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Thursday, August 26

flying solo

My last Summer show of the year, one of my very favorites, is this weekend. It's a pretty important one because the quality of our upcoming vacation depends on how well it goes. We will either be spending nights at the local Best Western or in the back of the van! Such is the life of someone who earns her living without any guarantees.

This show, The Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts, happens just blocks from my front door and it celebrates the neighborhood I love. It started about 10 years ago, very informally. I got a call at work from an artist friend who asked if I wanted to do a new show. One day. In the neighborhood. Oh, sure. There is a conventional wisdom that you never do a new show in its first year, but since it was local and being organized by people I knew and liked, I went for it. Besides, I was pretty new at the game myself back then. From the first year, this was a show to love and I have been lucky enough to be able to do it every year since.

But this year there is a glitch. Russell, my partner in love and life and art will not be here. He works with Veterans for Peace and their convention is this same weekend in Maine. There was no thought of asking him to stay here, the cause is too dear to his heart, too important. So, it will be me running the show, alone, for the first time.

Lots of people do shows alone. Men, women, older, younger, schlepping and toting and building and selling, smiles on their faces, no pity asked. I am not one of those people. I like that Russell takes charge of the heavy lifting. That he figures out how to secure stuff using basic physics. I love that he takes care of me, telling me to sit and relax while he totes heavy equipment to the van or puts the sides up on the tent. I am loved and spoiled and I am thankful for that every day.

Now, I am not old and helpless. Well, I'm not helpless. But years of paper making and book binding have left me with hands that no longer have simple strengths. I now understand how to set up the Craft Hut, but I have trouble doing simple tasks, like securing the metal poles inside each other. I am also not a strong person. Some of the heavy lifting is just beyond my physical ability. I could do the show alone, but how could I set it up?

Enter another blessing of my life.

I love my neighbors so much that I have actually rerun the events that led us to be living next to them in my head and determined it was preordained. :) Marie and Jolene grew up together, moved to NY together, saw each other through triumphs and tragedies and bad marriages and love affairs good and bad, remaining best friends despite it all. There is a lot of story there, but not mine to tell. They are amazing women. Beautiful, funny, smart as hell, brave and real.

These are the kind of neighbors you trust with keys to your house and car, as well as with your truths. They are there for you. To watch the dog or call a plumber or hold your hand or offer a cold beer on a hot night. So, it was that Jolene said "I'll help!"

Are you sure? I asked. Hell, yeah. she answered. I'm strong.

That's what Russell said about her: she's strong. I always knew that, but I wasn't thinking physically. :)

And so it is that Saturday morning I will be the one to remember just how that rod secures the shelves and how the weights get strapped on. Jolene and I in the dewy early morning, muttering and cursing, I'm sure. Laughing, too. I bet. The Craft Hut is taking a break. The forecast is for perfect weather, so the little popup will be the shelter of choice, saving us a lot of construction time.

A few minutes ago, I was chatting with Jolene and her son, Joseph as they waited for their transportation to go out on a boat ride. We laughed and sang Janis Joplin and she offered to help me starting tomorrow if I needed anything. I came back in and the phone was ringing. Russell checking in with love words, stories of the beautiful people he is meeting, his voice happy and true.

It is a beautiful morning, cool and sunny, the grass and flowers shining from last night's rain. There is a sense of our little world being in sync today, all of us engaged in lovely things separately but connected to each other by love and circumstance and my heart is so full.

My blog post says "flying solo". But that's not true. That's not true at all.

Tuesday, August 24

Arts in the Gardens-Sonneberg Gardens, Canandaigua NY

Well, kids, I knew we were in for a treat when the lovely registration crew handed me my packet as we rolled in.

I joked that it looked like Chelsea Clinton's wedding invitation. Neatly arranged inside were 2 ID badges on lanyards, a festive, hand-done sign for my booth, instructions tied at the top with ribbon. Hello.

The weather was glum but promising. We knew that the next day would be rain, so we cheerfully applauded the cloudiness as some sort of gift. We were permitted to pull right up to our spot (which had several generous feet of space between the other booths..thank you!) as long as we were parked by 9:30. Parking was reserved in a lot a short distance away with each space marked with a booth number. So far I was so content I didn't care if we sold anything!

The setting for this show is beautiful.

See that mansion on the hill? That's where they had the buffet I wrote about in my last post.

Between the artist tents and that mansion, there was a beer garden, wine tasting and 2 food areas. With tables. Under tents.

Who would not want to come to this thing?

So,anyway, sales were good. Buffet was good. Fellow artists were great. The weather forecast for day 2 was dire but I was content.

