Charles Colson has run out of business cards, so he's handing out rectangles of shearling with his address in Putney, Vt., on them.
Settling back in his booth at the American Crafts Council Craft Fair in Baltimore, with shearling hats, vests and assorted fuzzies around him, Colson is a jolly looking middle-aged man. He says business is fine. "This is my sixth year at it," he said. "I'm a refugee from the aerospace industry. I like this a whole lot better. I believe in doing things to benefit people, not to kill."
Down the aisle are Chuck and Marion Cuendet of Jackson, Miss., showing-off their leather and wood briefcases, pocketbooks and travel bags. "I started making these things when I was in law school," said Chuck Cuendet. "But 12 years ago, gradually, I was spending more time with this work and less with my books. I don't suppose I make as much money as I would have as a lawyer. But I have a lot more fun."
A total of 492 crafts workers, of whom a remarkable number seemed to be happy with their work, are gathered to show and sell it at the fair in the Baltimore Convention Center. The event opened to the public last night despite the worst snow storm of the year. Wholesale sessions began Wednesday for craft dealers. The fair continues through Sunday, from 10 to 6 each day.
This year's event has 88 more crafts people than last year. The great diversity of the work is hard to imagine. Ceramics and fiber are the two largest categories. Ceramics include pit-fired, raku, porcelain, salt-glazed, stone and earthen ware in both functional and sculptural designs. The fiber work is divided into clothing, hats, bags, accessories, sculpture, wall hangings, weaving, hammocks and hanging chairs.
Others are showing: basketry, bookbinding, brooms, candles, feather headdresses; blown, etched, leaded and stained glass; jewelry of silver, gold, fabric and plastic; scrimshaw and ivory objects; kaleidoscopes; leather luggage, hats, pocketbooks and bound volumes; toys and sculpture, and metalwork including flatware, door knockers, table bases, fireplace tools and weather vanes. Musical instruments range from door chimes to wooden drums. Woodworkers are showing everything from toys to briefcases, to dining tables and sofas.
The crafts workers are as diverse as their wares. Sixty Hmong women, part of a group of 2,500 nomadic farmers from southern China and Southeast Asia, have found a refuge from the South Asian wars in Providence, R.I. Their handsome bedcovers, priced from $250 to $1,000, are made of brilliantly colored pieces of fabric in their traditional pandau textile of applique' cross-stitch embroidery and batik, put together in symbols that protect against evil spirits.
Many of the works are high-priced, as you'd expect from the amount of time spent in making them and the materials.
Doug Hanson of Appleton, Wis., makes imaginative contemporary glass screens, about six feet high. He uses stained-glass inserts with copper in place of leading, set into lacquered wood panels. "It takes me about four or five days," he said, "to make that magnolia pattern screen. I sell it for $3,000 in a limited edition of 24. I never studied how to make it. I taught myself."
On the other hand, sparkling glass Christmas tree ornaments, too pretty not to hang all year, cost under $10 each from the Glass Eye Studio of Seattle.
So far, the crafts people said, sales are fine this year, up from last year. Joan Davis of Rhode Island, has a sign up saying, "I can't take any more orders for 1983." She makes ceramic figures, some of which work as towel racks.
Rick Writley, a cabinetmaker showing-off a $2,500 sideboard, said the current recession has hurt him. "I'm eating and paying my rent. But then, the people who can afford my work are in income brackets that are not affected." A good number of crafts people are from the Washington area, all reporting good sales. Jane Mackenzie said she has had heavy orders for her "fauna furniture"--kangaroo highchairs, grasshopper loungers, lion and tiger benches, ram rockers and alligator teeter-totters. Jaeger & Ernst Inc., cabinetmakers from Barbersville, Va., were doing a thriving business in their hardwood designs, including a Queen Anne desk fitted for a personal computer. Mary Nyburg, a Garrison, Md., ceramicist said, "I've had the best year yet. I sold out when I opened my studio at Christmas. My customers say that handwork today is no more expensive than mass-production pieces. Crafts sell well because people are looking for quality, value and uniqueness." Agreeing with her was Stephen W. Wescott, of the District. His adjustable Morris chair in the arts-and-crafts style of the turn of the century sells for $1,200.
Many crafts people said they thought the wholesale days had been so successful that they weren't too worried about the snowy retail days.