visit the web site

Monday, June 27

Roycrofting in the rain

Oh how I used to look forward to the Roycroft Summer Festival. It's one of those shows that I envied before I turned pro myself. I was inspired by the accomplishments of the Roycroft Artisans. I won't bore you with the details but you can read about the movement and the artisans here:

Eventually I started to apply to the show and almost always got in. I loved it.

So, anyway, 2 years ago there was construction happening on the site so they moved the show from the historic, charming campus to the parking lot of an elementary school a few blocks away. Major bummer. So we lost the trees and the ambience and the history and the cache. They marked our spaces so that the booths actually touch each other making set up a real challenge. Elbert would not have approved of some of the adjectives being tossed about as artists struggled to squeeze their fingers between metal poles so they could zip the sides of their canopies. But we managed. In this business you adapt or die.

The fine art show that traditionally runs concurrent with the artisan show still is held across the street from the old site and there is now an antique show on the grounds so I think some patrons think they have seen it all and fail to ponder what happened to the Roycrofters.

Oh, plenty of people come to the school parking lot, but it's not the same. We had hoped that the 2nd year in the new place would be better, that people would remember. But not enough did. I guess we aren't the only ones who believed location is everything.

It is still an honor to be in the show with the amazing certified Roycroft Artisans. I have regulars at this show who come look for me, people who actually collect my books and want a new one every year. We had a laugh-filled good time with a group of friends at the artist picnic on Saturday night and the next day I was mentored anew by one of the Roycroft masters who also happens to be a cherished friend. She's gonna make an artist outta me if it kills her. And it isn't the Roycrofter's fault that the weather forecasters said sun and warm when the reality was damp and cold.

But the thrill is gone. This used to be one of my best shows. I never had enough inventory. I would spend Saturday night finishing up stuff to bring on Sunday. Hard to believe I am wondering what other shows might be better at this time next year. I miss the old place, the funky buildings, the traditions. I think the customers miss it, too. Many of them mentioned it.

Oh, I'm sure that next year, with snow on the ground and echoes of the laughter from the picnic still echoing in my memory, I will adjust my expectations and apply again. The businesswoman in me is always at war with the sentimental part of my psyche. There is a little soft spot in my heart for this show, this place, these people. Oh, if only I could deposit soft spots in my bank account!

So, on to Chautauqua, my true number one, with visions of new, mentored work that will knock their sandals off.

Hope is that thing with feathers.....

Tuesday, June 21

taking flight

It was a peaceful Sunday morning and I was taking a break from the studio when Russell dashed into the house and told me to come outside, hurry up, I would like it.

Now, with Russell, this could be anything from a new bud on a tree to an unusual cloud formation to a funny license plate. I went anyway.

He motioned me across the street to a bush in front of the apartment building and there, crouching under the lowest branches, was a bird. Either a hawk or a falcon. Young. He had been hopping around on the grass when Russell first saw him but the combined interest of the neighbors and a couple of their cats had driven him under the bush. He still had some baby fuzz peeking out from his feathers and he peered at us from large, round eyes. I don't think he was pleased. He raised his wings slowly but went nowhere. Eventually he escaped our well meaning presence by flying low and clumsily across the street and under a car where he commenced to crying pitifully. It killed me. I knew he was calling his mother.

Well now, what to do?

By now we had the attention of some of the folks in the building as well as our neighbor friends and a conference ensued. What to do? He didn't seem to be able to launch himself into the air from the ground. What if he stayed under the car until someone drove over him? It was decided a rescue was necessary. Tara got a cat carrier, Jo and I started calling every place we could think of, Russell gently pulled the little guy from under the car and put him in the carrier.

Nobody was in. It was Sunday. We left messages. We waited. Tara kept checking the carrier which was on her porch, in the shade. How is he, we would ask and she would shake her head sadly. Not great.

FInally we got the SPCA emergency wildlife number, actually talked to someone and we were told to bring him down ASAP. Russell was elected to drive the rescue vehicle since I was to wait for the painter we had hired and the others had kids and things.

I called him after a bit and he was in and he said the SPCA person had pronounced the bird ( a Kestral Falcon as it turns out) healthy enough.

This news was shared with the neighborhood trauma team and I assumed that was the end of it. But when Russell came home he was toting the carrier and he informed me the bird was in it.

