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i'd like to say a word for the craft fair...

updated tue 15 jun 99


Richard Aerni on sat 12 jun 99

(Mangling a line from the musical Oklahoma...)

I want to briefly (well, maybe not so briefly) jump in here with a few
thoughts on the matter. I've heard a bunch of reasons why one shouldn't
do those dang craft fairs...they're expensive, boring, you're getting
ripped off by greedy promoters, take up too much time, etc etc. And I
guess you could say there is some truth to all of those arguments, but in
the end, it gets back to doing what is right for you, and there is no one
right path for everyone.

I used to follow the old wholesale path...had about 40-50 galleries that
I sold to, kept making the same 15 or so shapes, filling those orders,
shipping them out, keeping the ole cash flow healthy...getting
established. It was right at the time, and had a lot to do with why I
was able to withstand some of the knocks and bumps that come along the
way. But, time and people change...

After a while, I found myself no longer so excited about seeing those
dozens of orders stuffed in the folder, with all the dates of delivery
circled on the big calendar on the wall. It began to feel confining, and
I began to chafe at the rigid, repetitive nature of it all. I began
dropping galleries, going more and more with those gallery owners with
whom I'd begun to feel some rapport, who were in love with the pots, not
just with where I fit in with their business formula. This lead to more
and more experimentation and a sense of freedom.

And as the economic boom continued, I began to notice that I was doing
twice and three times as much at a retail show as I used to. So, I could
go to a four day show, and sell 25% of all the pots I'd make in a year,
right then and there. Began to be a pretty lucrative way to go. Of
course, these are not just your local "Strawberry and Arts Show", or the
sidewalk show from the town next door. These were really good,
competitive shows, where the promoters had spent time and lots of money
advertising, bringing in the best craftspeople out there and the people
who would buy their work. I learned that it does no good to bring good
work to the wrong market. I also found that working more to shows, I had
more time to develop new ideas and new pots...and began to get more
excited about my work.

So now, I sell to only a handful of galleries, and do only 2-4 shows per
year, yet still manage to sell pretty much everything I can make. And
still the refinements of the business picture continue...I now do a
workshop every now and then, and find the participants often buy pots.
And I'd like to bring more of the market to me, instead of going to the
markets...but that too has it's downside. Folks who say you spend too
much time travelling to shows, and selling, may not have considered the
amount of your time each visitor to the studio consumes while talking and
deciding which pot to buy. I'm not sure whether it all adds up to more
or less than the time spent at shows, but it's got to be close. Also, I
choose to make pots that not everyone needs, or wants. To restrict
yourself to a 50 mile radius may mean that it changes the kind of work
you make, and at this time, that's not something I want to do.

What I'm trying to get at is there are no simple answers. Everyone is
free, and encouraged, to find their own individual path to economic
freedom. They won't all be the same, and thank goodness for that. I
don't think craft fairs are dying...maybe some, but that is like saying
all potters are dying. Sure, some do, but new ones are born, and some
actually keep on flourishing. Sure, there is plenty to bitch about when
talking about craft fairs, and you'll hear me doing it too, but you'll
also see me out there on the street, having a great time, and (hopefully)
doing well at the fair.

To each his/her own...


Richard Aerni
Bloomfield, NY

Susan Fox Hirschmann on sun 13 jun 99

Hi Richard,

I also have been doing craft fairs (mostly retail) for almost 20 years. I
have watched some of them take a dive, as the quality has changed, the
audience definitely will change along with that, and the volume of sales
decreases. In the late 70's and early 80's, i do feel we had a genuine "back
to the earth movement", where people wanted and appreciated handcrafted, and
felt the special touch of the artist they were bringing home with each piece
that they chose for their home.
And i have watched this "elan" change in most of the shows that i am now
doing.(or no longer doing)
The proliferation of the craft fair, especially here in the east coast (and
probably elsewhere, where there literally are shows one could go to EVERY
weekend---has made them "less special" in the eyes of many. There ARE just
TOO MANY shows and the special ones are often relegated to "just another
show" weekend by customers. And there are very few shows where high quality
is pervasive.
It used to be that people came to see the ARTISTS and CRAFTSMen (and by the
way they had some entertainment there too). Now many shows relegate we
craftsmen and artists to second billing, while they publicize the
ENTERTAINMEnt, and by the way we also have a craft show.
It is this mentality, as well as the new young professionals flocking to
pottery barn and pier one, that may be "killing" many a great show that i
used to do. Or perhaps, the young people now "furnishing" new homes are now
investing in computer technology and decorating at target.?
On the other hand, there is still a pocket of wonderful shows in the
midwest----where the elan, the "lets put the artist on a pedestal", the
genuine appreciation of the arts is alive and well. And i (like you , i am
sure, richard) are thank ful for the masses that flock to those shows, to
help keep us solvent. and To enliven our creative juices.
And to make us feel that all is well in craftshow land. And hopefully, i too
will be there meeting people and smiling.
And then there are the big money prize shows in Florida, run by museums that
are high on prestige, but only fair on income. Win a prize there and it
surely could make your show!
You are right, richard. All life is balance. I have chosen to do wholesale
and retail to achieve that balance....
And only hope that you and I
and all of us out there will continue to educate the public, both adult AND
children on the value of the works of our hands. Then we can all continue to
create from our hearts.

also respectfully submitted,
susan fox hirschmann

Philip Schroeder on mon 14 jun 99

I have been reading several of the current threads with great interest
lately. I am impressed. Over the past couple of years, I have felt that
Clayart had the potential to address some important common concerns, in
addition to passing along technical info and creating a sort of community or
network of Clayart members.

With this thread in particular, those of us who continue to do Art/Craft
Fairs share many common concerns. What occures to me, how could could we
impact positively here if we chose to do that. Individually, I don't feel I
carry a great deal of influence, but I still try to give promoters of shows,
good quality or poor quality), as much thoughtful feedback as I can.
Granted, this feedback is not always well received. But there have been a
number of occations where certain show organizers/promoters have attempted to
incorporate some suggestions. Some are more receptive/some less. I, for
one, feel better when I speak up. I also feel that if a promoter is
receptive and tries to improve things the following year or show, there is a
better chance that this particular venue will survive the glut of shows.
(Simple economics suggests to me that some of these overly abundant, poor
quality shows will crash and burn eventually. And , unfortunately, many will
continue as they appeal to a less than sophisticated portion of the public.)
There are still some very good quality fairs 'round these parts; I am
hoping that the good ones continue to progress, because there is somethings
about doing an Art Fair that I enjoy.

Phil Schroeder in Chicago