Nature-inspired designs are The Salty Hippo’s specialty

Her business card is made of fabric. That alone tells you that Amy Jackson embraces the unconventional.

As the owner of The Salty Hippo in Chillicothe, Amy combines state of-the-art screen-printing equipment, top-drawer graphic design talent, and inspiration from Mother Nature. The resulting fabric designs, coveted by quilters and other fabric artists, cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Amy grew up in Omaha and her professional journey as a graphic designer has taken her to the metropolises of Seattle, Milan, and New York City. For a time, she was putting in upward of 60 hours a week as a graphic designer, including a stint as an art director at Vogue. Then came a layoff that left her with some severance money and the luxury of free time.

“I apprenticed at a screen-printing studio in Brooklyn,” Amy says. “It was something I’ve always been interested in, and the more I did it, it felt like several different pieces of my creative process were gelling.”

It’s a daring leap, though, from uptown New York to downtown Chillicothe. Years earlier, Amy’s parents, Jan and Lynn Jackson, had pulled up their Omaha roots and moved to Chillicothe. Amy was traveling from New York to Missouri frequently to provide help and support as her mom faced knee and hip replacements.

“The more I looked at it, I asked myself, ‘Do I want to get another 50-, 60-, 80-hour-a-week job, or could I do something else with my time?’ ”

Amy enjoys the hands-on aspect of her art. From initial design to color mixing to printing, she forgoes computerized shortcuts. Photo courtesy Salty Hippo

With a solid base of freelance graphic design clientele providing her with an income, Amy was able to pursue her passion project far from the Big Apple. She purchased a historic building in the heart of Chillicothe’s business district and got to work.

“When I took it over, it was kind of just a very typical retail space,” she says. “They had a drop ceiling and it covered up a falling plaster ceiling. Above that, there was a furnace. We just took it all down, took all the plaster off the walls and brought it back to the natural materials that it started with.”

The building now serves as a retail shop, screen-printing studio, and living space for Amy, whose upstairs apartment dwarfs the tiny studio apartment she left in New York.

Field to Fabric

The retail space anchors the front portion of the ground floor. The shop is filled with items made from the fabrics Amy designs through the screen-printing process. There are pillows filling an old clawfoot bathtub, art pieces decorating the brick walls, and tables piled with fat quarters— quarter yards of fabric that are just-right-sized for quilting and crafting.

The Salty Hippo logo is ever-present on signs and gift items. So, about that name: Why is the business called The Salty Hippo? During a camping trip in Botswana a few years ago, Amy was awakened by the sound of hippos laughing. The unexpected and joyful noise stuck with her, and the hippo seemed like an ideal muse for a retail space that could evoke some silly laughter. (The salty part is an ode to her family, who she admits can get a little salty at times.)

“Laughter is a big deal to me,” Amy says. “People come in and just to hear them snicker and laugh as they walk around the store … it’s really fun.”

Hippos aside, it’s other natural things that stir the serious side of Amy’s art. She points to one of the framed pieces on the wall and describes how the scattering of tiny white blossoms on the gray background began with a photo of the Queen Anne’s Lace wildflower that she magnified until only one tiny, delicate flower was visible. The shape of the flower became the foundation for the design. Another fabric pattern was inspired by the intricate, leafy etching in the glass over the business’s front door, and another by a particularly fancy mushroom.

“I’m very graphic and high-contrast by nature,” she says. “That’s kind of my own design language. When I’m walking around town, you’ll see me with a handful of flowers or weeds or whatnot. I do a lot of pressings and a lot of photography of repetitive texture. I go through photographs, I go through sketches, and then I work on how to piece it together into a repeatable pattern. I tend to focus on that really small detail. It’s about looking at things from a whole different side that isn’t necessarily right in front of you.” 

Beyond the retail space, but right in front of her customers and visible to all, is Amy’s workshop. It is dominated by a massive, 24-foot-long table that allows her to roll out yards and yards of fabric. There’s a device that allows her to accomplish four-color printing, a high-tech drying machine that sets the ink, and all the screens that screen-printing requires.

When Amy opened The Salty Hippo in October 2020, she envisioned working at her graphic design job throughout the day and taking a break from the computer when customers came in. She quickly discovered that she couldn’t indulge in the long chats with customers that she enjoys and still be productive for her design clients. She needed help and found it close to home.

“My mom is a huge help right now,” Amy says. After a quiet winter retail season, the warm weather brings a welcome influx of customers. The mother/daughter duo will be adjusting the business’s hours to respond to demand, but Amy maintains an around-the-clock presence with her online store at

“I’m super excited for this fall,” she says. “I’ve joined a program called All Missouri Shop Hop. It’s for quilters and they go through and collect a quilt square from every store that’s signed on. The group is really cool, so we’ll be open five or six days a week in September and October.” Uncommon Cloth

Although quilters are an obvious market for Amy’s fabrics, she does have to overcome some reluctance among customers who find the beautiful creations “too precious” to cut up for quilt pieces.

“I haven’t seen it show up in a quilt yet,” she says, “but people have been making a lot of pillows with the fat quarters, which has been fun to see.”

Amy doesn’t consider herself a quilter, but for a couple of months this year, she had a special quilt on display in the shop window. It’s one she created herself to honor friends and colleagues from Ukraine.

“I work on an app where the developers are in Ukraine, so I talk to them on Slack all the time,” she says. “It was just mind-boggling to me that it was their life on February 24. I couldn’t sit still, so I made a quilt.”

“Laughter is a big deal to me. People come in and just to hear them snicker and laugh as they walk around the store … it’s really fun.”

The front of the quilt features Amy’s unique fabric designs, printed in the blue and yellow of Ukraine’s flag. The back displays, in big blocky letters, the now-famous greeting sent by a Ukranian sailor to a Russian warship. Amy held a raffle for the quilt and, at press time, had raised nearly $2,000 for World Central Kitchen to feed refugees displaced by the war.

The bona-fide city girl is getting comfortable with small-town life, although she does admit to dashing off to Kansas City now and then for a night on the town. And Chillicothe is getting used to the new resident who has eschewed a yard and flower garden in favor of a second-floor apartment above her store. She’s forging new friendships with her neighbors by offering hands-on classes.

“We’ve done a couple of classes where people can print a group project that they draw together, or they’re printing one of my designs. I’m trying to get people engaged in thinking creatively about the environment around us.”

Amy is eager to push the limits of her art and explore new uses for her screen-printed creations. An antique bench sits in her workshop, waiting for her first foray into upholstery. After nearly two years, the business is still finding ways to surprise Amy as it evolves.

“I really thought, probably for the first year, maybe year and a half, that I was opening a completely different business [than the graphic design] I currently do. But my graphic design clients are interested in the printing projects that I do,” she says. “It’s an extension of the marketing and designing that I do for clients. There’s a lot more connection than I ever expected.”

The Salty Hippo is located at 512 Washington Street in Chillicothe. Visit for business hours and product information.

Photos courtesy of The Salty Hippo and by Sandy Selby