What? I didn't believe him, but it was true. He was told to bring the guy home (they estimated he was about 6 weeks old) put him up high somewhere so his Mom could find him and he would be fine. They assured Russell that in a battle with cats, he was sure to be OK. So, up the stairs he went and onto our upper porch and over the railing to the very edge. He opened the carrier, lifted the bird gently and stooped to put him on the roof.

And then, as Russell tells it with joy, he soared. Soared! Up and over the trees and back across the street where we all believe his Mom was pacing, waiting, watching for him.

It was a good morning and we were all happy and proud and we went back about our business. But it stayed with me.

Then it dawned one me that this is how people really are. This is what a society is. People who watch and care and act. People who sacrifice something to do good. This is a neighborhood. Men and women gathering on the sidewalk, discussing options, making calls, checking the internet, posting on facebook about what to do. Community.

I can't help but wonder at what level we lose this. When do a half dozen barefoot city dwellers, wearing jammy pants and pulling out cell phones to help a bird become politicians who bicker over whether their fellow human beings should be given health care or be allowed to marry the person they love? When does that natural instinct to give a shit go away?

I'm talking to you, Washington. Get over yourself, get down on your knees and pull us out from under the car. You will feel really, really good.

Thursday, June 16

showdown in Allentown

Every job has its own peculiar idiosyncrasies. There are rules that the public never thinks about but that rule our world. Like, at my theater job, we are never allowed to say a show is sold out until the boss says it is even if you can't find a seat in the whole place. You are not allowed to hang around the lobby for a sneak peek during a concert sound check. You can't wear sneakers even though nobody can see your feet.

And so it is in art show world. Organizers work hard to keep the cheaters from getting a spot in their show. Believe it or not, there are unscrupulous folk who buy crap from China, pull off the labels and set up shop as "the artist". They are masters at submitting jury photos of their "work" that fools the pros.

Then there are the production crews that have little mini factories set up to mass produce stuff like weathervanes and garden art and send out teams of people to pose as the artist at shows.

So, anyway, the better shows have come up with sets of rules that help to keep the shows real. After all, the main purpose of legitimate art and craft shows is to provide the customer a chance to see quality handcrafted work and to meet the person who created it. Otherwise, you might as well just go to your local consignment shop and pick something off a shelf.

OK, I'm getting to the point here, really.

We set up for the weekend on Friday night. Just the canopy and shelves because we knew we'd be there at 6am Saturday to grab one of the parking spots right behind our booth. It was our first outdoor show of the season and even though we were sure we had everything, we were missing the tie downs for the weights we attach to each leg of the rig. Since we live just blocks away, Russell was going to run home to get them, but our neighbor, a sweet faced man with a shaved head and newly sunburned cheeks offered an extra set he just happened to have. Really nice guy. He told us that he and another guy are partners in their pottery business but he was here alone because the other guy's wife, a paraplegic, was running a high temp and he had to stay behind in Albany to tend to her and their kids.

Potters have one of the toughest setups in the business. Everything is breakable, each piece needs to be wrapped and unwrapped. There are tons of small crates because the stuff is too heavy to pack up in big totes. It is tedious, hard work. We offered to help if he needed it.

Next morning we were all there early, setting up in the early morning dampness, catching up with friends, hunting down coffee. The usual. People started to make their way down the streets and it seemed like it would be an uneventful, fun day.

Then the committee came around. As part of the rules I referenced waaay back when I started this epic, they come to each booth, check your ID, make sure the person who applied is the person in the booth and they punch a hole in your exhibitor permit to indicate you have passed inspection. They were very nice to me, we joked, I got punched, they left.

A few minutes later, I hear our neighbor talking on his cell phone, telling his partner that his only recourse was to pack it all up and there was nothing else he could do. Uh oh. Was he being tossed? The committee woman agreed to talk to the guy and she paced the street in front of his booth, listening, responding, shaking her head. There was nothing she could do. Rules were there for a reason.

It seems that the show only allows one name per app, even if you create as a team, and it was the absent partner's name that had been submitted. No excuses, no extenuating circumstances. Pack it up.

Since the roads were closed, our neighbor wrapped up the pieces slowly, taking his time, commiserating with his fellow exhibitors, sitting in his truck, wrapping some more. It was a sad and odd dance. I felt really bad for him because I knew what the situation was, and even though I usually applaud the tough rules of this show it felt like a bad decision.