We had reservations at a funky little motel in town that had lots of good reviews on line.(of course, as someone pointed out later, how many were written by the owners?) The Miami Motel,a family operation, retro and colorful and under renovation. OK.

And ya know, it WAS cute

reminded me of the places we stayed a few years ago when we drove Rte 66.

The very nice proprietor said to pull around back and he'd meet us there with the key. Room 27.

That's when reality hit

But the proprietor looked proud as he inserted the key into the lock of room 27, and with good reason. The inside was charming. The 2 double beds were in separate rooms. The alcove held a microwave and fridge and sink. Bathe was off that. It was like a suite.

This was turning into a stellar weekend. And then the rain came. When the first light peeked through the curtains, I looked out and groaned. This was not going to be good, I thought. And it wasn't

I thought there wouldn't be any chance that it would clear up. Surprisingly, it did! But this is a show with a gate and hours and by the time the rain stopped and the skies brightened, it was past time when most people would decide to come out. So attendance was very small, which affected sales, of course.

It did give us time to catch up with friends. :)

At the end, they allowed us to pull onto the grounds again which may not have been real smart although it was appreciated. The ground was so wet and some folks just don't have mud driving skills.

It hurt to see the damage done. Not fair. They worked so hard for us.

So, anyway, we did take few moments as we left to admire the grounds

and we even fed the coy

Thanks, Sonnenberg. It was an honor to be part of your show. I think by next year, you'll probably have figured out how to control the weather. :)

Saturday, August 21


I am in Canandaigua at a gorgeous park/mansion/gardens doing a fine art show. I'll tell more about that tomorrow, but tonight I am still pondering the artists reception.

Everyone kept saying to go to the reception because they "put out quite a spread!"

Where do these terms come from, anyway? Spread? But I digress.

There are exactly 100 artists at this show. Most come with a partner, domestic or otherwise. That's 200. (There is nothing that brings artists together like free food. Except free booze and they had that, too) A few brought their kids and determined that they, also, were entitled to partake of the "spread". So now maybe 220. All the volunteers and staff, of course, were invited to the "spread", so maybe now we are at 275?

When we got to the mansion, most of the people were already sitting on the steps and at tables, eating their share of the spread. Their plates runneth over. It was a buffet. The line just to get a plate was probably 70 people long. And it was tortuous, I tell you. How can a line like this NOT move? After what seemed like hours of shuffling slowly and moving maybe 5 feet, I decided to try to figure it out. And I did.

You know how a highway can bog down just because there is something interesting on the side of the road and people slow to maybe 50 to check it out and that slow ebb and flow of speed ties up traffic for miles? Or when you have to merge lanes and some yahoos insist on driving right up to the merge, making you stop to let them in? As soon as you get in that single lane, off you go and all is well.

It's the yahoos, people. And there were yahoos in the buffet line.

When I see 50 people waiting behind me, I zip through that line, snagging bits of this and that with little thought, just to get out of the way with some food on my plate. Not these folks. No. Grape tomatoes had to be examined. Baby carrots were chosen and discarded. Bits of pineapple were moved about and pondered. And then you get to the part where there were people waiting on you which presents a new set of problems. "what is this?" It's a SANDWICH you nut job. You can even see what's in it because it is cut in sections. Unless you have never before seen turkey, spinach, tomatoes or cheese, grab it and go!

Oh, and the sushi! "Give me that one. No, no, that one. Next to that one. Yes" Here's a clue for ya. Sushi is made in long rolls. All those pieces you're subjecting to the CATscan in your head are the same. Move along!

Oh, and the cheese table, The beautiful cheese table with little cards inscribed with exactly what that cheese is, but is that good enough? Noooo. "Is this hot cheese?" Does the word "jalapeno" ring a bell there, buddy? No, you cannot sample it. This is a buffet. Everything is a sample!

So, I figured it out. Like everything else in life, the yahoos ruin it for everyone. But even they could not ruin this beautiful late Summer night on a rambling veranda in the company of artist friends speaking their own language and stocking up on free food and wine.

Life is good. Slow, but good.

Monday, August 16

chautauqua crafts alliance show

This is the one I pin my season on. It is the envelope I open with shaky fingers. Because a "no" means my best show is off the schedule and I need to find 2 to fill the gap. I also love the thing. Stellar committee, beautiful grounds, cello music in the air. It's not just the sales.

So, this year I was wait-listed much to my disappointment, but then I was called in for August, much to my hooray. Since I had virtually no shows for a full month prior, this was a much needed infusion of funds. I hoped for the best.

