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Monday, June 29

bail out

A rain bail out. That's what art carnies need when a show they count on gets rained on and the people stay home, warm and dry. Granted, it's part of the cost of doing business, but so is making bad loans and so-so cars. Those folks got a break. We just suck it up and hang rosaries on the trees for the next show.

(My Spanish Grandma did that. Hung rosaries on the trees to keep the rain away from an outdoor party. I also remember her hanging beads on a tree to keep the gypsies from taking me, but maybe I'm getting the stories mixed up.)

So, the Roycroft show started out to be a good one and then the rain came and good became mediocre. Then, just to make a long day interminable, a potter who had a corner spot near the entrance decided said entrance was his personal stroke of good luck and parked his truck and trailer IN the driveway so that everyone else had to enter further down and then weave through the other vans and trucks loading up. He did the same thing at load-in but since not everyone was coming on at the same exact time, it wasn't quite as bad. Still rude and annoying, but not quite the inconvenience it became on Sunday. A jeweler asked him nicely to move and he refused. People started schlepping their stuff around his rig, grumbling and tossing snide remarks in his general direction, but he continued to wrap and pack. Finally an official came and told him to pull in, but we had most of our stuff in the van by then. People perplex me sometimes.

Anyway, it was otherwise a good weekend in other ways. Good friends do this show, people I like to be around. That was a real mood lifter. And there was an impromptu wedding reception. An amazing artist married her perfect "prince" in Scotland just days before, so we toasted them with cupcakes at the after show picnic and looked at pictures of their "runaway" ceremony. That was very cool. They are so happily in love.

And now I get ready for Chautauqua. The show that, when you say it's your next one, fellow artists raise their eyebrows and say "Chautauqua? Wow." It's that good. And that hard to get. I am blessed to have been accepted 2 years in a row. I want to be ready this year, with lots of good stuff. It's become important, the season being below average so far what with unanticipated rejections and unwelcome rain storms.

But today I continue to dry out and rest up. My feet and my knees ache, I am sleepy and unfocused. We went to a movie, a real treat in the busy Summer, and the dark. cozy theater almost lulled me to nap.

Tomorrow, it's back to work. Tonight, I have a good book to finish and fudge sauce for my dish of ice cream.

Saturday, June 27

taking one for the team

So, this weekend we are at the Roycroft Campus, a shrine of sorts to the master craftsman himself, Elbert Hubbard, set up amongst the Artisans with "banners" that indicate they have passed the rigorous test of craftsmanship set up by the Institution. 

It is a lovely show with good people in a pleasant setting and it is usually our best June show. Sales were brisk, attendance was very good. But the best thing was a story told by a Roycroft artisan I'll call Ethel.

Ethel has a banner. It is a testament to her artistry in a field that shall remain nameless, but suffice it to say it is a craft that is ancient and lovely and has few people who still practice it. She has a slate of good shows that she does every year and while her sales are usually modest by the standards of most art carnies, it is enough for her needs. She was content.

Then she got juried out of Allentown. Now, I was juried out this year as was a jeweler I know with truly unique work. It was an odd year. So, while I just picked up another show to minimize the financial hit of losing what is usually a good chunk o'change, Ethel marched herself down to the show to see what was going on. She did not like what she saw.

She saw tons of jewelers and potters, she saw some work that looked suspect. But what really got Ethel frothing was the number of empty spots. No-shows. People who got the golden ticket and tossed it in the garbage.  Allentown has no wait list. If the folks don't show, the spot goes empty. Ethel stared at the empty spots and mentally figured her bills and she saw red.

There is no avenue for protest at a show. If they piss you off enough you just find another show for that weekend and don't look back. But Allentown is a really good show for Ethel. She decided to make herself heard.

