Making it in the crafts world

UP FRONT

February 24, 2000|By Karen Keys | Karen Keys,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

It's late October 1999. A letter sits on Judy Rand's kitchen counter. The envelope is familiar. It's from the American Craft Council. A woodworker, Rand has applied to be in the ACC Craft Show Baltimore, part of a group of shows considered by many to be the country's largest and most prestigious display of craft media.

The year before, Rand was put on the waiting list for the 1999 show. Now, it has been a month or so since she sent in her application for the 2000. She opens the letter. She smiles. The letter says "Accepted."

Finally!

The ACC Craft Show Baltimore, which opens tomorrow at the Baltimore Convention Center, will feature the work of more than 650 exhibitors. There will be glass, ceramics, wood, metal, jewelry, fiber, leather and mixed media. And, for the first time, Judy Rand's painted wood furniture and whimsical rocking animals will be displayed.

Each of the 650 available spots typically has three or four applicants. A jury of nine people reviews five slides of a prospective entrant's work and then holds a silent vote. With the show so highly regarded, entry into it can make a crafter's fiscal year. But participation in the show one year doesn't guarantee a space for the next.

"It's very competitive. Believe me, I've tried," the 56-year-old Rand said recently. "It's a kick. It's been great to finally break through."

Rand had been applying to the show since 1980, but not every year. She isn't sure of the exact number of times. Many. A lot. Enough.

In years past, Rand tried to submit a range of work. "It didn't connect," she says. "This year I tried to have a unified body of work." She sent slides of work bound by similar style and color.

The Gambrills resident, originally from Massachusetts, came to Maryland in 1973 to teach psychology at Bowie State College. She had just earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Three years later, free for the whole summer, Rand decided she would make a dining room table. She needed one and she had often adopted large projects (she had experience working on old houses, painting and fixing up things).

"I used to say I had more time and money than sense," Rand says.

She went to the lumber yard, purchased oak and cherry wood, picked up a how-to book and bought the remainder of necessary supplies at Sears. The project took the whole summer, and by the end, Rand was smitten with woodwork. "I realized how much I liked working with my hands," she says.

The next year, 1977, she participated in Artists in Action on the Mall in Washington. It was her first retail crafts show. The first day she sold a half-dozen or so wooden vases and bowls, grossing $47. That may not seem like much money to a lot of people, but it convinced Rand that she could make crafts that people wanted to buy.

Over the next two years, she spent more and more time on her woodworking and started participating in Sugarloaf Mountain Craft Festivals. In 1980, she quit her job at Bowie State and turned her woodworking passion into a business.

Her father suggested that woodworking was something that could wait until retirement. But Rand realized the physical demands of woodworking. "I thought, `I can go back to teaching when I retire from woodworking,' " she says.

However, the psychology curriculum has changed significantly since Rand left the classroom, and she feels it's too late for her to return to teaching.

"No regrets," she says.

Each morning, sometimes as early as 7 a.m., Rand makes the 80-foot commute from her house to her studio -- a two-story, three-car garage -- and stays as long as 12 hours when she is preparing for a show.

"Self-employed people work more than eight hours a day. Half because you like the work, half because you have to," Rand says.

As she works, a beefy brown tabby named Whiton wanders around her studio. "He always gets in the way," she says.

Sometimes she listens to classical music; sometimes she tunes into "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio. "My objective is to be able to live the way I am living and be able to support myself," says Rand.

And she's doing just that. She participates in a dozen or so craft shows a year, mostly the Sugarloaf festivals in Timonium, Gaithersburg and Chantilly, Va.

She considers woodworking her soul work. "I need to create things," she says.

The self-taught crafter works primarily with Baltic birch, a laminated cabinet-grade wood from Russia. The sturdy material is ideal for cutting thin shapes for applique work. She constructs and paints whimsical rocking animals, chests, cabinets, trunks, dragons, animals and small mirrors.

During her 20-year career, her woodworking has included a variety of styles -- from large sculptural work to "austere art deco" pieces to natural-looking garden animals. About five years ago, she decided that her artist's "statement" would be "sophisticated folk with a twist." And she began including an animal theme in her work.

"Everything I do has some sort of animal in it," says Rand.

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