Craft Contexts

Westervin F/W 2014 Inspiration

Westervin F/W 2014 Inspiration:  Above Home Floor Mat by Hlynur Atlason

{ Above Home Floor Mat by Hlynur Atlason }

Inspiration is a fickle mistress. She visits without warning, and, when needed most, she’s nowhere to be found. But we can’t quit her.

Westervin F/W 2014 Inspiration:  Hand-Knit Headband by Camelotia

{ Hand-Knit Headband by Camelotia }

Fall is nearly here, but I have little to show for a new collection in the Westervin shop. I’ve let myself get too distracted by freelance work, the stress of taking care of a new home, and some pressures in my personal life. But I can’t quit! I won’t give up on Inspiration.

Westervin F/W 14 Inspiration: "Thinking About Water" by Sarah Ferone

 { Thinking About Water by Sarah Ferone }

To ease into the roller-coaster ride that is the creative process, I’ve forced myself to look at the work of others — crocheters, knitters, and fiber artists, as well as artists and fashion designers. This process proves both motivating and intimidating, as I cycle through the enlivening sparks of creativity and the fears of not measuring up. Hopefully, inspiration will take over before my insecurities get the best of me.

Westervin F/W 2014 Inspiration: Scout Top from Need Supply Co.

{ Scout Top from Need Supply Co. }

Large, flat shapes. Pale, neutrals broken up by bright metallics and bolder colors. Rich textures. Headbands and a semicircle clutch. These are the lovely things I’ve found from talented makers that are inspiring me today.

Westervin F/W 2014 Inspiration: Semi-Wallet by Georgie Cummings

{ Semi-Wallet Clutch by Georgie Cummings }

I can only cross my fingers… and my toes and arms and legs… and hope that I’m able to create a few things that are at least half as lovely as these.

Westervin F/W 2014 Inspiration: Miss Fortune Tank by The Handy Studio

{ Miss Fortune Tank by The Handy Studio }

But if not, I guess there’s always next season.

Westervin F/W 2014 Inspiration: "Shelter II" by Liz Toohey-Wiese

Shelter II by Liz Toohey-Wiese }

Craft Contexts

Gramma’s Quilt

I’ve got a crafty project in the works—a quilting project! Now, it’s extra exciting because this project has quite a bit of history. It’s older than my mom! In fact, it’s as old as my great-grandmother!

My grandmother started piecing together this quilt when she was pregnant with my aunt, my mom’s older sister, in 1960. Dang, y’all. That’s over 50 years.

The fabric Gramma collected for the project is at least as old as she is, possibly older in some cases, and belonged to my great-grandmother, who died when my grandmother was just a teenager. Gramma saved some of her mother’s dresses, and rather than recycling them into clothing for her two younger sisters, who she helped raise after their mother passed away, she eventually cut them into the little boy shapes for this quilt project.

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #1

Like, wow. Just look at that beautiful fabric! I absolutely love the vintage patterns, and it’s amazing that the colors are still so vibrant. But, what I love most about these pieces of material is that they were once beautiful dresses that belonged to my beautiful great-grandmother, a woman who had a far different and much harder life than me, and the fabric traveled through four generations of women to finally rest in my crafty hands. That’s a pretty rich history, if you ask me.

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #1

When Gramma started the project, she intended to make a quilt for her daughter-to-be, but, as you can see, she never quite finished. As her family grew, the project shifted to incorporate a quilted gift for each new child and, eventually, each new grandchild. When Gramma last worked on it, she had arranged for each of her three children (my aunt, mom, and uncle) to have a baby blanket and for each of her three grandchildren (my older brother, myself, and younger cousin) to receive a small pillow. However, the last time she worked on this project, my younger brother (now nine years old) hadn’t been born yet!

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #2

So, when Gramma handed this project over to me this past Christmas, we decided to rework it so that each of her three children and each of her four grandchildren would receive a 6-piece panel. Fair and square. We also decided that most of the little “boys” she’d created would need to be sewn onto new backing fabric. Some of the white cotton was so old it had yellowed quite dramatically, as you can see from the photos.