She marched into the offices of the Allentown Village Society and demanded answers. She wanted to know why there was no wait list. She informed them that if they gave her a spot she could be back with her stuff and set up in an hour. And wouldn't that be better than an empty spot? She told them she counted on this show to pay her taxes and now what was she to do? She said there is nobody else in the area that does what she does and she is right. I've never seen another.  But the show was heavy with jewelry, pottery, photography. She would have been the only one out of 400 with this particular talent. How could they not take her? She informed them that this is serious business for most of us, that it is not a hobby it is our job and we count on making a certain amount of money every year. She said they needed to jury with an eye to diversity and, while they were at it, their categories were hopelessly outdated and difficult for many to fit into. Including her.

Oh, she let 'em have it. They, of course, were just committee members, they had no influence on selection blahblahblah. But I am proud of her. She made herself heard. Will it make a difference? Probably not. There will be too many jewelers, an abundance of potters, mediocre paintings that were juried in simply because they ARE paintings. Those of us who labor under the label "artisan" or "craft" get the balcony seats, the last page of the program, the smallest slate of available openings. 

Ethel will have financial trouble this Summer. Her taxes may be late. That new gadget she's been thinking she'd get in June will not be purchased. But she took one for the team two weeks ago, she marched right up to her problem and faced it down. She did what none of us ever do in this business. We meekly accept the rejections and thankfully gather the acceptances and seldom do we say "Hey! Are you kidding?" 

Thanks, Ethel, You can hoist a canopy in my yard any time. You rock. :)

Thursday, June 25

i must stop watching the weather channel

Over the years I've developed a pretty easy-going attitude towards art show weather forecasts. Because, after all, if it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain. Nothing you can do about it. Just make sure you have everything, including yourself, under the canopy, leave the rug home, bring an extra roll of paper towels. Conventional wisdom is that rain during a festival only keeps the stroller brigade and dog-walkers home. "Real" shoppers come out in the rain. I'm not sure that's really wisdom or just what we tell ourselves.

This weekend is the Roycroft Festival. This is a great weekend for us. Not only are sales usually really good, there is a wonderful atmosphere about the place. It takes place on the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, a place devoted to the celebration of artisan work. About half of the exhibitors are "certified" Roycrofters which mean they have survived a pretty rigorous jury and interview process and have been determined to be masters of their particular craft. The rest of the exhibitors are people like me, who managed to squeeze into the remaining spots.

It rains almost every year.

Last year was my "grab Toto and run" experience there. A storm came up quickly, I buttoned down the canopy and was standing in the middle of it when a blast of wind hit the newly secured canopy wall, throwing our display shelves like matchsticks. When they hit me on my back and legs, they felt more like logs.

On a positive note, that experience prompted Russell to devise a system of securing them.

The long range forecast for this weekend was pretty good. A lovely Saturday and a few passing showers on Sunday. Perfect. Well, until they got closer to the weekend in question. Now we have rain on Sunday, beginning in the wee hours, reaching a crescendo of sorts, with thunderstorms, at 2 in the afternoon. Two o'clock. Prime time. A few hours before we have to tear down and load the car. Most likely in the rain.

I will not obsess. I will roll up the rug on Saturday and bring an umbrella Sunday morning. I will believe that real shoppers come out in the rain. I will trust in Russell's engineering skills.

I will stop watching the weather channel.

Tuesday, June 23

new reality show?

I have to admit that until a few weeks ago I had no idea who Jon and Kate were or what they had 8 of. Oh, I could guess. Their show was on a channel that seems to make the most ordinary life events into television spectaculars. Weddings, pregnancy, childbirth, all get a show. Normal people doing normal things in front of a camera. Odd.

So, of course, when the buzz about these people started, I did what I always do. I googled and TiVo'd. OK, 2 people who had 8 kids under 5 or so. Yeah. my life isn't stressful enough, I have to watch that? Yikes. But I did watch. Once. For about 10 minutes. I saw 8 kids who seemed to be pretty much out of control and parents who seemed to "train" them with cookies. And 2 people who seemed to not be really fond of each other. It was sad and I wondered what people found so compelling.

Now they are divorcing and they scurry to and fro with hordes of cameras clicking away at them and their children and there they are on the morning news and I hear the mother say the most amazing thing. "The show must go on" she says.


I love some reality TV. American Idol and Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You can Dance, shows with people that are meant to be in front of cameras. People with aspirations to perform for a living, getting a shot at it. That's fun to me. This family, however, is just a family. Or used to be.