As it turned out, it was not the best, but it was pretty darn good. I got the last of my nagging obligations taken care of and put away a little bit for our upcoming road trip. The next 2 shows need to be good or we will be traveling with an air mattress in the back of the van!

The committee that runs this show is the best I've ever seen. They are everywhere, wearing bright red cobbler aprons, from load in to load out, helping, checking, chatting, offering. Trust me, you don't get that very often.

We were neighbors with a slightly older couple that loves Fox news but we got along anyway. We had a couple of political debates, but they were good ones. Passionate but respectful. When we left, I hugged the husband and he told me I was the nicest Liberal he ever met. Heh

Across from us, a guy who used to be one of my brother's best friends. They drifted apart, but we had fun reminiscing and we traded some of my widgets for a great wooden train set. As we were packing up, he came over with yet another car...a passenger car with little people in it...and said he thought the train needed it. He had already thrown in an extra. Our little Kylin is going to love it. His 3rd birthday happens while we are visiting next month.

Spending the weekend on the grounds means you are experiencing the music and dance from the ampitheater every time you take a short stroll for the "facilities". People are playing cellos on the lawn behind you. A big difference from the street fairs we usually do, with their porta potties and kettle corn. Not that I don't enjoy those, too. Well, except for the porta potty thing, but the grace of this show cannot be overstated.

I met a sweet lady from Virginia who came in to buy a card she had seen earlier and it was gone. We got to talking and it was one of those odd but lovely things that happens when you just connect with someone. I know she felt it too because she gave me a long, hard hug when she left. I promised to send her the card as a gift.

We spent Friday night in a cheapy "lodge" that exists mostly for fishermen. During the season, accommodations are very pricey, so we deal with lumpy beds and a kitchenette with mismatched plates and cups and glasses. A coffee pot with no filters. Bath towels the size of credit cards. Saturday night we went home for the night so I could restock. The show doesn't start until noon on Sunday, so there was time for the hour commute. It felt good to have more things on the shelves.

And now on to the last 2 shows of Summer.


Tuesday, August 10

Drudging along

OK, that may not be a word, but when when you are deep in drudgery you need a verb to describe it,

This is my least favorite part of trying to earn a living as an artisan. I don't have paintings that sell for prices with several "0"s. My widgets sell for 20, 30, 40 bucks on average so I have to sell a lot of them to make money, Which means I have to make a lot of them. By Thursday. And that spells drudgery.

I play games on myself. Buying a new paper that makes me want to see how it will look as a book. I took Saturday as an "art" day and made collage and mirrors. I wish I could make a living with just those. I truly enjoy that. But I am nothing if not realistic.

So, I spend hours just making book covers, cutting frames, covering little pieces of book board for magnets. This will be relieved somewhat when I start actually embellishing and turning the "bones" into pretty stuff.

But I have one more day of drudging. I stand at the foot of the stairs to the attic and sigh. I picture show day, under the canopy, everything all lovely and sitting seductively on shelves for the fine folks of Chautauqua. I imagine selling them, making money for our upcoming vacation. I channel the feeling I will have as I pack the finished pieces snugly into their boxes for the trip.

I turn around and make another cup of coffee. I mean, how can I possible create anything without a second cup and the first half hour of "Today"? What was I thinking?

Tuesday, August 3

Downtown Syracuse-the friends

So, I had sort of given up on this show but then an artist friend said I should apply and stay with her and her husband and we would have fun and I couldn't resist.

A word or 2 about my friend, Elizabeth. She is an amazing artist who somehow prints her beautiful drawings using copper plates and acid and all sorts of stuff she showed me and I still can't wrap my head around. Plus it all has to be done backwards. The mind reels. This is hers:

One of my favorites. Elizabeth's art is populated by fairies, mice and elephants at work, winsome children, moons and stars brought to life. You are drawn into her world and you want to stay there. She also write poems and fairy tales. Delightfully. I "knew" her before I knew her because I was always drawn to her art and sometimes could actually buy it. We became familiar to her and then, once we started doing the same shows, a friendship developed, slow and sure.

Another couple was also invited. Lynne and Rich. They do beautiful botanical prints. Not sure of the process, but her drawings are wonderful. And, as Elizabeth said, she is a real businesswoman. Something a lot of us aspire to and have trouble attaining.

After the first day of the show, we set the GPS for the 4 mile trip and found ourselves in a neighborhood not unlike ours, just several degrees nicer. Big old houses lovingly restored. James had purchased his craftsman style house a while back and didn't live in it for the first year while it was rehabbed. It is a beauty. They gave us their room with a comfy bed nestled into a bay window, gentle old furniture and little spots of collections here and there. Books, buttons, pieces of vintage jewelry. It was heaven. If I didn't have a show to do, I would have been happy to curl up there for the weekend with a stack of books, my iPod and a pot of coffee.

