By Christy Petterson
By Christy Petterson
In 2005, I organized a craft market with a friend. We didn’t have any long-range plans for ever doing it again. It was sort of an experiment that we hoped would be fun and successful. I remember saying out loud the morning of the event, “Wouldn’t it be cool if 100 people showed up?” Fast forward several hours, and we had welcomed 800 people through the door. The director of Eyedrum, where we hosted the event, said he could only think of one other event at their space that had produced such a great turn out.
We, my friend Shannon Mulkey and I, are now in our ninth year of organizing the Indie Craft Experience (ICE) and our attendance expectations have jumped to wondering how many thousands will show up at each event. We host a craft market with about 100 vendors in early June and a holiday version the weekend before Thanksgiving every year. We were busting at the seams of our venue, Ambient Plus Studio near the West End, this past holiday show with about 115 vendors.
In 2010, we produced our first annual pop-up shop during the holiday season, a temporary boutique of handcrafted items created by artists from all over the country. The past two years we’ve been lucky to call Criminal Records in Little Five Points our home for the pop-up shop. In 2011, we introduced Wedding Day Hooray, our event for planning a handcrafted wedding, and in 2012, we introduced Salvage, our vintage market. These shows have both been a challenge and a great satisfaction as we’ve broadened our audience and reach. This year we launched our online store, The Curatorial. For this first year, we are hosting four online pop-up shops open only three weeks each. Next year, the shop will be open all the time.
In our ninth year we are producing five events, a brick and mortar pop-up shop and four online pop-up shops with a two-person staff and full-time jobs. It’s a lot of work but I’ve never done anything more rewarding. The reward comes in two forms: the people I’ve gotten to know and the creations that they make.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with five of my favorite local crafters: Tara Christensen of Hot Pink Poo, Mary Harding of Mary Rebecca, Laura Cherry of Laure Designs, Amanda Miller of Flex Family Arts and Leela Hoehn of Native Bear. I loved their insight on Atlanta’s craft community, the economy, why you should buy handcrafted and how they got started down this creative path.
Going way back to how these talented ladies got started most of them say something like “I’ve always been a crafter” or “I’ve always loved creating things with my hands” or “I’ve always found myself making things.” Crafting has been a lifelong enjoyment. For many of them, this love affair began by observing their parents. While the actual skills were not necessarily passed down to them, they are carrying on the tradition of an artistic lifestyle that they learned from their parents.
“My father is the most talented artist I know,” said Christensen. “He specializes in Renaissance oil paintings. As I child I use to sit for hours a day while he painted me. That’s a lot to ask of a little girl, but I enjoyed the end result so much.” The child of a professional photographer (father) and avid crafter (mother), Harding said, “Doing art and DIY projects was just a staple in our household. My mother still has a group of friends she gets together with on a bi-monthly basis to do craft projects with.”
All five of these crafters sell their creations on a regular basis at craft markets, like ICE, and online through sites like Etsy.com. Selling is a huge part of the job description of a crafter and can take up just as much time and energy as the making part. These entrepreneurial tendencies can start at a young age. “I always had the dual desire to create, and then also to sell my creations,” said Hoehn. “When I was in first grade, I would create picture books to sell for a quarter, or practice drawing portraits of my friends.” Mary Harding made friendship bracelets and seed bead rings for her classmates in elementary school. “I even had a lucrative duct tape purse making operation for a minute in middle school.”
While many craft just for fun, more and more crafters are turning it into a career. “We all have certain hobbies that we love to do,” said Tara, “so why not make a career out of it. People have been forced to think beyond the corporate world these days to have an income. I think the craft world is an awesome outlet for so many different people.” The unstable economy of the past few years has inspired many to take the leap. “When you decide to craft for a living you are literally taking your income into your own hands,” said Leela, “and you quickly realize the importance of a strong local community. It’s the support of your community that keeps you going. When you buy original, hand made goods you can know for sure that you are supporting that individual because you’re probably looking them in the face! You’re putting your money directly back into the local economy.”
In a world full of big box stores and mass-produced everything, the decision to buy something handcrafted can make a big statement. For consumers, it is very easy to run to a big box store at any time of day for pretty much anything their heart desires, however crafters believe their products are more valuable and are certainly better quality. “I believe more and more people are growing weary of the implications of big box retail,” said Leela. “You may be able to purchase items from these stores at a lower price point, but the environmental and social consequences are outrageous. Instead of buying five temporary fixes, why not buy one hand crafted, high quality item that will last?”
“Mass production can’t compete with the value and intimacy of handcrafted items,” Cherry pointed out. “They are crafted by one person one at a time, and not by a machine that does twenty a second.”
Not only are handcrafted items made with much care and creativity, but when you buy handcrafted you’re supporting a real, live human with talent and skills rather than a giant web of middle men and giant corporations, and you’re keeping your money in your local community.
“When you buy a handmade product you are making an investment in someone’s time and hard work,” said Miller. “We’re tired of owing all the same, cheaply made junk as everyone else. Where and how we spend our money is always a political statement and purchasing directly from an artist is a huge one. We want to own something with heart and soul and something that was made with love, intention and attention to detail.”
Hoehn simply states, “the way we spend or stretch a dollar these days is the biggest voice we can have.”
Buying handmade also means you’re bringing something aesthetically pleasing into your life. Your home is a happier, healthier place when it is filled with items made with joy by hand. Joy comes from doing what you love, and these ladies love what they do. “I love coming up with an idea and then seeing it become a reality,” said Harding.
“Making something with your hands is, one, a lovely skill, and two, reminds you of what you’re capable of. I love the experience of turning a vision or a dream into a reality,” said Laura Cherry.
For more about ICE and Curatorial and it’s upcoming shows, visit ice-atlanta.com.
5 Favorite Local Crafters
Laura Cherry of Laure Designs
She designs, screen prints and sews pillows.
Leela Hoehn of Native Bear
She hand-carves stamps and handprints on paper and linen goods.
Tara Christensen of Hot Pink Poo
She makes jewelry recreated from old jewelry.
Mary Harding of Mary Rebecca
She mostly makes jewelry, but tries her hand at many types of crafts.
Amanda Miller of Flex Family Arts
She hand-embroiders images drawn by her husband.