THE AMERICAN craftsman is working full-time and even making a living as 1980 begins. But the high price of gold, silver and utilities are weeding out a lot of Sunday craftspeople.
A decade ago, most serious craftspeople were teaching, either in universities or in community centers. The majority were hobbyists. Some dilettantes thought being a craftsman was a way to do your own thing without necessarily working.
Today, the crafts are not only an art, but a business. People are studying crafts in school and colleges, setting up shop and learning how to keep the ledgers. And there are as many people as ever making crafts purely for their own pleasure.
One of the best places to see the end products of these efforts is at the Baltimore Winter Market, the biggest area crafts event. It is sponsored by American Craft Enterprises, a division of the American Craft Council. This weekend 405 craftspeople from 40 states will show and sell their work at Baltimore's new convention center. Thursday and Friday are for wholesale buyers only. Saturday and Sunday anyone can come. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $3.
The participants were selected from 1,300 who applied. Last year, wholesale sales were $705,272.55 and retail sales $403,386. This year, they're expected to be more. Among those coming are 92 ceramicists, 77 fiber artists, 65 jewelers, 48 woodworkers, 27 blacksmiths and other metal workers, 33 glass blowers, 23 leatherworkers, seven stained-glass workers, and a variety of bookbinders, candlemakers and such. Among the local craftspeople exhibiting are Jane Mackenzie, who makes animal fantasy furniture; Susan Bush with her appliqued backpacks; Don Montano -- ceramics; Anka Heim -- glassware; and Anthony Beverly -- woodworker.
Fantasy aniamls and basket forms seem to pop up in everything from ceramics to leather, accordng to Carol Sedestrom, president of American Craft Enterprises. "The young metalworkers and glass blowers are unbelievably good. Fiberwork seems to be having the biggest increase. But it does seem that the high price of precious metals may be hurting the number of jewelers."
In the Washington area, the big event is the Creative Crafts Council show March 8 through 30 at Scope and Potomac Craftsmen Galleries in Alexandria's Torpedo Factory. About 1,200 entries from all over the country have already been received -- some 600 ceramicists, 400 fiber people plus 200 or so metal workers are already in. Less than 200 will be selected to be shown. You will be able to buy some work, but many will be not-for-sale masterpieces.
In the meanwhile, Washington galleries such as Barbara Fendrick find it's perfectly possible to sell Ablert Paley iron gates and Wendell Castle furniture at prices in the thousands of dollars. Shops such as American Hand have long lines of collectors at the door early in the morning of a popular potters show. Smull's funky fibers and ceramics from young artists sell well. Jackie Chawkley has added a wearables annex to her ceramics shop. A group of area craftsmen have set up a craft cooperative called Craftworks on Calvert Street, just off Connecticut Avenue. The Torpedo Factory continues to have waiting lists for their $75 workshops. Collectors are putting their money in glass, ceramics, fiber and metal craft objects the way they once laid it out for contemporary art.
David Brooks, whose Appalachian Spring is one of the older galleries in the area, said, "We've seen a steady increase in sales. Our buyers are much more interested in quality and more educated about what they're buying.
"We've always tried to maintain a balance between contemporary and traditional crafts, but recently the old folks are retiring, the basket makers and such, though we still show quilts and brooms. We have more stained glass, wearable art and jewelry now in the contemporary style. We see much more innovative work than before."
Brooks sees more full-time crafts people. "There just aren't any openings anymore for craft teachers." He finds that handmade objects such as handblown glassware and wooden works are priced competitively with mass-produced objects. "As for pewter, Don Miller's 4-ounce wine glass in $32, cheaper than some manufactured pewter." Miller is in the Baltimore show as well."
Margery Goldberg, co-director of Zenith Gallery (in the alley behind 1441 Rhode Island Ave.), said she has seen a sizable increase in the two years her gallery has been open. "We did $12,000 business in December. That's good." Her own cocktail benches sell for $1,200 to $3,500. She recently did a series of elaborate mirror frames for a Washington house and an altar piece for a Pennsylvania Hebrew synagogue.
Some 35 artists and craftsmen work in the Zenith Gallery complex of studios and exhibit space. A show, Zenith Gallery on the Zenith Gallery, will exhibit the work of the residents, opening Wednesday and continuing through the end of March.
Goldsmith Gretchen Raber, who is organizing the Creative Crafts Show, says she and some other goldsmiths are "getting even more business because of the investment factor. I have enough work commissioned for the next year." o
Raber, an officer of the Goldsmith Guild here, thinks that about 1,500 shops are making a living at their craft across the country, four or five in this area. "But they're not getting rich. Someone I know grossed $20,000 last year, and thought it was a living."
Not long ago, Rosalynn Carter had the Italian prime minister and his wife to dinner at the White House. Fifteen tables were draped with American quilts and three more made a background for Country Singer Tom T. Hall. The quilts were borrowed from Living History Farms, De Moines, Iowa. For Christmas, Mrs. Carter commissioned handmade decorations from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Joan Mondale has filld the vice president's residence with the loans of the best of American craftspeople, and one year had a tree of handmade decoractions from over the country.
The Boston Museum of Art, instead of buying mass-produced furniture, recently commissioned several leading craftsmen to design and execute handmade furniture for their galleries.
"The Goodfellow Catalog of Wonderful Things," a craft catalog put together by Christopher Weills in California, sold 25,000 copies to the astonishment of its publisher, Putnam. The new edition, due in July, is expected to be twice as big, portraying the work of 700 craftspeople. Wells hopes eventually he can pay off the $50,000 he owes and marry his fiancee, catalog and newspaper editor Sarah Satterlee of Washington.
American Crafts, whose maiden name was Crafts Horizon, has moved from a membership magazine to magazine stand sales and with this issue will hit 88 pages. The American Crafts Council raised its membership fee $7 and held on to its 35,000 members, according to its director, Lois Morgan.
Today, in America, we don't have to worry about old-world craftsmen. We're growing our own craftspeople here.