When someone asks me how I sell most of my pots - and people do ask that question a lot - I usually say, "Well, we have a gallery at our place, but I don't see many people there, and that's OK. And I have things in a few shops around Falmouth, but that's not a great amount of sales. Ummmm ... mostly I do craft and art sales from June into the autumn, Falmouth, Marion, Welfleet, Chatham, Charlestown, a few others. That's where most of my income comes from."
That seems to satisfy people, though I suspect it doesn't sound like enough income to make up much of a "living." The kind of living people expect of a working person, anyway.
Any working craftsperson or artist who sells at art fairs knows that most of them are a roll of the dice.
1) Economic times may be bad and people may not be spending money (like the past couple of years, for example ... ).
2) The weather for warm weather outdoor shows is a constant worry; the second day of the Wellfleet Oyster Fest last year resembled a hurricane more than anything other than an actual named hurricane. Most of us broke down Saturday night and went home in the wind and rain, giving up on a usually lucrative Sunday.
3) The crowd might not be your crowd. Last summer's three-day art and craft fair in Chatham drew thousands and I did pretty well, but the stunningly wonderful prints of the New York man opposite me never moved off the walls of his tent. He wasted his time, his entry fee and his meal and living expenses for about $200 in sales. You just never know ...
Which brings me to this past weekend in Marion, a small and relatively wealthy yachting center on Buzzards Bay, across the water from Cape Cod. The one-day annual show in a lovely little town park is run by and benefits the local art center. Nice people running the show, lots of nice people wandering the paths of the park, looking at paintings, pots, plaques, carved fish and birds, jewelry, felted sweaters, wooden bowls, the usual assortment of handmade work.
I've done this show for the past three or four years, as long as it's been going on. And I've usually done reasonably well. Not this year, though. At least, not income-wise. And that's why I'm writing this.
With expenses to get to the show, time spent packing, unpacking and traveling, chicken salad sandwich for lunch, breakage (lately I've been breaking pots ... ) entry fee and 10 percent to the art center after sales, I just about made money. I'm used to that happening now and then, but it always makes me wonder whether I should continue to do a show when there seems to be so little ... ummmm ... inventory movement. Especially if other potters at the show are doing well.
But here I go back to Reason 3 - "the crowd might not be your crowd." There were two people who came to my tent Saturday who were, I think, "my crowd." One woman spent a half-hour comparing one small irregular-rimmed poured-Shino bowl to another wildly irregular and unbalanced faceted poured-Shino bowl which I almost didn't bring with me. She would hold one up, then the other, then the first, then the second ... on and on like that for 30 minutes. "I love these. I LOVE these," she said. "I have the perfect place ... " Finally, she decided on the smaller of the two bowls and reluctantly left the other behind, but very happy that she had bought the smaller bowl.
A short while later, I saw another woman come into the park and recognized her as someone who had come to my tent each of the past three years. She worked her way clockwise around the tents and finally arrived at mine. We know each other a little now, after talking a few minutes each year for the past few. She always picks up many pots, spends long minutes looking at the glazes and the shapes, asks many questions about how they came to be, and always buys something. Usually, it's a bowl. The same thing happened this year. She was in my tent for about a half-hour, looking at and asking about Shino- and ash-glazed pots. Why was the rim uneven like this? How do you get the iron-red spots on the gray glaze? What is this glaze? Why did you start making pots? She smiled the whole time and genuinely wanted to know the answers to her questions. "Your pots just have a ... feeling," she said. And I took that to be a good thing.
She ended up buying three pots, my biggest sale of the day. But believe me when I tell you that her purchases were the least important part of her coming into the tent. For 100 people we get who walk in, sweep their eyes across the pots and then leave, mumbling, "Beautiful work ... " we might get one woman like these two, people who seemed to truly connect with the pots. As I was packing up in the sudden downpour a short while later, I knew I hadn't made much money, but I was thinking to myself that that kind of encounter with a buyer or two who clearly just love what I do is probably enough to keep me doing the show.
(Above, a few of my pots from recent years, just to have some photos on this post ... )