Monday, August 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Craft Shows

It was the worst of times. The economy had tanked. People had little expendable income. Most were repairing what they owned as they couldn't afford to purchase anything new.

It was during this economic downturn that Mary and her committee of craft show organizers were once again preparing to jury applications from artisans for their big event in its 34th year. The pile of applications seemed to be smaller than last year. She had heard that some vendors were not doing any of the the expensive shows this year as they weren't selling very much. Income from their show was badly needed to maintain the quality of their museum displays.

After working through the applications Mary knew they were not going to fill all the spaces. They still had room for more fiber arts and glass. And they really would like to see some photographers.

As usual they had more than the necessary number of applications from jewelers. Some had been rejected several times but continued to persevere. "Maybe we could fill the spaces with extra jewelers," suggested one committee member.

"I know who these people are." said Mary. "I've seen them at other shows. While they send pictures of items that appear to be handmade, they're resellers. Their $5 silver rings will tarnish our image of a high quality arts and crafts show."

With heavy hearts the committee agreed to put on their craft event with fewer vendors than usual and they spread them out a little to conceal some of the empty spaces. They made much less money for their museum. And, unfortunately, there were fewer customers and they didn't spend as much money as in past years. But their small show maintained its integrity.

That same year, half way across the state, Bob was wading through piles of applications from vendors for the 28th annual town craft show. His show raised money for the local schools and Bob had become chairman 5 or 6 years earlier. He no longer had a committee, just a few volunteers who set up and cleaned up afterward while he supervised from his golf cart.

When he became chairman, Bob decided that it would be a lot easier to jury only the new applications. But Bob did the jurying and it was all about the money so pretty much anyone who applied was accepted. And once accepted they could come back every year as long as they paid the fee. In his first year he accepted 3 jewelry resellers. As a result, the following year, 2 exceptional metalsmiths did not return. But word got out and he received applications from a couple of clothing resellers whom he accepted. The third year of his tenure no painters or photographers applied. But that was ok because he now had someone with stuffed animals on a stick and another vendor with penny candy. And so it went. And as long as people had less money, they were happy to see the resellers and their bargain bins. They bought lots of $10 dresses and $3 bracelets and $8 stuffed animals on a stick.

It's been 3 years now and the economy is slowly regaining its health. Not everyone is doing well but many people feel more comfortable buying nice gifts for their relatives and occasionally treating themselves.

Mary's 37th annual craft event has almost all the spaces filled with quality handmade arts and crafts. People who appreciate well made handcrafted items are coming from great distances confident that they will find only the finest at Mary's show. Things are looking up.

Bob has added carnival rides to his annual event. Most of his spaces are filled with resellers, balloon and souvenir vendors, ring toss games, a fortune teller, and most appropriately stuffed animals on a stick. A few people from town who don't travel to Mary's craft show still attend.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Often Imitated But Never Equaled

We were in Templeton this past weekend. It was our first time at this show. And while we were extremely disappointed in the number of resellers, we did find some talented people.

Elaine stopped at our booth while taking a break from her own. I had seen her floral pins in my quick walk through but hadn't met her. I'm so glad she stopped by and we had a chance to chat. Her brooches are a truly beautiful and unique product. And while others have started trying to copy her flowers, none are as nicely designed or as well made as hers.

Check out her creative use of zippers at ZipPinning on Etsy.

What is the Definition of Handmade?

Here the dictionary is no help at all. As far as Webster's is concerned handmade is anything not machine made. So what about people who use sewing machines to create their art?

I had a conversation recently with another artisan who told me how frustrated she was becoming with having to repeatedly explain the term "handmade". I thought the definition was obvious and wondered what kind of people needed this clarification. I found them this past weekend.

Is it handmade if it's created by artisans in a foreign country and resold here at a craft show?

Is it handmade if someone hangs a pre-made charm or pendant from a ready made chain and calls it a necklace?

Is it handmade if the beads are machine manufactured and resold at home parties where you can string them on heavy chains to design your own bracelet?

Is it handmade if it's clothing made by individuals in a factory in Southeast Asia and resold at a craft show.

Is it handmade if someone has created a design and has it mass produced onto t-shirts or tote bags at a facility in a third world country, then sells the inventory at a local craft show.

I'm sure a couple of these examples could be and are being debated. You don't have to weave the cotton and print the design on it before you sew it (by hand) into a tote bag. But there's handmade and then there's HANDMADE.

We have never attended an event where we were asked so many times if we make all the jewelry ourselves. And then the look of surprise when we answer "yes".

Resellers are the norm in Templeton; they're expected and anticipated. You can buy cheap, get a discount for multiples, and purchase the same item in several sizes. What's better than that?

The vendor behind us was selling stuffed animals on a stick. You know, the kind of thing that's hawked on the sidewalk during a big parade. A customer asked her if she made them herself and she replied that she did. Funny, there was another vendor across the street with the same unicorns. Maybe they both used the same pattern.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Little Arts & Crafts, A Little History

With temperatures in the 70s, blue skies and lots of sunshine, our day in Lee, MA, was our first show without rain. Handmade in the Park is a small craft event sponsored by the Berkshire Made group and takes place on a small green plot of land in the center of town and in front of the First Congregational Church. Built in 1857, the church is an historical landmark and was offering tours that day.

Bethany took advantage of the tour with a guide that takes you behind the huge organ, to where the clock is manually wound, and then up the rickety, narrow stairs to the tower. The last leg of this climb is on wooden beams. The space is too narrow for stairs.

View from the steeple. That's our tent next to the parking lot.

There were members of the Artisans of Western Mass. who came in support of the Berkshire group. Karen of Moon and Sundries brought her colorful bags and wallets.

Katie displayed her glass jewelry and her welded steel sculptures.
ABT Creations and Atoms At Work were also there.

Once again we were situated across from a wonderful artist. Janet McKinstry's bags are made of salvaged tapestry and upholstery materials and are wonderfully designed. She has also authored a children's book, ROSIE & FRIENDS, that she and her father illustrated.

My friends at Umass Library should check out Lynette Cornwell's website, Novel Idea. She makes purses out of book covers! She tries to select books on a variety of subjects. For the person who loves classic literature there's a Jane Eyre novel purse. If you need a gift for someone who teaches German, she has that too.

Our booth was located next to the water fountain. I found the sound of the running water to be soothing. Only later did I find out that this fountain was carved by Daniel Chester French, the same person who created the Lincoln Memorial.

Thanks to April, Mary, and all the folks at Berkshire Made for a well organized event and the great weather they provided.