FULTON, Texas — Jane Guinn has been overtaken by stick people, with a message as simple as their five-line physique: respect.
It began in 1992 when a mental image of a lanky blue stick character pestered Guinn's plan for decorating a papier-mache children's bucket with positive images and words. Now she uses the 21-year-old bucket as a foot rest at Stickman Stew Studios. Its namesake's "Steward of respect" character, now crew leader of 22 patented stick folks, has been manufactured 40,000 times. After two decades of wrangling some 40 sales reps in 19 states and committing with a China-based manufacturer, this week Guinn's troupe of twig characters debut in New York City at the 111th Toy Industry Association's American international show — Toy Fair 2014.
Guinn's Heart of Gold crew range from bendable 13-inch-tall characters to foam-stuffed life-size versions, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/1oOwIAT) reported.
All carry Stew's Slogan: Respect life, each other, yourself and the world.
Guinn has given away 10,000 Stews to measure response and build its brand of caring hearts united.
"I was seeing an increase of violence in young people's lives," said Guinn, a 60-year-old marketing analyst who moved to Corpus Christi at age 19 from New York with her parents. "We needed an opposite alternative."
A stickman triggers no defenses, she said.
"A stick character is something we all claim," Guinn said, "it's the first thing we all draw."
Stew's message of respect appeals to people of all walks of life.
Myra Lombardo, vice president of public broadcasting affiliate KEDT, gave 10 Stickman Stews to members of a nine-week stress-busting program a couple of years ago that she attended through the Area Agency on Aging. They were learning coping skills to care take of senior family members.
"Even caregivers don't always know where to go for comfort," Lombardo said. "Stew's a good silent companion for difficult times — you just look at him and you say, 'I feel better.'
"I told everyone they could dress him up, with cowboy hats, boots, glasses, and take him along. I asked them to send me photos and some of them have."
Guinn began marketing Stew, and his crew with accessories, in 1997 from a kiosk in the former Padre Staples Mall.
The range of interest was surprising, she said.
"Sometimes rough-looking guys in their 20s would pick them up, read their card and then cuddle them," she said. "Some would say: 'We need more of these.'"
Little boys pretended to fly them like airplanes and girls with eyeglasses grabbed the ones wearing spectacles.
Guinn took her characters to elementary schools to teach students about respect.
"I'm always blown away by their responses," she said. "One student thanked me, and said she learned respect was when 'daddy isn't hitting mommy.'"
She also visited Driscoll Children's Hospital locally and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to give them away.
"A child with cancer told me, 'Thanks, I had to come here alone this time; I needed a friend,'" Guinn said.
It led to her diversifying the crew, and putting hearts of gold on the outside of them all.
She shelved her plans in late 1997, leaving the stick folks concept to percolate as she worked more than a decade helping her husband launch Longevity and Wellness Center of South Texas.
He accompanied his wife last year to the international toy show, where he encouraged her to follow her heart.
Stickman Stew is a clear vision coming to fruition, said Dr. Lee Guinn, 61.
"Jane's dedicated to getting the word of respect with love out into the world," said the physician of internal medicine. "I'm proud of her for working to go in a positive direction. There's a lot of momentum with a lot of people involved."
His wife joined the Toy Industry Association and Women in Toys networking organization. She has linked with video and animation specialists, who are working on games and cartoons for the stick character clan.
"I feel like a kid who just walked into FAO Schwarz," Jane Guinn said.
She hired a new project manager in January for a fresh perspective.
"When Shannon showed up, we started picking up steam immediately," Guinn said.
Austin resident Shannon Mehner wanted a positive allegiance with professionals braced to guide the world to a better place, she said.
"I had been looking for a long time for the opportunity to reach a tremendous number of people in a really positive way," said Mehner, 51, a longtime independent communications, marketing and logistics expert. "I packed two roller bags and a laptop and drove here, and all these people involved in making Stickman Stew are tremendous.
Stickman Stew now has a Facebook page with more than 1,600 likes and more than 100 Twitter followers, and sales are ramping up online at StickmanStew.com.
To empower Stew and his message, he now has a nemesis: Coat Know It All.
"Coat's always hanging around trying to cloak Stew and bring negative attributes — greed, anger, jealousy," Guinn said. "For me it represents those bad moments in life when things sneak up on you and you can't shake it off. But Stew will always get that coat off."
Guinn has her sights on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
"I really believe Stickman Stew will be there some day," Guinn said.
"He will be the biggest Stew ever," she said placing her hand on her heart, "riding on a gust of respect."