If you refer to Danielle Colby as a renaissance woman, the suggestion is more likely to elicit a laugh than a nod of agreement.
Her diverse and somewhat exotic resumé includes designing clothing and jewelry, running a clothing boutique, managing and performing in a burlesque troupe and, most notably, co-starring in the hugely popular History TV reality series American Pickers, but the 38-year-old native of Davenport, Iowa, is reluctant to attach any flowery foreign-language descriptives to the various things she does.
"I think 'renaissance woman' is a really fancy way of saying that I'm scatter-brained and non-commital," says Colby, who will be in Winnipeg this week to meet fans and sign autographs during the annual World of Wheels show at the RBC Convention Centre. "I do a lot of things; I guess I'm a bit of a workaholic. I have an incredibly supportive family... and I don't have much of a social life. I have fun, but I don't commit to anything easily.
"The only thing I've every fully committed myself to, as far as projects go, is American Pickers. Everything else is secondary. I've come to realize that I'm not going to be a Fortune 500 burlesque dancer or a Fortune 500 clothing designer at this point in my life because I have other priorities that trump those things. My main priority is my family, and my next priority is American Pickers, because I love it and it's worth my time and energy."
Colby's appearance at World of Wheels takes place March 14, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Colby's role in American Pickers calls for her to provide back-at-the-office support and antique-seeking leads to "pickers" Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz while they're touring the American countryside in their familiar oversized Mercedes Benz panel van, in search of what the show's opening-title sequence describes as "rusty gold."
In fact, Colby started working at the duo's shop, Antique Archeology, only after series creator Wolfe sold the series concept to U.S. cable's History Channel. The two had known each other for several years, and Wolfe decided the show would have a better chance of attracting an audience if the office had a manager who represented something other than the stereotypical antique-shop nerd.
Colby, heavily tattooed with a rockabilly style, seemed a perfect choice.
"Mike and I have been friends for about 15 years. I guess I was always (a picker) because I've always been a big collector of vintage antiques, but he showed me there's this whole other world to collecting. He used to do a lot of business on eBay, when it first started out, and I would help him out once in a while. He would come into town if he needed something fixed; I'm very technical-minded, so I could fix whatever he needed when he had damaged antiques," she explains.
"He's not a man who trusts people quickly, so it took some years of getting to know him and understanding what he does. We built this really great friendship, and eventually he trusted me with his bank account and his money and all these other responsibilities, and he wanted me to take part in this (TV series) adventure with him."
It took several years of pitching, rejection and frustration before Wolfe finally convinced History to give his idea a try. American Pickers premièred in January 2010; by September, Pickers was the top-rated new non-fiction series of that year, attracting more than five million viewers in the U.S.
Most of the credit for the show's popularity belongs to Wolfe and Fritz and they way they relate to the "collectors" they encounter while they're on the road, Colby says.
"Mike hates the word 'hoarder.' He believes that these people just have a different passion about life, even if maybe they don't know how to go about it in a healthy way. You know, maybe we're just hoarders who've had more therapy," she says.
"These people are human beings, even if they live in homes that don't look like your home, and maybe you're not comfortable with the idea of living in those surroundings. It's important to remember that there's a lot of mental history that goes into why a person's home looks a certain way; these people are delicate, and they deserve to be treated with respect and love and kindness -- maybe even a little more so than the average person."
When she's not involved with Pickers, Colby spends her time parenting two teenage children, managing and performing (under the stage name Dannie Diesel) in Burlesque le'Moustache (a troupe that includes two sisters and a niece), designing vintage-inspired clothing and jewelry, and running the Chicago-based boutique 4 Miles 2 Memphis.
Last year, she launched the first-ever Iowa Burlesque Festival in Davenport; the event attracted a large audience that crossed over from the various aspects of her performing life.
"(Davenport) is really close to Antique Archeology, which is really great because people can come in, see a burlesque show, and then head over to see the American Pickers home," she says. "They're within 10 minutes of each other, so it all fits together really well."