It was inspiring to be reassured that renovations do get done and graceful living ensues.

But that wasn't the best part. The best part was sitting around the picnic table, bare toes in the grass, eating pizza and drinking wine. Talking. Talking about art shows and promoters and sales and being an artist and how to release the inner talents we all have. Lynne convinced me I could draw if I "showed up" and I knew what she meant although I'm not so sure...

We discussed politics and renovating old houses. We talked about our kids. Was the economy going to stay stable enough for us to make a living as artists? Is Zapplication making our lives better or worse? Elizabeth told of doing the tango until 4am at her neighbors house on New Years Eve. We laughed and talked until we were too exhausted to stay awake.

In the morning, James made us breakfast and we all gathered around the kitchen island, the early morning perfume of dew and grass mingling with coffee and OJ and griddle cakes. And then we were off to be art carnies another day.

That night, dinner was not with friends, but with my son and his fiance. The "behold the ring" tour as I call it. We had a celebration dinner with a retelling of the proposal and talk of early wedding plans and much teasing of Leisha when she admitted to buying a binder to keep track of things. It is hard for me to explain the beauty of this.

Back at Elizabeth's, the barbecue was over, but even more friends had gathered around the table. As they debated politics and things that seemed too tiring to me after a long day, Lynne and I sat a few feet away in adirondack chairs and talked the business of art among other things. I envy how sure she is. Something to aspire to. And then she and her husband took out guitars and serenaded us. Some of the songs she wrote, some were Dickinson poems sent to her music and then there was Leonard Cohen which led me to think that there was nothing more that could be thrown at me to make these few days more perfect.

One more night nestled into the bay window, one more morning around the island with friends. Elizabeth showed us her studio and I was even more enamored with her work when I saw how hard it was, how painstaking.

I meet a lot of people doing this art show thing. There is a contingent of hardened vets who grumble about the business and how hard it is and they shoot off negativity like sparks from a dragging muffler. And yes, it is hard. I started this blog because I overheard a passing festival goer talk about how lucky we were not to have to work for a living.

But there is this. An environment built on creativity and hope, work made principally from what one can imagine, income earned by engaging others to enjoy your vision and want to have it.

The others who populate this world with you can be the most valuable benefit earned. The economy will rise and fall, our profits with it. To share friendship and experience and encouragement for a life most people outside of it cannot imagine is a gift.

So, loving thanks to Elizabeth and James, for a weekend that not only rested me, but gave inspiration and hope.

Life is good.

Monday, August 2

Downtown Syracuse-the show

The first time we did this show I was blown away by how much stuff I sold. We basically ran out of stuff by the 3rd day, so we dismantled the display and set up a table in the front with the last of our widgets. I was giggly with success.

Of course, back then my expectations were lower and my stuff was cheaper. I was experimenting with things like papier mache jewelry. We liked the show and the city and the people, so I put it on my "shows to do again" list.

You know there is a danger is leaping to happy conclusions without a control group or something.

I continued to apply to the show and I continued to be accepted. They offered us artist rates at a nice local hotel. They gave us a picnic on Friday night. Many of my fellow art carnies were present allowing for much coming together of like minded folk.

But then the show took a downturn. The committee kept changing the date. Never a good thing for an established show. Then they decided to combine several festivals on the same weekend. I don't understand that sort of thinking. Wouldn't you rather give your community several weekends to look forward to in the Summer? Why lump everything together? The artists started mumbling under their breath. It was no longer a given that this was a show to apply to next year. Then came a Sunday a couple of years ago that was so poorly attended, I took a picture of the almost empty street in the middle of the afternoon.

So, I took a break. The show went from the "apply again" column to the "dying show" column. I went other places with my tent in July.

But, like most things, your resolve can be changed with an offer attractive enough. This one came from a friend. Stay with us, we'll do the show together, we live right near the festival, it will be fun. I love this woman (more on her and the invitation next post) and so I jumped back in.

And ya know, it was pretty OK. In fact, had I been more optimistic I would have brought more widgets and things would have been even better, All the good things were still there. Nice layout, good people, friends visited, weather was good 99% of the time with the rain holding off until pack up.

I sold several collage pieces which made me really happy. It takes more courage to sell "art" that has no function other than to be there for you to look at. It means a lot to create a piece of pretty out of your own imagination and put it out there for folks to look at, to judge. When someone says "I'll take that" it puffs you up. I had one man say to me "I can't leave without that". Yay.

So. I move the show into the "OK, you get another chance" column.

And on we go.