Lauren Schlossberg's delicate jewelry, with its tiny hand-sewn seed beads and scraps of ribbon, looks like a million bucks. But budget-conscious shoppers can pick up a pair of earrings that the Timonium jeweler made from hand-dyed Japanese lace for $56 at the American Craft Council Show this weekend.
With more than 700 vendors, the 34th annual extravaganza is billed as the largest indoor craft show in the country and has a reputation for its pretty, sparkly, costly wares. Visitors can pick up one of Todd Reed's bracelets made from raw diamonds, which are priced in the high four figures, or one of Meg Little's hand-woven rugs with unique patterns and vibrant colors.
But given the economy, which remains challenging, and the mood of consumers, which remains cautious, craft show organizers are making an effort this year to showcase handmade items costing less than $100. They want to send the messages that visitors can treat themselves to a small indulgence without raiding the food budget.
Bernadette Boyle, the council's director of marketing and communications, estimates that about one vendor in five will be selling wares that cost $100 or less.
"A lot of people know of this show as featuring high-end items, and they don't think there's anything here they could possibly afford," she says. "But it's a great way to start a collection. You could start on the low end and work up."
Some of the handmade items include Beehive Kitchenware's pewter accessories, which are a joy to hold or display. For instance, on a set of heart-shaped measuring spoons, each handle is shaped like the shaft of an arrow. Milliner Patricia Shypertt's booth is always jammed with women trying on her fanciful, flattering straw hats trimmed with ribbons and feathers. And jeweler Cynthia Chuang's porcelain critters include an elegant swan and a comical baby alligator with a black-and-white-tiled body, cobalt snout and flexible, bejeweled tail.
The show's 700 exhibitors are an elite bunch, winnowed from a list of more than 2,000 applicants.
"I love the idea of constructing something large out of something as tiny as the seed beads," says Schlossberg, who is in her seventh or eighth year as an exhibitor. "I also use a lot of alternative materials, found objects, things you wouldn't think most jewelry would be made out of, like vintage buttons, laminated paper or epoxy resin."
The larger, more labor-intensive pieces cost considerably more than $100. But Schlossberg has learned that she must offer jewelry in a range of prices if she wants to stay in business.
"I realized I had to come up with something that would be quicker for me to make and more affordable for people to buy," she says. "You're willing to experiment more, and these simpler things have ended up being some of my favorite designs. If you make a mistake on a small piece, you can put it aside and move on. That can be very freeing."
This year's show also offers some consumer-friendly twists.
For the first time, the show expanded to four days, opening its doors to the public on Thursday.
In another first, visitors can buy tickets online, at craftcouncil.org/baltimore. Not only do advance purchases eliminate long lines at the ticket booth, but online purchasers also receive a discount of up to $5. In addition, the ticket fee will be slashed significantly for tonight. Visitors will be admitted for $6 after 6 p.m., instead of for the daily rate of $15.
And for the first time, a lawn-and-garden category was added, featuring furniture, accessories and decor made to hold up to Baltimore's interesting weather.
"More and more frequently, artists are making crafts for the outdoors," Boyle says.
Returning is the popular "show and tell" portion of the event, featuring live demonstrations by local artists. For example, Sam Wallace of Baltimore Clayworks will use traditional Jamaican coiling techniques to hand-build a vase.
"Having live demonstrations allows our guests to observe firsthand the wide variety of artistic styles that are a part of contemporary American craft," Boyle says. "Having the opportunity to meet and interact with the artists is a highlight of the show for many of our guests."
If you go
The American Craft Council Show runs through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $15 for one day; $25 for two days; $30 for three days; and $6 after 6 p.m. today. Discounted admissions for tickets purchased online. Go to craftcouncil.org/baltimore.