I guess these 8 very young kids will get no relief from the cameras as long as the parents are convinced that their day to day existence is somehow noteworthy. And more important than those 8 kids, apparently.

So, I'm thinking the next reality show should be about us art roadies. Why not? Have the cameras rolling while we try to fit everything for a show into a minvan, while we prowl the streets looking for a booth number that was just washed off the curb by a passing morning shower. There could be fascinating footage of putting a canopy up, strapping the display down because a tornado is coming, finding a level spot for our chairs. Fascinating stuff.

I picture "talking head" moments with artists "confessing" that the artist amenities for this show were really awful. Boxed donuts! Zoom shot of donut box.

A fuzzy shot of an artist counting the day's receipts while a whispering voice over tells us that Jack had to make enough today to save the family farm and Jack (a) slouching over the cash box in grief or (b) raising a fistful of cash and cheering.

Hey, it would be better than watching someone trying to get 8 children to sit down and shut up.

Meanwhile, this Kate person will continue to get her extremely odd haircut manicured, I assume, weekly, and her husband will escape to someplace quiet. The show must go on. And the only audience that matters, just 8 of them, waits for someone to turn the cameras off so that they can be seen.

Sunday, June 21

father's day

I was realizing the other day that, if my math is correct, I have now lived without my father for as many years as I lived with him. He died before his time from complications of Parkinsons Disease. At the time, his illness was interwoven with the birth of my first child and I was distracted by the conflicting emotions of these two life arcs.

He was, in my mind, the iconic Italian Dad. He worked hard as a cement mason, coming home at night with dusty boots and a pail heavy with tools. He had rigorous meal rules. Pasta on Wednesday and Sunday. The list of things he would not eat is long, but his disdain of turkey made our Thanksgiving meals forever Italian. More pasta. He told bad jokes, teased my Mother about her Spanish heritage, insisting that she had not worn shoes before he met her. And he was probably the most gentle man I have ever known.

It must have been hell for this traditional man to have a hippie daughter. When my picture turned up on the front page of the paper that day in 1969, he woke me by slapping my bedpost with the rolled up newspaper, angry that I lied to him, that I put myself in danger, that I didn't respect the President, but mostly that his buddies on the job site would recognize his daughter as the shouting, fringe-wearing, candle-bearing protester. I never saw him so incensed. I tried to explain but he would have no part of it. He was over it by dinner, but I was more careful after that.

He worried. Always. About money, about his job, about his kids. When I first started spreading my wings and going out at night, in my own car, I would pull in the driveway and see, reflected in the dark picture window, the glowing end of a cigarette and I knew he had been pacing and waiting for me to come home.

It saddens me that Dad missed seeing my brother's son. That would have probably been the highlight of his life. But he danced at our weddings and he died believing he had raised his kids well and that they were happy and settled.

I'm sure that if I thought long and hard I could come up with dark memories. Tempers lost, maybe. But if they are there, they don't count. And this is a lesson I carry as a parent. That the mistakes seldom count. That when the "score" is tallied, what matters is, simply, love.

I remember that when I was 12 years old, a local record store would sell the week's top single for 1/2 price and that he stopped every Friday night after a long day to buy it for me.

I remember taking the bus home from my first job and getting lost. I called him from a pay phone, described the things around me and he came and got me.

I remember him taking my arm to walk me down the aisle and, when he heard the guitars he muttered "Cowboy music? What a country" and that when he let me go there were tears in his eyes.

I remember how he would break tiny pieces from his favorite candy, Peppermint Patties, and give them to my son who would wait, wide eyed, standing with his pudgy hands on Grandpa's knees for the next bite. And I am grateful to my son for insisting he remembers this.

My brother and I joke about our dysfunctional family and its eccentricities. I guess that's how families are. But every so often he breaks into a perfect mimic of one of Dad's favorite lines. "Yeah, go ahead, laugh" he'll growl in a funny, gruff way that brings a memory home and we smile and I know he misses him, too.

