Monday, June 25, 2012

Did you make all this?

I spent my weekend in my booth at the Fountain Square Art Festival in Evanston.  While sales were actually a little better than last year, the show left me with an odd feeling for two reasons:

1) Crowd Comments:
People who do business at Art Fairs realize that there are always a lot of bizarre comments coming from the crowds walking through - enough that on an artist discussion board the topic of "What is the worst question you have ever been asked at an art fair" there are 38 pages and the thread is still going.  That being said I had several real winners this time around.

Some standouts included the woman who very loudly informed her friend and everyone else in a 30 foot radius that my booth was full of "that Italian glass" and that she could get it cheaper elsewhere.  Now when people refer to Italian glass they are usually thinking of Murano or Venetian glass.  It looks something like this:

Here is  picture of my work:
Yes they are both glass, with a lot of color.  But the similarities end there.  Ok, so she doesn't really know her glass, and that is fine, and maybe there was even a compliment in the comparison to such world renowned work.  What is  bothersome is that she was walking around an ART FESTIVAL assuming that the people there did not make their wares!  When I approached her and informed her that all of the pieces were hand made she looked at me like I was from Mars.  In a snotty tone she asked "how could you make all of this?"  My answer was "3 kilns and very little sleep".  After a little more discussion that involved great restraint on my part it turns out that she never considered that it might be artists selling their own work at these sorts of shows.  As she left I explained that Art Fairs/Festivals have rules that everything must be hand made and the artist must be present.

which leads to topic number 2:  The dreaded Buy/Sell Fraud
If you are an avid reader of artist forums you will quickly see that one of the hottest topics is the folks that claim to be artists, jury into shows, win awards, take sales dollars from patrons and DO NOT MAKE THEIR own merchandise.  Generally referred to as Buy/Sell (or B/S) these folks import work from places with cheap labor and pass it off as their own.  There were at least 7 such vendors at this show.  The most  well known of these B/S outfits include a group that sells wooden watches imported from South America, silk embroidery from China, inlaid wood, wood knives and cutting boards, stone ducks, metal yard art and tons of jewelry.  You see these "artists" show up at multiple shows on a given weekend which should be impossible because most shows have the rule that the artist must be present.   Please remember that not everyone selling items in the categories I listed are part of this fraud, I don't want to drive business away from honest artists.

The artist community is working to inform the promoters and make sure that these vendors are not accepted into shows anymore. It is a difficult task, there are legal issues and political minefields to maneuver, so I am advocating an additional approach - educate our customers!   If you question the likelihood that an artist made something check out their website on the smart phone that you are probably carrying.  If you see multiple shows in a weekend or a long list of galleries, stores and outlets, or a comment about designers who have skilled artisans working for them then you have stumbled upon some serious B/S.  

The next time you walk through an Art Fair please consider what you are looking at, talk to the artist and try hard to direct your dollars to those of us who are the real deal. 


  1. Amy, you're on to something here.

    I know that jurors are tasked with hundreds of applications to consider for inclusion and we pay $$ to be considered. Because of the rampant B/S issue, I think it's fair to ask that if we as artists are paying $$ to be examined, that we should ask more from the judges. After all, they are playing judge, jury, and executioner (for lack of a better term).

    We only get 5 photos (and perhaps a booth shot) to make our statement and they're given seconds to rate our work (I know, I've been a judge). What if there were a few more additions to the application process, say, for the artist to include her/his Web site? (Web sites are cheap, I know, I built them. They can even be free. )

    The judges would be asked to to do their due diligence to review the web site calendar (as you suggested) above along with a few shots of the artist actually creating her work. There could be a space or two for the artist to include add'l words, photos, or anything that's pertinent to her application. I don't think that's too much to ask when they are the ones to determine whether we make money that weekend to keep the mortgage paid.


    1. Lisa, I agree with you that our jury fees should buy better diligence, especially since they seem to be going up. As far as web sites and studio photos, if someone is committed to fraud, they are not hard to fake. We can put up more hurdles and it may knock out some of the dishonest vendors but I think most will just find a way around it.

      This is a difficult issue and I am advocating a many pronged approach - it seems that a large group of artists are already trying to go after the fraud via the promoters, so I am trying to supplement that with another angle. Based on the silly comments this weekend (the "Italian glass" was the worst but there were more) I think an educated consumer can only help.

    2. Amy, education is a great tool but an expensive one in time and resources. How can I as an individual furniture maker with no time to spare help to educate others about fine craft?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.