FOUR HUNDRED top American craftspeople have been chosen from 1,600 applicants for this week's Fair at Baltimore, formerly the Baltimore Winter Market. The American Crafts Council-sponsored exhibit will be at the Baltimore Convention Center on Pratt Street. Wednesday and Thursday are for wholesalers. Friday (noon-9 p.m.), Saturday and Sunday (10 a.m.-6 p.m.) are for the public.
Interest is so great that a sort of Salon de Refuse, the "First Baltimore Buyers Market," will be held at the Baltimore Hilton Ballroom Tuesday (11 a.m.-10 p.m.), Wednesday (8 a.m.-10 p.m.) and Thursday (8 a.m.-6 p.m.). About 85 craftspeople will exhibit, according to the market's promoter, Wendy Rosen, president of the Rosen Agency, Inc. Her fair is only open for wholesale business.
This year the ACC exhibit is split between two levels of the Convention Center. Paula Rome, one of the local co-promoters for the ACC show, said clay, wood and glass are on the ground floor, while the jewelry and fiber are on the third level. (The second floor is an entry level and contains no exhibits.) For the most part, crafts of the same category are grouped together.
Ceramics, as always, is the largest category. Fiber and metal are about even for second, with glass following. Leather and wood are also included. The Washington-Baltimore area is well represented with about 30 craftspeople.
Color is important in almost all the categories this year. Unfortunately, prices are slightly up compared with last year, but the retail prices are still lower than in shops.
Arlington jeweler Carolyn Morris, exhibiting at the show for the first time, says that jewelry prices increased because supplies are so high. Last month an ounce of gold cost her $370. Her necklaces sell for $150-$400.
Morris thinks "bold colors, as well as designs, tend to show up during a depressed economy. As in fashion, where the outspoken miniskirt is back on the scene, jewelry is also becoming more flamboyant."
The Renwick Gallery's "Good as Gold" show demonstrated the different materials jewelers are using instead of gold. The exhibit is a good indicator of what we can expect to see at the Baltimore fair, according to Hillary Aidus, co-promoter of the Baltimore show. "Less gold and silver, more plastics and hand-painted porcelain, and lots more color."
Jewelers are using more titanium and columbian or niobium metals. When heated, these metals take on rich and shimmering colors. According to SITES (the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service), which organized the show at the Renwick, the metal does not actually become dyed; "what we see is reflected light that takes on color as it passes through the oxidized layer formed."
In ceramics, the trend is away from functional work and toward sculptural pieces. Just about every conceivable firing and glazing method, as well as type of clay, is represented. Raku-fired work will be shown by Baltimore artist Debbie Monaghan, while pit-fired pieces will be the focus of Jerry Roe's work. Both Roe and Monaghan belong to Clayworks, a center for ceramic arts in Baltimore.
Christine Zimmerman, also of Clayworks, is showing for the second year at Baltimore. She concentrates on slab, not thrown, work. Zimmerman says that although functional pottery is classic and will alway be around, "a growing number of artists are leaning in the direction of decorative work." Zimmerman, whose work last year was mostly white, says she has developed a wider palette of color. Her prices have increased as her reputation has grown.
Maryland potter and American Crafts Council trustee Mary Nyburg has been in the Baltimore show since it began in 1977. Although she has always worked in porcelain and done mostly functional work (baskets, large and small vases), she agrees that "potters are doing less functional items as a whole." She adds, "Most of the recent things I've seen have been low-fired pieces, such as raku and smoke-firings." (Low-firings are done with the kiln set a low temperature.) Nyburg, herself, does high-temperature firings with temperatures as high as 2,300 degrees.
Nyburg's work ranges in price from $25 to $250. Nyburg blames the high price of fuel for the rise in price of ceramics. "Propane, which is what I use, has soared. I think potters are turning to sawdust and other firing techniques because these fuels are cheaper.
Nyburg, a full-time potter who has worked in ceramics for 25 years, says that she also is working with a new palette of colors this year. "I've gone away from the beiges, browns and celadons. My recent work has a white base with accents of pink, purple and red."
Glass blower Leonard DiNardo, shown locally at the Glass Gallery in Bethesda, says that he is continuing with Indian patterns, using the graal technique. "Graal," he explains, was conceived in Sweden about 1904-5 by Frederick Carder, who later became the moving force behind Steuben Glass. Graal stretches the limits of the cameo technique.
"In the cameo technique, you create an object with several outer layers of color sandwiched on top of each other. Some of that surface is cut away to create a pattern or contrast of colors.
"I bring the cameo one step farther. After I sandblast some of the surface away, I reheat the object at 1,100 degrees. The object is then picked up again on my blow pipe, encased in more lead crystal and blown up in the traditional glass blowing method."
DiNardo uses colors that give the flavor of Indian pottery and basketry: tans, combinations of red and black as well as gold, yellow and black. "The colors of my glass change depending on whether light is shining through them or not," he explains.
DiNardo says that glass is much less functional, instead going in conceptual directions. DiNardo's work runs from $300 to $800, roughly up $100 from last year, he estimates.
Furniture designer Jane MacKenzie of Fauna Furniture is another regular exhibitor at the Baltimore show. MacKenzie says that they have some new designs this year, but continue to make functional but fanciful kinds of furniture. "A lot of woodworkers," says MacKenzie, "seem to be doing more sculptural than functional work, with the exception perhaps of the toy designers."
MacKenzie says that prices are up slightly from last year. "Wood craftspeople face the same inflation everyone is. The price of wood has sky-rocketed." MacKenzie's furniture ranges from $275 to $350.
Metal artist Ivan Barnett, whose painted metal ornaments helped decorate the White House Christmas tree last year, has been in the Baltimore show two other times. Barnett's weathervanes are designed to be functional, but are more often used decoratively. Barnett uses salvaged roofing metal (tin) to give them an aged look, then paints them with exterior latex house paint. Weathervanes range from $75 to $700. His ornaments, most often farm animal shapes taken from his weathervane designs, cost $7-$12.
Fiber crafts include basketry, weavings, wearables, soft sculpture etc. Marylander Wendy Bush Hackney, a fiber artist, specializes in fabric masks, or "masques," as she spells it.Hackney first made the masks two years ago for the Maryland Renaissance Festival. She makes two types, both of which are held on a stick. Her full-face masks are hand-painted on pima cotton from Italy, and embellished with hair, hats and fake jewels. They start at $100. Her domino masks cover only the eyes. Currently she's making a colorful zodiac/birthstone series, starting at $45.
Hackney, showing her work at the Baltimore show for the first time, says her prices have gone up as she has refined her work. "I'm using better material now," says Hackney. "Finer laces and ribbons and velvet that costs $20/yard." The masks range from subtle pinks and beiges to brilliant reds and deep blues, says Hackney. She also uses metallic fabric and Ultrasuede.
Some of the alternative show's exhibitors are on waiting lists for the ACC show and still hope to get in. Wendy Rosen doesn't mind. "What I'm offering is an option, an alternative. A lot of craftspeople have told me they prefer to do only wholesale business anyway, since retail is not very lucrative." Rosen is charging $200 for an 8-by-8-foot booth, plus $10 for incidentals such as electricity and $25 per assistant. The ACC charges $225 for a 10-by-10-foot booth, electricity and assistants included. Neither show sponsor receives a commission.
Carol Sedestrom, ACC president, admitted, "It's obvious from the number of applications we received, that more places are needed for craftspeople to show their work. That's one reason the ACC is sponsoring a fifth show this July in Newport, R.I., for retail business only."