Maybe that's the goal. To live your life in a way that, after you are gone, your kids will remember you with smiles and tears both, that your legacy should be that you loved without condition, that you did your best for those you loved.

With that as criteria, my Dad was an unqualified success story.

Monday, June 15

fixed it anyway

"if it ain't broke..." the common wisdom begins. In other words, once something is working for you, leave it be. Don't mess with success, they say. But sometimes you have success but it feels off somehow and you can't help but tinker.

The item I sell the most of is a photo frame with an offset window. It gives me an area about 4 inches square to work with. I cover them with handmade papers and embellish them. Sometimes I draw a simple twig and berry design with 3D paint, but mostly I do a teeny collage. Torn papers, skeleton leaves, charms, found objects and, most often, a printed quote. Folks really like them. I can sell 40-50 at a good show if I have them. But something was bugging me.

See, what happens after a while is you get "in the zone". The work becomes repetitive, it's hard to do anything fresh, you become a little human factory robot. And when that happens, the job loses what drew you to it in the beginning. Creativity, the fun of discovery. perfecting a widget you envisioned. To be successful in this business you need to be prolific without being stale.

I was reviewing some old photos and came across some frames I had done 2 years ago with a slightly different look. Instead of applying the design right to the frame, I had made a raised area on which to center it. I like it a lot better. It has a more artistic feel to it. I can't remember why I didn't follow through. Anyway, I made one up to see if I still preferred it and I do.

The timing is good, because my next 2 shows are very heavy into the art of craft and that will give me even more of a push to do better.

So, basically, I took the one item that sells the best for me and made it different. I'm either insane or brilliant. I'll let you know it 2 weeks.

Thursday, June 11

ok, how cute are these?

I was having a lemon of a Saturday at 100 American and got to talking to my friend and show neighbor, Cheryl Olney. Cheryl is one of my favorite people on a personal level and an inspirational artist. The conversation twisted and meandered and landed, somehow, on a project I've been pondering for years. And, shazam! Lemonade.

Book artists as a rule love miniature books. And we tend to make pins and necklaces and earrings out of them. This is amusing to us. Hard to explain. Anyway..I could easily figure out the basics of how to do this but I was bothered by one thing. They stay open. An open teeny book hanging from your ear lobe has an insect-like quality.Didn't like it. But I would ponder ways to make a closed book and my eyes would glaze over. People ask for them, so the idea was always hovering. Somehow, in my conversations with Cheryl, the solution came to me.

I went home that night and whipped up 4 or 5 sets. Sold 2 the next day. They truly are charming, I think

I'm still working out a few details, but I made up some cards to display them and hung them with the pins and it made for an eye-catching display. Made people smile.

Had the show been good on Saturday, I would have spent an hour or so putting finishing touches on stock for Sunday. Instead, I took my bruised ego upstairs and got creative. Lemonade.

Oh, and Sunday was a great day for sales after all.

In this business, you have to ride the wave, so to speak. If your nose is scraping the sandy bottom, get up and figure it out. I'm hanging on to this thought since today I lost a good Christmas show I was counting on.

Maybe teeny book zipper pulls?

Monday, June 8

2 weekends a world apart

So, last weekend was 100 American Craftsmen and this weekend was Fairport Canal Days. 

Last weekend was craft as art, catered lunches from a local restaurant, live jazz. This weekend was craft art mixed with imports and gourmet dog treats, 7 dollar lemonade in a reusable tin cup, elevator music from the steps of the village hall.

Last weekend, 5000 people visited the Kenan Center. This weekend, I heard 50,000 came to Fairport.

Last weekend I caught up with some art show friends I hadn't seen all Winter. This weekend I caught up with some art show friends I hadn't seen all Winter.

Last weekend I made twice as much sales as this weekend.

There are no guaranteed pay days in this business. You go out there and give it a shot, never being able to count on anything. Even the very best show can be rained out. Over the years you learn which shows work for you, which are just OK, which to avoid like a stick in the eye. All the while staying positive, working hard, keeping the creative spark going because, after all, that's what you are selling.

This business ain't for sissies, I tell you.