Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reflections on a craft show

One week ago today, I was sitting in my booth at Chase Park in Chatham, sheltered in the corner of the tent from the bit of drizzle that came and went over the course of the second of three days of the Festival of the Arts there. This is a big show for Cape Cod, more than 100 people creating (and trying to sell) everything from copper garden fountains to first-rate watercolors and weavings to third-rate color photos of lighthouses.
The rain and clouds were a good thing. The day before had been hot and sunny and the weather drove people away from craft to the nearby beaches. Saturday was perfect - not a soaking downpour, simply an occasional passing shower from the clouds that never abandoned the elbow of Cape Cod. We craft show vendors love this kind of weather. It puts faces in front of the work, increasing the chance that there will be buyers among the hundreds of umbrellaed strollers and browsers.
And there were, indeed, buyers. Saturday was a good day, far better than the depression-inducing sunny Friday that preceded it. Pots didn't exactly fly off the shelves, but I sold several. Sales are good for the mood of this particular seller. I'm very cynical about these shows, lugging boxes of pots, tables, tent, tablecloths, chair, shelves, etc. early in the morning to the other end of the Cape. Dragging it from my truck to the designated spot in the park, doing all the necessary things to set up the tent, arrange the tables, unwrap a couple of hundred pots, arrange them on the tables and shelves, and so on. Not my favorite thing. All the time smiling and saying "Good morning" to people who sometimes seem not to notice that there's a human standing behind the table, ready to help them.
Still, I sold some pots. One woman who has bought from me in Chatham for three or four years came by and bought more pots, as did the friend who came with her. I love people like that. They know what they like and they carefully choose what they're going to take home with them. And if they don't buy, it's fine. I honestly don't mind if someone looks carefully at the work on offer and decides nothing there quite speaks to them. I want people to connect with my pots, and that's not always an easy thing to do. Susan, the woman who has bought from me before, is now doing mosaics from broken pots and the next day I brought her a box of (deservedly) destroyed pottery for her work next winter.
And then there was the woman, a pottery student in a local program, who came into the booth, looked a long time at the newly fired big Shino teabowls and said, looking thoughtful, "Are you a fan of Ken Matsuzaki?"
It took me a moment to understand what she meant. Then I got it. "Ummm ... I know his work. He's a terrific potter. I don't try to make his pots, though." (Why should I have to respond rationally and pleasantly to this kind of comment?)
She looked at my work, which apparently had something she remembered seeing in Matsuzaki's, and she figured that this guy must be trying to imitate the Japanese master. With that little bit of information, she'd decided she was going to share an "Aha!" moment with me and let me know she was in on our little secret. 
I hate that. Really. Things like that piss me off for days.
At what point in a pot-making career (or a watercolor career, or woodworking or printmaking or photography or short story writing or anything creative ... ) have you synthesized all your teachers and your other influences and are simply making your own work? Take a look at the bio on the blog. I acknowledge some of my influences there - Kanzaki, Rogers, Nakazato, Finnegan, Hamada. We all take from the people who came before us and, if we are thinking and creative makers, our own work grows from what we've learned.
That was part of what generated my reaction to the commenting woman. The Shino teabowls - big, heavy, rough and deep with layered glazes, largely unlikely to be used for tea - that had just come out of the kiln a few days before were some of the best pots I've made. I know that, but there's no reason for anyone else to know. Or care.

Only four more craft shows before Christmas.


Tracey Broome said...

Ahhh the craft show attendees. I usually want to smack 90% of them and I want to hug the 10% that actually have some sense. The 90% has caused me to back out of more shows this past year, I just can't take it!
Glad you had some good sales though. I was wondering about you this morning, your blog has been a tad quiet :)

Hollis Engley said...

Yes, I've been making pots and otherwise occupied. I'm back at it now, Tracey.

Hannah said...

Oh Hollis, I know I know! Be thiinking of me tomorrow while at sit at a wee show about 80 miles away after I have keft the house at half 7, driven for an hour and a half and what's t going to be like? People telling me my mugs are too expensive probably. Why did I say I would do it?

Hollis Engley said...

They'll love you and buy everything, Hannah. Or they should, anyway. Good luck with it.

cookingwithgas said...

Boy, we get our share of those folks in the store.
At least you were selling.
I was just thinking you must be having a busy summer since you have been quiet.
Glad to read you are back.

Dan Finnegan said...

Thanks for the confirmation of all my craft show fears!

Dennis Allen said...

At a couple of shows this spring, I had a sign that said Advice 5 cents, free with purchase.One lady did give me a dime.

Hannah said...

Well 120 miles and 11 hours of a day later I sold one little mug for £1o that even then they complained was rather expensive, I didn't tell them that they should go look at the £45 ones in my workshop!
On the plus side I did get a paddle in the sea in between my swift setting up and the show opening.

Hollis Engley said...

Clearly, Hannah, you were dealing with people who don't know what they have in front of them. At least you got in a paddle.

FetishGhost said...

I've been thinking about this since I first read this, this morning.
Don't be too hard on her Hollis.

It's unfortunate that as potters and ceramists, we seldom see each other for the characters that we truly are. For most, the complexities of our personalities are hidden away. Pushed to the side and guarded like a young child.
This is despite the fact that many of us live loud and large, openly sharing ourselves in our own secret worlds.
None the less, in our day to day lives as professionals, we most often are measured out against our actual or perceived influences. We do it to ourselves and we do it to others.
It's part of the patterns of influence culture presses against us, and as irritating as it may be, we shouldn't get too nasty with those that look for ties that bind contemporaries to each other or rationalize our work in relation to tradition. It's just the way it is...

Those surfaces are pretty darn sweet Hollis! Complex and toasty!

Hollis Engley said...

Yes, I understand, Zyg. I always wish, however, that people would think a bit longer than they do about the deeper meaning and the possible consequences of the things they say.

flowers said...

I feel you on this. Yesterday we did the Lansdale Festival of the Arts. It was a good day for us, but I must say your post sums up my overall feelings about the show and some of the people we meet. We had plenty of foot traffic and plenty of people stopping by our booth. I love making the art I do, and if it doesn't sell I realize I am ok with that also. I want people to feel something when they look at what I do. I do enjoy the people who return because they have made a connection with you or your work.

My question, what do you do when you say hi and people just don't respond. I am unsure about that aspect of all this. We are learning as we go.

Hollis Engley said...

I wish i had a clever way of responding to that. If they don't respond to me saying hello, i sort of stand there amazed. I never know what to do.

Lori Langford, Owner, Big Dog Pots Pottery said...

Craft shows certainly can test us all. I have had my share, but I will say, that I have been fortunate enough to find a few really nice ones that are not too far from home, and that always bring nice results. I actually LOOK FORWARD to going to them each year. I know there will be a nice base of loyal customers who will seek me out, and I also know that the people who run them are top notch. But I will say that the one fellow a few years back who came into my booth and looked at just about everyone of my pieces and then commented "so these are ashtrays right?". Yep, that fellow has definitely stuck with me, and yet as I am relating this, I am smiling, so I was able to "be like the duck" and let his comments just bead off my feathers, and not ruffle them. Overall, I do enjoy shows, but I also research them carefully before signing on, and all in all, I do really enjoy meeting and talking to everyone who stops by my booth, whether they purchase something or not. Best of luck at your NEXT show :).

Hollis Engley said...

Thanks, Lori. I think I'm more or less over it now. said...

I often get worked up when people ask me to reproduce the work of other people, pottery just doesn't work in this way and there is of course an ethical issue with reproducing other peoples work!