A convergence of beauty

Fans of ACC show go to find art, crafts that are stunning

February 16, 2003|By Stephanie Shapiro | By Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Staff

For veteran attendees of the American Craft Council show in Baltimore, the weekend event is a joyful time when friendships forged with the purchase of a porcelain bowl or a woven scarf are renewed and February doldrums are forgotten.

"I always go like a homing pigeon, right to my friends who are exhibiting," says Lois Feinblatt of Baltimore. "It's an important winter social event."

Over the years, Feinblatt has also learned how to tackle the show, which has grown more massive every year. This coming weekend, the 27th annual show at the Baltimore Convention Center will feature more than 850 craft artists, an overwhelming number for those who don't know where to start among the sprawling warren of booths.

It helps to have a specific goal in mind, Feinblatt says, whether you're searching for a "pocketbook or a candlestick." Her own passion runs to wearable art, and much of her clothing was acquired at the show.

Feinblatt tries to spend two days at the show, and still, "You never go out of there thinking that you've seen enough."

Sally B. Gold, a family law attorney in Baltimore, has attended the craft show every year since its inception, and her finds grace her office and home and those of family and friends. "What I try to do is walk through slowly and I try to then walk through a second time in the opposite direction. When you go down an aisle you see things one way; when you come in another direction, past the same booth, you see things you didn't see."

While Gold returns to the booths of old friends, she also enjoys "the serendipity of it all: when you turn a corner and there's somebody whose work just blows you away."

Gold, who buys many of the signature hats she wears at the show, uses the event to stock up on gifts. "This year, it's my parents' 55th wedding anniversary and a daughter of a good friend is getting married. I go with a little list of big events that are happening during the year."

Baltimore potter Lorna Taylor will volunteer at the craft show as part of Baltimore Clayworks. Then, she'll roam the aisles. "Since I'm primarily interested in ceramics, I get the program and look at all the ceramics booths and find their numbers. I go to my favorite ones first, then try to hit all of them," she says. "I do it all from the program; it saves a lot of time."

To learn more about what she is seeing, Taylor says, "I ask a lot of questions. I like to talk to the artists. ... They can tell you their process."

Corporate art consultant Susan Perrin of Timonium goes to the craft show with clients' specific requests in mind, be it furniture, fiber pieces or other functional art. "What I normally do is spend some time ahead looking at the program," as well as newspaper articles and materials received ahead of time from exhibitors, she says. "Do your research before you go in," scope out the whole show while fresh and "then go through and see the areas of greatest interest," Perrin says.

Deciding on a purchase, particularly a major one, also requires homework, she says. "If you are looking for a piece of furniture, look at all of the options and look at the resume of the artist, how long they've been in business and what types of furniture or design element someone specializes in," Perrin says. That way, "you get a sense of the caliber and the experience of the artist."

Craft customers may opt to commission a piece by an artisan. In that case, it often helps to "take advantage of artists located regionally," especially if the process requires artist visits and follow-up work, Perrin says. "The other thing that has made a huge difference for the commission process is e-mail and sending information back and forth through [digital images and other information]."

When making a decision, it helps to envision an object's place in your home and in your life, says Annet Couwenberg, a fiber artist and professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art. "If you buy a piece, you need to ask if it enhances your life or not. Does it function with what you have?" Questions can range from, "Do I have to dry clean it?" to "Does it fit within what I already have or established?"

Most important, Couwenberg says, is to ask, "Could it bring joy and beauty and could it even ask a few questions?"

You may not come to the show intending to make a large purchase, but who knows what can happen when you see something irresistible? So it makes sense to bring as much information about your potential setting for a piece as possible, including photos and dimensions, Perrin advises. "Even if you're not planning on looking for a rug, if you bought one, that information really winds up being most helpful." And that way, "the experience will be a lot more pleasant" and visitors will make better use of their time, Perrin says.

Starting a collection is an exciting incentive for attending the craft show, she says. You may collect the work of a single artist or that of a particular genre, beginning with your first piece of hand-blown glass or pottery, for example.

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