The following article was prepared for and published by the Baltimore Bead Society in tis summer 2014 issue. It was prepared in response to a request to describe my experience as an artist at the American Craft Council 2014 Baltimore show.
The American Craft Council Show: A Beadist’s Perspective
I’ve been a patron of the American Craft Council (ACC) show in Baltimore for over 15 years. I’ve been a card-carrying member of the ACC for a decade. As thea fine, beading design, I’ve applied to ACC shows for 6 years. And, after some flat-out rejections and a slow rise up the waiting list, I’ve been an artist-participant in the last 3 ACC shows in Baltimore.
Getting off the waiting list is nerve wracking, to say the least. This year, a space opened up many months before the February show dates. And that was a good thing! I was able to participate in the “Charms for Charm City,” PR activity to highlight Baltimore and the ACC. Only one other bead artist—my friend (and show house-guest) Beth Farber, joined in. The others participants were well-known, well-respected gold- and silversmiths of whom I have been in awe for years.
It was pretty heady stuff, particularly when one of my pieces (a “charm” bracelet featuring two large, beaded black-eyed susans, the Maryland State flower) was modeled for 2 weeks prior to the show by the Deputy Mayor of Baltimore! Adding to the excitement: my work (and a picture of me holding several of my “Edgars” (Poe) charms) was featured along with the charms of 3 other artists in a page-2 article in the Sunday Baltimore Sun on the last day of the show! Best of all, though, my first sale of the show was to a member of the ACC Board who bought one of my small Baltimore Aquarium starfish charms to wear as a necklace.
What does one learn at the ACC? First and foremost, this show, perhaps more than most other shows, is intensive—and the intensity doesn’t relent after years of doing the show.
- Setting up a booth takes time: sitting in lines of cars and vans waiting in line patiently (and some, not so patiently) to drive onto or near the show floor to dolly in deposit boxes and crates; the process of unloading and getting the car parked offsite; setting up in a 10×10 space, without getting in the way of others doing the same; steaming drapes, hanging photos, lighting and banners; laying foot-saving carpeting and foam padding; taking time to drink lots of water and high-five other artists who you haven’t seen in a while.
- Wholesale days can be slow, but they can be profitable. What a kick—after 3 years at the show—to have my very first significant sale to a museum store! What they called a “small order” was, to me, a very nice one!!! The name of the game: get business cards; get names; share your line sheet, your cards, your passion; and smile, smile, smile. (Oh, and don’t forget, in the haze of the after-the-event exhaustion, to follow up, follow up, follow up!!!)
- The 3 days of retail can be a zoo—crowds, strollers, talkers, gawkers. Pace yourself but stay engaged in the traffic, whether it stops or passes you by. The rollercoaster continues. People you’d never expect to do so often make the largest purchases (and the converse!) Be patient, be happy. So smile!! Some try to bargain with you over a pair of $75 earrings! But smile!! Lines often heard (and often a signal to move on to other potential customers): “I just got here and need to look around,” “Oh, I bead or I have a friend who beads (or fill in another craft), but not like this.”and the ever-popular “Oh, you’re local! I can come to your studio” and its companion “Oh, you have a website! I can buy from you there, right?” Keep smiling!! And remember to change shoes to take the pressure off the feet and back; keep drinking bottles and bottles of water to stay hydrated in a humidity-free environment; make friends with your neighboring artists to cover for you when you sprint to the bathroom after all that water.
Without question, each year is roller-coaster of emotions: heady and humbling, feeling as if I belong one moment and out of my depth the next, full of hope and fear about my place in the artistic community. It’s the high of a great sale and the low of a bad day. Questions abound: Will I make back my costs? Will my feet and back survive the long days? Is wholesale worth doing? Will retail customers come? Is my work—and, by extension, am I—worthy?
Ultimately, for me, it is all worthwhile. As an inherently outgoing person, I thrive on the human contact that shows provide. I revel in the opportunity to “tell the story” of my beadwork. ACC, in particular, represents validation of beadwork as art; of my work as a collectable and wearable. It’s a 5-day opportunity for me to rub elbows with sister and brother artists of remarkable talent (including a number of whom have been my mini cheering squad, encouraging me to “go for it” and apply to shows in the first place). After a few years at the ACC, I can say that that the smile comes naturally as I have become increasingly recognized and accepted as an artist of merit, not only by those who choose to purchase my wearable bead art, but also by a growing number of art and craft makers who count me as a valued colleague. And my husband is happy, too. After all, as an ACC artist who is there to sell, sell, sell, I’m far too busy to play the role of patron and buy, buy, buy!!