By John Schaffner

It started with a Christmas gift that many young girls might receive from their grandfathers: a “Painted Lady” Victorian dollhouse.

But, unlike most young girls, 10-year-old Hope Lennox has built a business, Awesome Animals, from that dollhouse gift. The business supports her love of working with clay, puts money in her college fund and provides continual donations to the Atlanta Humane Society.

The business started when Hope realized that she couldn’t buy all the things she wanted to put in her dollhouse. She decided to make those things herself — pieces of furniture, food items and more.

One thing led to another, and now Hope, a fifth-grader at Warren T. Jackson Elementary School, is not only an accomplished “clayologist,” but also a successful businesswoman. She knows how to figure the cost of raw materials, how the time spent on a project should affect product pricing and how to market her products.

Since 2007, Hope and her parents, Dave and Leslie Lennox of Buckhead, have participated in the Peachtree Road Farmers Market, where the family has sold home-grown and -produced pesto. Hope added a display of her Awesome Animals figures at the tent and developed an enthusiastic following of young and old shoppers.

Since the whole family is food-centric, the Food Network is among Hope’s favorite TV channels. She started by making food items for the dollhouse and recently tried making the Awesome Animals using marzipan for the holidays. Also for the holidays, she makes reindeer and pumpkins.

Starting last spring, Hope decided to donate $1 from each sale to her favorite charity, the Atlanta Humane Society. Since April, she has donated more than $200 to the Humane Society. On Sept. 25, she handed a check for $50 to Carl Leveridge, the president of the Atlanta Humane Society, at a meeting of the Buckhead Business Association (BBA), where Leveridge was the principal speaker.

Hope sells her normal Awesome Animals figures for $5. She also does $10 custom figures. She usually works from photos for the custom figures, but occasionally a pet owner will bring the pet to her so that she can see what the animal is like.

The BBA was quite an experience for Hope. She had a table and sold 14 clay figures to the 75 people at the meeting. In addition, she received four commissions for custom animal figures. From that one meeting, she made $110. But the most important thing is that she raised $55 more for the Atlanta Humane Society because she was donating half of each sale that morning to the charity.

Hope’s fondness for the Humane Society comes partially from her two cats, Spirit and Max; her family adopted both from the Humane Society. She has frequented the Humane Society and has seen firsthand the services provided for hundreds of animals from puppy mills, storm rescue and just owner abandonment — a more prevalent problem during difficult economic times.

Clay is not Hope’s only pastime. She plays the flute, sings in the school chorus, has been in school plays and is in an advanced study unit at school. She also likes to play miniature golf.

But the Awesome Animals take up a good bit of her time. She produces 40 to 50 of the clay figures a month, using many different colors of clay, but no paint on the figures. She has sold an average of about 30 per month since April.

Like any good businesswoman, Hope set a sales goal for her Awesome Animals business and the amount she wanted to be able to contribute to the Atlanta Humane Society during the Peachtree Road Farmers Market season, which normally ends this month. That goal was to contribute $300 to the charity, which means selling 300 clay figures. She has just about reached that goal.

The good news for Hope and the Humane Society is that the Farmers Market has been extended this year to December.

You can expect to see this young entrepreneur on Saturday mornings for a few more months at the farmers market in the parking lot of the Cathedral of St. Philip in the 2800 block of Peachtree Road in Buckhead.