Monday, November 26, 2012

Then and Now

           Craft fairs serve as an outlet for reaching a wider range of potential buyers for the items one creates. While some of America’s largest gatherings will feature hundreds of artists and vendors, many of those in Nebraska are smaller events that are adjusted to fit a variety of spaces, indoors or outdoors. Before the internet simplified communication between potential sellers, information about upcoming events seemed to be conveyed through word-of-mouth and newspaper ads. The two individuals I’ve spoken are both longtime Omaha residents who began working at craft fairs in the mid-1980s and have witnessed significant changes since then.
            In addition to seeing fairs as a way of furthering her Avon business, my grandmother Anneke Eversen specializes in floral arrangements, primarily for decorative purposes. “I started on an invitation from a friend and I just thought it’d be a good idea. It was simple. You would set up your wares, then break down and haul everything back home at the end. Tables were usually ten to twenty dollars in the ‘80s. You could make a profit back then.” Since her husband’s death in 2010, Anneke has ceased most of her involvement in these events. She credits a lack of assistance and the rising costs of attendance as major factors in this decision.
Anneke Eversen and her floral arrangements in 1988
            A fellow Avon representative, Joann Hrabik began her involvement while collaborating with her cousin on antique sales and in the past would attend as many as thirty-five fairs in one year. Over time, she and her daughter began making decorative light-up glass blocks to sell alongside discounted Avon products and antiques that needed to be cleared out. “I didn’t want to go door-to-door selling things, so this was a great alternative. I don’t do as many shows now. Tables can cost anywhere between seventy and ninety dollars and there are a lot of the same things today, but there’s much more competition. One year, my daughter and I sold about a hundred of those blocks. Last year, we didn’t sell any.”
            Having been a vendor in a variety of different locations, Joann has witnessed a number of significant changes and differences between venues. The annual fair at Mall of the Bluffs in Council Bluffs, Iowa is cited as an example of a larger gathering with as many as 200 vendors at one time. Officials may conduct detailed inspections of products in advance to ensure that everything is handmade, a blow to vendors like Anneke and Joann who find a large portion of their profits coming from their other offerings. The overall market is said to become even more saturated during the holiday season as many decorations are made to last, giving some buyers little incentive to return to the same vendors multiple times.

Anneke Eversen in 1996
Bryan High School Craft Fair, 1990
Eversen vendor's table, circa 1995

            Similarities between a craft fair and a store in one fixed location now seem to be taking shape. Concern about whether a vendor is offering something unique that no one else has is one issue. Anneke and Joann both discussed this, referring to past incidents in which sellers took pictures of other individuals’ crafts for the purpose of making exact copies. It could be argued that this is where the community begins losing one or two of its unique traits. Appealing to buyers is a necessity, even more so for sellers who require certain amounts of profits in order to continue this type of work. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Groundwork for a Crafting Community

William Morris in 1887
            Whether it is for business or leisure, the idea of creating something with a variety of supplies at one’s disposal is one that dates back centuries. It was not until the mid-19th century that crafting would be able to take on new life in a community-type setting. England’s Arts &Crafts Movement was centered around the expression of one’s individuality outside of the barriers that had been set by the factories of the Industrial Revolution. One of its leading advocates was the textile designer William Morris, who strongly believed in a need to educate the public on observing the simplicity and beauty of the world around us (a thought that may be shared by Evan Johnston and Merrill Gilfillan). An emphasis on new artistic styles would soon develop, as would a number of artisan groups that began to see crafting as more than a way of life. One of the goals of this project is to gain a greater understanding of why this is. The idea that Morris and his colleagues possessed could be tied into our discussions and writings for the course to date. It refers to the most basic forms of creativity, particularly those that have rarely or never have been a part of our daily routines.
            While the movement primarily focused on architecture and textiles, scholar Alan Crawford states that there were three central ideas behind it that might have been carried over to crafting practices as a whole. The “Unity of Art” dictates that there should be no hierarchy in this area with every creative piece considered equal. During this time period, the decorative works that Morris specialized in were considered one of the lowest forms of creativity. A “Joy in Labor” was simply the belief that anyone could enjoy what they did for a living or whatever creative process they chose. As the movement’s focal point, “Design Reform” sought to improve existing designs, particularly when public consumption was involved. One of the clearest explanations of how this might all relate to our project is given by Crawford. “I see the Arts and Crafts movement as a late episode in the history of Romanticism. It upholds the imagination over reason, feeling over intellect, and the organic over the mechanical” (24).
            Craft fairs are much more fluid in their structure. Apart from the event organizers, it is highly unlikely that there is a hierarchy of any kind. There is a freedom to make, display and sell just about anything. Feedback from potential buyers and fellow sellers becomes crucial, as it may determine one’s plans for future gatherings. In addition to shows, the internet has opened an additional outlet for putting one’s creative work out in the open. Online communities such as Craftster allow for the quick trading of tips and the presentation of step-by-step tutorials. Etsy and other online marketplaces take this further, but the interaction between individuals runs the risk of being strained. From the knowledge we currently have on the subject, we see that some type of interaction is required, no matter how and where the show is taking place. 

Crawford, Alan. "Ideas and Objects: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain." Design Issues 13.1 (1997): 15-26. Print.