How Will the Coronavirus Change the Craft Market?

I had originally planned to post this article (on the changes in the market for hand crafted items) before the Coronavirus swooped in and upended everything.

The Coronavirus has already unleashed significant changes in our lives.  One more thing it is destined to change, although we don’t know how yet,  is the craft market.  Some entities are trying to address this right now.    American Handcrafted is compiling information for Artists and Makers.    Square is helping local businesses to support each other. And some folks on Etsy are selling washable face masks and face mask making tutorials (although there are many sites on the Internet with free directions.  I put some links on a post a couple of weeks ago. More are being added all the time.)    But everything is up in the air right now and no one knows how things will shake out for commerce in general much less the craft market.  With that in mind, here is what I learned from two artist/business people at the American Handcrafted wholesale show in February, before things changed yet again.  

Artists Selling Wholesale: American Handcrafted in Philadelphia

Before 2005,  I sold my work (mostly jewelry) in several galleries and stores, and did a few shows every year. Craft sales were not my main source of income but I did well enough to keep at it.  Family obligations put a stop to that and by the time my life settled down again, the 2008 Recession had caused major changes in the market.   I have done a  little selling since then, but remain mostly ambivalent when it comes to marketing and selling my work. 

 

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Outside the Philadelphia Convention Center

While I am not interested in wholesaling and  rarely do direct sales, I am  interested in the experience of Artists who sell their work in the retail and wholesale arenas.     I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the American Handcrafted (formerly American Craft Retailers Expo) show in Philadelphia in February, and managed to talk to a few of the vendor/artists who exhibited at the how.   Here are two of the most interesting interviews.

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Stickball Studio’s Diana Taylor (Ficklesticks Fiber Jewelry and Fiber Art from Little Rock Arkansas),  has been selling her hand made creations for more than 30 years.  She has seen  craft shows change greatly during that time,  In the 1980’s, she observed, the show aisles would be so crowded with people that you could not see to the end.  And crafting was very popular, getting some of its momentum from the handmade movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  There were a lot of stores and galleries looking for products to sell to their mostly Baby Boomer customers.  Business was good.  It took a downturn with the recession in the 1970’s but improved in the 1980’s. The 2008 Recession cut back business and it has never fully recovered, 

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Today’s typical craft show customer is older.  Stores and gallery owners are leaving the business or retiring.  There are younger makers and sellers, but things are moving on line.  Ficklesticks has adapted  to the changes in the market and is still thriving.  They maintain  an online site in addition to their wholesale business. 

One major change Diana that mentioned she made in her business,  is that her sales reps are bypassing the galleries and gift shops and marketing to the fashion industry.    (I note here that two other artists who have successfully marketed to the fashion industry are Veruschka Stevens (Veru Designs) and Susan Lenart Kazmer.)  

Check out Ficklesticks’ colorful fiber jewelry creations here.

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The next person I talked to was polymer artist  Janet Pitcher (Petal Pushers) from San Diego. I am always interested to learn how polymer artists discovered the medium, and  Jane’s story is not unusual.  She was 32 and trolling the aisles of Michaels with her 8-year-old son looking for a craft project.  She saw the polymer, tried it and was hooked.  Although she spent years in sales, she was a creative at heart and had a successful business  designing and making costumes. She was also selling her polymer work at retail shows  before she switched to wholesale shows about 10 years ago. 

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She is a consummate salesperson and her passion for polymer was evident.  Janet’s booth was crowded with buyers when I entered and they all left orders with her. 

I asked Janet whether she thought that polymer was a hard sell.  “It can be,” she admitted, ” but polymer is no less valuable than regular clay, cloth, glass, fabric, or a host of other materials.  The value is what the artist brings to the medium, same as any other medium.”   I listened as Janet told her customers  that polymer is “durable, light, and color fast.”  She stressed that she used “high-quality components: Swarovski crystals, niobium wire, and high-quality brass and metal parts” and let them know that she did all the hand finishing herself.   Her lariats are composed of polymer focals  strung on silk ribbon.  Her earrings have a corresponding lariats and can be worn as a set.  I didn’t see any bracelets. 

How to you explain the caning process to people who know nothing about polymer? I’ve seen many a polymer artist (myself included) struggle to do this or,  worse yet, have to explain it over and over all day long.   Jane’s solution was ingenious.    She had a speeded up video of the caning process playing on an iPad to one side of her display.   See the picture below. 

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Caning video playing on iPad explains the process to customers

Janet’s observations on marketing were equally interesting.   She said that people were increasingly less likely to buy products like hers from galleries and more likely to by them as a way to cement an experience, making tourist souvenir shops and museum shops good outlets for handcrafted items.

