it on a platter, and set it off the table amongst all the moose turds. I never talked about it all week. Finally some guy says, ‘Well, what's that?’ I said, 'That's bullshit.' He gives me $5 for it.”
Winchenbach would earn the good leads from Glengarry Glen Ross without breaking a sweat. She is a closer.
It’s not just raw marketing talent that drives the engine that powers her growing business. It’s hard work. She’s filled five notebooks with “shitty ideas.” Some that have made it to market include fecal people ("Depending on the shape of the middle turds there, we can do them with big boobs or guts or butts or long legs or short legs, see, cuz there are no two turds that are ever alike" she told NBC), a poo poo platter (literally a platter made of poo), a shitty eye deer (a drawing of a deer with turds for eyes, pronounced “shitty idea”), Moose-l Toe for the holidays, a roach clip with a moose shit handle, and, for the truly daring, moose turd earrings.
Her operation includes a shit-drying station, a trade secret organic shit-sealing agent that keeps the turds from stinking, and so much shipping and handling the local post office sends people to help out. Since the NBC segment, Tirdy Works is growing almost too fast for Winchenbach to handle.
“I have shit from one end of this house to the other, trying to get these orders out and processing these turds,” she said. “I'm running out of space. I got shit all over the kitchen table.”
Business has grown so big and so fast, in fact, Winchenbach is taking a leave of absence from her fertilizer gig to handle the more than two thousand orders that have been filling her house with shit. She may need to expand even more ambitiously to keep up. “You know what I need?” she asks. “I need a shit shack.”
Right now she’s focused on getting out from under the pile of shit in her house, but has big ideas for her art. I brought up the Viennese art collective Gelatin, which famously displayed four giant piles of fake excrement at a gallery in Rotterdam.
“You know what? I think they have to get my shit down there in that gallery," she says. "I would like to promote my turds because this is some good shit.”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.