Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Teabowls and garlic keepers in Wellfleet

The OysterFest in Wellfleet last weekend happened on two sunny fall days, which were also windy fall days. Much time on Saturday was spent keeping one hand on the tent to keep it from flying off into the ocean or town hall or Main Street, or somewhere. Forty-five pound weights on each corner of the tent weren't quite enough for a couple of the gusts. Wellfleet always seems windy that time of year, what with Cape Cod Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
It was again a crushing crowd of people, many of them buyers on Saturday, which is usually the better sales day of the two. Once again, certain pots got picked up and put down perhaps a hundred times each. I've got this one crackle-slipped and kaki-glazed mug that I swear is going to be worn out by lookers and never bought. I've still got it in my gallery. The same is true of certain serving bowls that were up near the front of the display. Look at serving bowl, pick up serving bowl, turn over serving bowl and look at the foot ring, put back serving bowl, walk on ...
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out habits like that. Some people seem to be driven to simply touch pots on their way by. That happened a lot with a pair of big vases at the front of the tent.
The more gratifying people are the ones who come in quietly and spend 10 or 15 minutes going from pot to pot, picking them up, holding them in two hands, trying them out. Those folks usually buy. Or they talk about what they're doing. One young woman said to me, after picking up about a dozen mugs, "I just have to touch them all." She eventually bought two mugs.
Two people - a man from New York Saturday, then on Sunday a Japanese woman from Harwich here on the Cape - picked up small teabowls, cradling them in two hands, lifting them toward their mouths. Clearly, I thought, tea ceremony people. And that was indeed true. The man bought a rough, faceted and Shino-glazed bowl that came out of the last firing. The woman spent a long time picking up small white bowls and then talking with me about her preference in teabowls and the customs of tea ceremony. She didn't buy a pot in the end, but will come here to look at more. Those are the kind of people who make selling pots a satisfying experience.
And then there was a small woman with an "OysterFest Volunteer" sticker on her sweather.
"Do you have any garlic keepers?" she asked.
"No, I'm sorry, in all these 150 pots there is not a single garlic keeper."
"Well, there's one at a pottery booth in the other parking lot."
"Why didn't you buy that one?"
"I didn't want to pay what he wanted for it."
"How much did he want?"
"Well ... I'll tell you, there's a lot of work that goes into hand-making a garlic keeper."
"I know, but there's less discretionary income among people these days."
"That's right, and it's true of potters, too."
"Do you have fun at what you're doing?"
"Yes, to a certain extent, but I have to sell these pots, also."
"I know, I know ... "
It wasn't a pleasant conversation. And it came on Sunday at about noon, by which time I'd been in my tent three hours, watched people by the dozens walk by and had yet to sell a pot. So I wasn't ready to tsk-tsk the price of some other guy's garlic keeper. I told her she should try WalMart, that perhaps they had figured out how to make a dime profit on $5 Chinese garlic keepers.
"I don't think WalMart carries them," she said, completely missing the irony in that sentence.
Probably a good thing it was the last craft show of the season.
And thanks here to fellow potter Lois Hirshberg, who owns a house in Wellfleet and put me up in a spare bedroom Friday and Saturday nights, sparing me very early rising Saturday and the battle through OysterFest traffic to get home Saturday night and return Sunday morning. Oh, and Lois also bought me the best fried clams I've had in years, from the Arnold's seafood stand at the lower end of the parking lot.


Dennis Allen said...

Wow does that last conversation sound familiar.If you had one, it would have been the wrong color, size and price.I bristle when people tell me what pots I should be making. It's always something that I've never needed or saw much point to owning.

Tracey Broome said...

This year has just about done me in with the outdoor festivals. Some people are just too stupid to be walking around! I can't tell you how many conversations started out with "you know what you should make...?" or
"I really love your work, you should do really well here" as they leave the booth without buying. Grrrrr!!!!!!

Linda B said...

I think the comment "Do you have fun at what you're doing" was outrageous, insinuating that you can't have fun AND sell your pots at a decent price. Aren't there any more upmarket shows you can do, potters markets or juried craft shows?
By the way, Colour in Glazes is coming out soon with a small picture of your crawled Shino teabowls.

ang walford said...

your pots would undoubtably be in my hands and many more would make it home with me if i were closer H!!!! i love em :))

cookingwithgas said...

you mad man you....of course this is fun and sooooooo relaxing that you,we,should just give it all away as we sip funny drinks with funny names.
darling or honey pie, sweetheart just go over and take what you want- we just do this for fun....and pay me- good lord why would you want to do that? No- really.....hehehehe-
A day at a show can be the best high and a kick in the pants all at once!

Hollis Engley said...

Yep, you got it, Meredith, and Tracey and Linda and Dennis. I thought I'd end up going all Tracey B. (and I make that reference with love and affection) on the blog after the garlic woman, but some things got a little better with the tea ceremony folks. These shows ... I don't know ...

Hollis Engley said...

And thanks, Ang. I know you might clean out the Shino, if you could get it all on the plane.

yolande clark said...

Whoa. Hollis. I get it, too. And I mean literally, we get this conversation (or a variant thereof) *often*...In fact, after this past year, Lee and I have decided we will no longer be doing craft shows...The scene seems to have died a little bit--here in eastern Canada, anyway. I don't *at all* think think that craft is dead, or that handmade is done for...On the contrary, I think that the global online shrinkage thingy is actually creating more of an interest around local handmade products...but I do think that maybe as a format, the craft show is not the best place for potters making unique, handmade, one-of-a-kind work...We have friends who make stuff, and they don't even consider doing shows that involve any question as to whether or not the fee for entry will be no more than ten percent of what they bring home...We figured it would make more sense to spend the colossal amount of time required to prepare for, and attend, shows...on actually making work, liaising with galleries, working online (photographing, posting work, etc.) and doing exhibit-type stuff...Anyway. Lots to think about. Thank you for your very engaging writing, Hollis!

Paul Jessop said...

Fuck Em!

if i had a £pound for every customer that say's "got to much stuff what I need to do is clear stuff out not buy more"
I'd be giving Bill Gates a run for his money. yea right!

Lesly said...

I think The OysterFest is kind of stuff that gives people a great pleasure or just make them annoyed by their teabowls and other stuff. But you've got a new experience and some fun like people can live in these days because they sell lots of pots exactlly in these days!!!! No one likes these kinds of empty talks like " Do you have fun at what you're doing?" or " You know what you should make...?" but anyway that is so funny for me!