Julee Dickerson Thompson makes cuddly, pudgy-faced chocolate-brown dolls named La Won, Delphine and Felicia and dresses them in "Sunday-go-to-meeting" clothes. Thompson, who produces the dolls with her mother, Ann Dickerson,under the name "Brown Spice," is one of about 20 artists and craftspeople who will show, sell and talk about their works in a three-day exhibit called "Holiday Expo." The expo takes place this weekend at the Lansburgh Cultural Center, 420 Seventh St. NW.
Her handmade creations, which sell for $30 to $125 each, will be on exhibit and for sale along with fine gold, silver and ivory jewelry, brilliant leather bags, tie-dyed silk dresses and other arts and crafts.
Holiday Expo began in l980 when about 20 local black artists and craftspeople, frustrated by difficulties in showing and selling their works, organized a show at the Harambee House Hotel (now the Howard Inn).
Most of the artists also exhibit in galleries, but they said the annual show helps them learn how to market their art, offers a chance to meet and help inform their audience and enlarges the exposure for black artists who badly need it.
"Whites can plug into the Corcoran, curators, shop owners, or the Kennedy Center set. They, traditionally, have had a better grasp on how to package themselves. All of that stuff is very embryonic for blacks," said M. Sin, a 34-year-old leather craftsman, whose works are decorated with colorful images of black women, African art and geometric designs.
"Ultimately, you're a good artist because you sell," said Vernard Gray, director of Miya Gallery in the Lansburgh Cultural Center, who is also a member of the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities. "You have to produce good work consistently. But many blacks have to work 9-to-5 jobs and their craft has to be an adjunct to that."
Margery Goldberg, who owns Zenith Gallery at 1441 Rhode Island Ave. NW, said it is "ironic that black artists would have a hard time in a town that's 75 percent black." Though she doubts that gallery owners deliberately exclude black artists, Goldberg said perhaps part of the problem could be that "black people who have made it have . . . not very ethnic tastes."
The artists involved in "Holiday Expo" have formed a nonprofit group called "Vision Collective." The members--artists, craftspeople and gallery owners--meet to share information on funding sources and marketing techniques and to plan "Holiday Expo."
"We heard people saying they wished they could buy a certain type of black doll or a certain necklace," said Vision member Jamal Mims, a jewelry designer who works in the goldsmith shop of Sun Gallery, 2324 l8th St. NW, of which he is part owner.
"Everybody likes to have something of their own they can identify with," Mims said. "We're just saying if you want this type of item from the black experience, come here."
Last year, Vision produced a directory of the artist members and a calendar illustrated with some of their works that was distributed nationally.
The calendar helped her "reach a much larger market," said dollmaker Thompson, who calls her dolls "a mission of love."
Holiday Expo will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.