Over the course of the afternoon, others weighed in and, surprisingly, few were sympathetic. That is probably because we are all, for the most part, protective of this rapidly vanishing art show world and have grudging respect for the show "gestapo" that keeps it clean.

I was chided for being naive, that the partner was probably at a show in Chicago or Pittsburgh. And that even if he wasn't, you had to bring the hammer down on this guy because the next guy could be a fraud. I pulled out my app and, sure enough, the first rule, in bold caps, was one person per app, applicant must be present.

Since I am always ready to whine about the quality of some of the work allowed in these fairs, I should be able to see the wisdom and determination behind these rules. Without the 'artist must be present" clause, little factories in Arkansas can pump out pallets of cheap "craft" and send college kids out to sell it for 10 bucks an hour. It takes a lot to put together a show of good work. The potter wasn't the only one ousted that day. 15 "jewelers" were also kicked to the curb for offenses ranging from selling imports to making work from kits.

Even with all the rules, there are folks every year who make snide comments about the "crap". Really? I'd like to lock those bozos in a room for an hour and see if they can create anything but noise. You think the artists are lame? Let's see what you can do. Step away from the laptop and try to get up at 5am on show day to set up a 200 pound tent and display and then try to sell work you have put blood and tears into while some frat boy with a thesaurus posts his "critique" in various comment sections, using a fake name of course. One criticism I read revolved around the fact that here were cutting boards and wooden spoons at the fair. Apparently, woodworking, carving these items from a solid block of wood, turning, etc is not in this guy's limited mentaL data bank.

But they don't count. What counts is that we know the reality, how tough it is to get into good shows. We know how many rules we need to follow.

And now I know what happens when you don't.

Thursday, June 9

beginning again with perspective

So, my first "big" show of the year, 100 American Craftsmen, is now in the back of my show notebook, stamped "done", numbers totalled. Onward and upward.

It was a lovely show. I've written about it before. I'm happy when I can start the year there and cap it off at their Christmas Show. The jury is, literally, still out on the Christmas Show so I don't know if my incredible application luck will hold. You just never know.

That is, of course, the worst part of this business. Uncertainty. There were some familiar faces missing from the show this year. Talented artisans with a long history at Kenan. Truth be told, I didn't see anyone there that made me think they had outscored the missing folk. But, if I could understand the jury process properly I could fold up my tent and go into the consulting business.

I have groupies at this show. No lie! People who come back every year and stop by every year and buy something every year and give me detailed stories about who they gave the item to or where they put it in their house and how loved it is. I swear, a person could get a puffed head.

So, anyway, the perspective thing (see blog title above). I've been oddly Zen about my shows this year. What will be, will be. I guess it has a lot to do with the crazy events of the past year, the cancer, the broken foot, the blind eye. Each taken separately would give one pause, but as a collective medley of greatest hits, it is a winner. Having all of these hits properly fixed, or so it seems, has been a joyful thing, but accepting the fact of one's vulnerability less so.

And then, losing Mom, reflecting on all sorts of heavy existential issues. Well, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but it does tend to put things in their proper place.

Last year a this time I would have been fretting about how I only had 2 photo albums and I really should have 6 and where can I get the supplies and how long would it take to make them and on and on ....UGH! So, I have 2. 2 is good. 2 is better than zero.

Adding substance to my new maturity is an awareness of what happened to artists at the Columbus, Ohio art show last weekend. We art carnies are pretty good at weathering storms, tying down the weights and buttoning up when things get blustery. But every so often a storm slams you before you can dig out the lovely, blue home depot tarps and you may lose some stuff to rain drops. And then there is what happened in Columbus:

That is a person's whole business flying down the street. Just the tent and displays were worth about 4 grand. The artist involved estimates the work lost at almost 40.

I think she had insurance, but what they can't insure are the hours spent imagining and creating, the pieces of a person's soul that goes into their art. That image makes my heart stop every time I see it.

It may rain a bit Saturday. Last year I would have thrown curse words at the weather guy who is clueless about what his forecast might do to attendance that day. Not this year. This year I say, bring it on. The real shoppers come out in the rain anyway. It's the dog walkers and stroller brigade that stay home.

I like the view from here. Maybe I'll actually be able to stay a bit this time.