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The Washington Craft Show celebrates 25 years

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If you’re someone who thinks arts and crafts are just for Girl Scouts, the Washington Craft Show might change your mind. Celebrating its 25th year, the three-day fair takes place this weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. It will draw nearly 200 artists from 38 states, all toting trunks of crafts from colossal glass sculptures to fine handmade jewelry.

“I’ll never forget the first time I walked into one of these shows,” said spokesman Bill Underwood. “I thought we were in for Popsicle sticks and macramé baskets, but I was seriously blown away. There was exquisite work everywhere. It’s very sophisticated.”

The event is put on by Crafts America, an organizer of crafts shows across the country, including the Palm Beach Fine Craft Show in Florida and the Westchester Craft Show in New York. But Washington’s came first. In 1987, Elizabeth Kubie, a felt and wool artist from Connecticut, decided to host an indoor exhibition that would gather artists from all over the country. She chose the District for its central location on the Eastern Seaboard but also because there wasn’t anything else like it around.

“I think she saw an opportunity, an opening in Washington. She saw a place where people were interested in this stuff but didn’t necessarily have an outlet for it,” Underwood said. “And sure enough, it took off.”

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of studio glass art in the United States. Previously, when artists designed a piece to be made in glass, they’d send the blueprint to a foundry, where it would be made. But in 1962, Harvey K. Littleton invented the small furnace that allowed artists to build the pieces right in their own studios.

Littleton’s daughter Maurine owns a gallery in Georgetown and will display some of her father’s work at this weekend’s show. On Saturday morning, she’ll also give a lecture on studio glass art moderated by NPR’s Elizabeth Blair.

Underwood said that trends in crafts have gone slightly industrial, with the most popular materials being metal, wood and colorless glass. But the most notable trend, perhaps a result of the recession, has been the rise in crafts that are both beautiful and useful.

“So much of the work at this show has become functional, utilitarian,” Underwood said. “Crafts are not just decorative anymore. These are items you can use around your home.”

Many of the artists are available to build custom pieces, should something catch your eye. Underwood said furniture designers and rug weavers often stay after the show has finished to visit people’s homes with color swatches and tape measures so they can create a personalized piece.

The Washington Craft Show, Friday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. $15, $14 for ages 65 and older, ages 12 and younger free. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl. NW. 203-254-0486.

2012 Holiday Crafts Contest The submission period is now open in our third annual Holiday Crafts Contest, and we want to see what you’ve got. Submit your holiday-themed creation. The judges’ favorite will receive a $500 American Express gift card and be featured in Local Living. The readers’ choice, selected in online voting, will receive a $100 card. Submissions are due Dec. 3.

© The Washington Post Company