THIS WEEK you can buy handmade goods ranging from dinnerware to brooms and glass sculptures to jewelry from 450 of the nation's leading craft workers. The American Craft Council's Baltimore Winter Market is the second largest crafts fair in the country (the largest is the Rhinebeck, N.Y., show held each June).
Back for its fifth year, the exhibit/sale extravaganza at the Baltimore Convention Center on Pratt Street is open to wholesalers Wednesday and Thursday and to the public Friday, 1-9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
The market is set up on the main floor of the Convention Center with the 450 participating craftspeople spread throughout four separate halls. Hall A will house ceramics and "other materials," which include paper works, brooms and baskets. Hall B will hold wood, leather and part of the glass exhibit. Hall C has the rest of the glass (blown and stained), as well as fiber art. Hall D carries the jewelry and metal pieces. "This is the first year," said Paula Rome, one of the local coordinators for the show, "that the show will be set up by type of crafts instead of everything mixed in together.
"Ceramics is the largest category of crafts represented with fiber coming in second, jewelry third, glass fourth and metals fifth," says Rome.
This year, says Carol Sedestrom, president of American Craft Enterprises, more than 1,500 craftspeople in a variety of fields submitted slides for the jurying of the show -- up 14 percent from last year. Fifty more artisans than last year will participate.Sedestrom recalls that at the first show in 1977 there was space for only 200 craftspeople. "In just five years our space has more than doubled," said Sedestrom. Each exhibitor rents one or two booths, measuring 10 by 10 feet, for $200-300 a piece.
More than 2,000 buyers are expected at this year's Baltimore market, during the two wholesale days of the fair. "Last year the buyers spent $1.5 million on merchandise from 400 craftspeople," says Rome.
Forty-five craftspeople from the Virginia-Washington-Maryland region will participate. The other artisans come from all over the country. This is only the second year the market has been open to the entire United States.
Get an early start, suggests Hillary Aidus, another coordinator for the show, which is sponsored by American Crafts Enterprises. As the marketing arm of the American Crafts Council, ACE also sponsors the Dallas, Rhinebeck (N.Y.), and San Francisco crafts shows at other times during the year. One of the major goals is to make the craftsperson a better business person.
"The best time to avoid the crowds is all day Friday, as well as Saturday and Sunday mornings," says Aidus. Admission is $3 for adults; kids under 12 go free. "Once you're in," adds Aidus, "you can go and come as you choose throughout the day." The show is near Harbor Place, Baltimore's new two-pavilion combination of boutiques and eateries -- just one block from the Convention Center.
The market will also have concession stands selling simple fare: salads, yogurts and a complete line of sandwiches.
Most of the craftspeople will accept checks; many accept credit cards -- Master Charge, Visa -- but, as Hillary Aidus says, "like all merchants, cash is welcome."
Special orders or commissioned works are accepted by some craftspersons. Fairfax, Va., artist Christine Meyers, whose speciality is Trapunto wall hangings, will take commissioned orders from both buyers and the public. Kensington ceramic artist Bill Hall says he will only accept commissioned orders "if the job coincides with what I'm doing at the time. I had a hard time with an earthenware dinner set once -- neither the customer nor I was happy with it. Since then I've limited myself to what I can and want to take on." At Fauna Furniture, Jane MacKenzie and Susan Wells take no orders from either buyers or the public. "We spend a lot of time on our designs. Right now we have eight different ones and they're the ones we're sticking with," says MacKenzie.
With the exception of Christine Meyers, most craftspeople said they don't sell everything they display. "It's better to have a large selection for the customer to choose from , even during the last hours of the show. If what you have on your shelf looks skimpy, the customer will think he/she is getting the leftovers. So you have to bring a little more than you plan on selling," says Hall.
And if you buy a pot or wall hanging that your spouse can't stand, there's no problem with returning it, said ceramicist Hall. "I don't know a craftsperson around who won't accept a returned item for whatever reason."
Another way to avoid the crowds is to take part in the Women's Committee of the Baltimore Museum of Art's sneak preview of the market on Friday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Admission is $7, children under 6 go free. All proceeds will to to the Baltimore Museum of Art and the American Crafts Council. Tickets are available at the Convention Center the day of the preview. Call (301) 396-6310 for details. To Reach Baltimore
Follow Baltimore-Washington Parkway or take I-95 north to Russell Street. Russell takes you directly to Pratt -- make a right turn at the Gulf station. The modern, multiwindowed Convention Center is three blocks down on your right. Parking is available in surrounding lots to your right and left before the Center and in the Inner Harbor parking lots just beyond. There is also a metered lot behind the Center, as well as numerous metered spaces on the street.
Car-less? You might consider taking Amtrack ($10-$14.20 roundtrip, depending on the hours you're traveling) from Union Station to Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station. Take bus No. 9 (50 cents) or a cab (about $2.50) straight down St. Paul Street. Get off at Pratt and walk one block to your right. The Center is on the left.