Something to think about.  Check out Janet’s web site here.

I close with a link to a funny song that you have probably already heard unless you are hiding under a rock.  Enjoy.  And stay safe.

 

 

 

Remember: We’re Resilient

This is the second week that I have been “sheltering in place” with Boris and my spouse (who has been doing the grocery shopping and duly sanitizing household surfaces.)  We are probably getting some things wrong, but doing our best.

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The stay home order in Philadelphia does allow residents to go outside for, among other things,  exercise so long as we observe social distancing rules.

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We’ve been having some beautiful weather here, so I’ve been trying to get out hen the weather is nice.  The streets are nearly deserted.  Most of the people we encounter are cheerful and careful to keep the prescribed distance.  Perfect for an introvert who just wants to take a walk.

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Lombard Street near dusk

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Moshulu Penn’s Landing

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Turtle, who lives in Bob’s koi pond, catching a few rays on a sunny afternoon

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Boris relaxing on his cat tree with his stuffed cat, Sweetie.

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I got a new hair cut courtesy of my husband, and made some masks in case friends or neighbors need them later on.

And now for some useful stuff.  Press here for information on sites offering longer free trial video streaming.  I’ve cut my cable, but I might actually try some of these.   I already have tried the live streaming from the Metropolitan Opera.  If you think you hate opera, try streaming one of the Met’s operas complete with subtitles.  For more information, press here. Or explore some  art museums online here.

And finally, a recommendation by my friend Olivia.   Even if you are a non-believer, this is sure to lift up your spirits.  We are nothing but resilient and need a reminder from time to  time.

Creativity in the Time of Coronavirus

WMost of us are stuck at home and the more fortunate of us are merely apprehensive or bored. Not knowing what’s going to happen is a scary, but think about it-when did we ever know what the future held?  And if we did, who among us is smart enough to know what to do with it?  With brings me to today’s question:

Should we wear face masks to protect ourselves from the coronavirus?  Here’s one point of view.  Here’s the other.   This link goes to an article that says that DIY face masks can offer protection from Coronavirus.  I am not prepared to debate this with anyone because I simply don’t know the answer.  I have resolved this question for myself with an “off label” application of Pascal’s wager.   I  know that wearing a face mask does not offer immunity or an excuse to dispense with hand washing, etc.  But if you are already taking all the precautions you can, how can it hurt?  That leaves the question of where to get face masks.  They have become a precious commodity.

I already have some N 95 respirators that I use for enameling and metalwork.  But you can’t wash them and they say to throw them away after one use.  Who knows how long the pandemic will last?  I need a better face mask option.   For me, the option is to make some face masks.  Will they offer any protection?   As you can see from the chart below,   certain materials offer more protection than others.

mask-materials-effectiveness-1-micron-en

I don’t have many vacuum cleaner bags, but I have many dish towels (a more accurate description would be old fashioned tea towels-a closely woven cotton fabric made for drying dishes and glass ware).  Here is a link to the kind of tea towels you would use to make face masks.  I would not use terrycloth or micro fiber.  You have to breathe while you wear the mask.

There are many sites with directions for sewing face masks.  Most of them use two or three layers of material.  The tea towel fabric is tightly woven, however, so you will have to adapt any pattern you use to make it work for you.  A single layer with a thin cotton fabric as a liner might be best.  I plan to experiment.

Here are some links if you are interested in making face masks.

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Medical Mask for cancer or COPD patient (including child’s masks)

 

Hand-sewn mask

And here is some helpful advice from Ana Belchi

 

Since I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, the CDC has changed its no face mask position.  The CDC now advises that wearing non-medical grade face masks might help to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.  For instructions on how to make a no-sew face mask, press here.

 

Fleisher Student Show 2020

SS59Fleisher Art Memorial cancelledl the closing ceremony for  its  122nd annual Student Exhibition because of the Coronavirus.  That didn’t stop me from taking pictures of some of my favorite entries.

Pottery and Ceramics

Painting

Works on Paper and Prints

Fiber Art and Mixed Media and Mosaics

SS67Sandrine Sheon won the Student Advisory Council award for her ceramic piece, Credit None, Trash Walk, 2019

This is my contribution,  Eleanor Rigby’s Secret Jar.SS63, SS60

The World According to Rina Banerjee

Colonialism. The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically

Make Me a Summary of the World  was a 2019  PAFA  exhibition of  Rina Banerjee’s  work.  Banerjee’s paintings, mixed media sculpture and installations serve as her commentary on what she calls “the splintered experience of identity, tradition, and culture within diasporic communities.”   Banerjee’s  powerful  work seemed all the more compelling to me because it was juxtaposed  with  the more traditional Western works of art  gracing the hallowed halls of the Academy.

 

Banerjee’s  recurring themes are environmental awareness, colonialism, the perils of globalism and the “splintered experiences of identity, tradition, and culture, prevalent in diasporic communities.”

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A World Lost

A World Lost is Banerjee’s representation of how an imaginary island changed after pollution set in,the water evaporated,  the population migrated, and the wildlife became extinct.

Banerje’s sculpture is replete with found objects:  eggshells, discarded plastic,  light bulbs, shells, ornaments, doll parts, rocks, feathers, stones and anything else needed to carry the message.

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Daughter
One of my favorites inspired by Banerjee’s daughter.  The background is a schematic rendering of the air duct and electrical system of the Columbia office of the CDC that the artist found in a dumpster near her studio.

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Detail

Other recurring themes include feminism, mythology and the impact of colonialism.  There was a lot to see in this exhibit and even more to think about.

For more information on Rina Banerjee and her work press here and here.

What Inspires You? Cat Pottery

I’m back from Clayathon with too much to do today so this week’s post will be short. What inspires you?  I am not ashamed to say that my cat Boris (and animals in general) is a big source of inspiration for my pottery.

Boris I’ve started throwing again after a hiatus because of thumb problems.  And I like to draw on the pottery which is white earthenware clay.  Here are some small bowls that came out of the kiln this week.

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We have sponge eating monsters  in our pottery studio, so I marked my cleanup sponge accordingly:

 

Screenshot_2020-02-26 Martha Aleo on Instagram “Theft prevention in the pottery studio #humor #donttakemysponge #potteryand[...]
Remember this is a joke.  Just don’t walk off with my cleanup sponge!
 

Clayathon 2020

I had a great time at Clayathon this year. It’s wonderful to play with polymer with 130 of your closest friends, take classes with world class teachers, and relax in a four star hotel with a pool, fitness center and great restaurant. Organizer Arlene Groch has negotiated great rates which makes this an affordable week-long clay extravaganza. Here are some pictures.

 

 

Coming Together at Clayathon

Polymer artist Lindly Haunani is currently in the hospital with multiple severe injuries she suffered in a car accident last week. She is going to have a very long, painful, expensive recovery.

Lindly was scheduled to teach a class at Clayathon which started yesterday.  Her friend and collaborator Maggie Maggio is flying in to teach Lindly’s class for her.

The Clayathon participants have planned some extra conference activities in support of Lindly.

Watch the Creative Journey Studios website here   for exciting news about Sue and Ellen’s ambitious long term project, “52 Weeks for Lindly”.

Most importantly, Cynthia Tinapple has created a Go Fund Me page for Lindly here. Please support Lindly’s Page on your social media and email it to your contacts, and make a donation if you can.

New Earrings (Ugly Cane School Part 3)

I have pretty much exhausted my supply of ugly canes, but I think I have put them to good use.

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These earrings are what can happen when you chop up ugly canes in a mini chopper.  (I found one like this  at a thrift shop for $6.00) and add a few lumps of contrasting clay for interest.

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Another example

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So I have all these components that I plan to take  with me to Clayathon to play around with and try new combinations for earrings.    I have also been experimenting with making my own clay cutters with this kit I got on Amazon.  I will post a tutorial and a review in the future.

I’ll have a  lot to keep me busy!  Clayathon starts February 12 and goes until February 20.  A week of polymer bliss with Kathleen Dustin as this year’s guest artist.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.

 

Ugly Cane School Part Two

NUC1

Did someone say ugly canes?  How is working with this waste clay supposed to get me out of my creative slump?  I won’t say these are the ugliest canes in the world (at least they have some contrast.  Well,  of them anyway), but they do not thrill me.

I decided to slice and bake this time with the idea that I could turn out components that would look good in earrings.    I must say that I was partly inspired by these cutters I bought at Clayathon from Linda Prais of Linda’s Art Spot .
NUCLAS.

But cool cutters will not turn ugly canes into pretty ones:

 

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Here’s an attempt to turn some of those less than perfect canes into earring components.  Not too successful, but I am learning.  “It’s like dating,” I tell myself. “You learn what you like by learning what you don’t like.”   Well, I am sure learning what I don’t like.

 

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Aaugh!  Oodles and oodles of ugly components.  Most of them will go into the trash can.  But I am learning and I am even starting to be inspired.  More next week.