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #3

After Brian and I got home from Christmas, I immediately got to work reorganizing the panels, cutting some pieces apart and matching the various colors and patterns as best I could. I ended up with what I think are some pretty lovely, complimentary panels. I also bought some new white cotton material for the pieces, which you’ll see later as I document my progress.

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #3

I am so excited about and grateful for being able to complete these quilted gifts for Gramma. I get to be part of a creative project that spans four generations of women in my family, and it gives me a real and immediate reason to get back into sewing AND learn to quilt, something I’ve wanted to do for YEARS. Also, this project is imbued with even more meaning because the finished projects will be special gifts for my family.

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #3

I am also extra super grateful for the new sewing machine I got this year for Christmas, which was purchased with help from a very generous gift from Brian’s grandmother—thanks a million, Grandma Jane! Without this fancy new machine, I definitely wouldn’t be able to finish this project. My old sewing machine—my little Brother, which was a gift from my mom and grandmother over a decade ago (!)—sewed his last stitch a few years ago and has been resting in peace in our garage. Poor little brother. He has been missed.

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #5

But, despite all of the awesomeness of this project and my fantastic new little Brother, I still haven’t found the courage to jump right in. Hard to admit, but true.

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #6

Now, why haven’t I already whipped this project into shape, you ask? Maybe it’s cursed! Maybe it will never be finished, destined to grow and change as the women in my family grow and change, being passed down from generation to generation until the end of time!

Ok, no, that’s not it. The truth is I’m pretty intimidated.

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #7

It’s been so long since I’ve used a sewing machine, let alone finished a sewing project, that my fingers have forgotten a thing or two about the craft. Then, put learning to use a new sewing machine—a computerized one, no less!—into the mix, and the task sometimes seems a bit daunting. Additionally, juggling my various school/housework/craft business responsibilities has been another barrier, giving me too many excuses why I shouldn’t start this project and, instead, finish the million other projects I have floating around… What’s a girl to do?!

Westervin: Gramma's Quilt Panel #7

Okay, I’m done whining about it. I’m actually hopeful this post and the process of documenting my progress will help motivate me to keep chugging along. Please stick around to see how it turns out!

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Blog News, Craft Contexts

Westervin Recently

Screengrab: SarahWest Ervin's Ochi Shop Picks

{ My curated collection for Ochi Shop }

It’s been a grand week! Westervin and I have been featured in a few places around the internets recently, and I thought I’d share these happy mentions. First up, I’ve made a lovely new e-friend in Pauli Ochi, a jewelry designer from Sun Valley, Idaho who runs Ochi Gallery and Ochi Shop. After I discovered her amazing jewelry via Pinterest, Pauli found her way to Westervin then reached out with the friendliest email. In the end, Pauli invited me to guest curate some picks from Ochi Shop and kindly agreed to answer some of my questions for a Maker’s Remarks post here on Westervin. Stay tuned for the interview going live next Monday, but for now, check out my Ochi Shop picks!

Screengrab: Sarah West Ervin Interview with Alistair Porter on Marginalia

{ My interview on Marginalia }

Also this week, my friend and former classmate Ali Porter interviewed me for Marginalia, the graduate student blog at Columbia College Chicago. Check it out to learn a little more about me, my job at Lillstreet Art Center, and my experience as a graduate student in the Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management MAM program at Columbia.

Screengrab: Westervin mentioned on LoganSquarist

{ Westervin mentioned on LoganSquarist }

In other local crafty news, my recap of the recent Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival got a little shout-out on the LoganSquarist, a blog covering our Chicago neighboorhood, Logan Square. They liked some of our pics from our visit!

Screengrab: Westervin featured on Mint Design Blog

{ Westervin mention on Mint }

Now, this final feature isn’t actually from this past week. It’s from last summer, but I only just stumbled upon this nice little surprise. If you’ve been around for a while, you might recall that the save-the-dates Brian and I made for our wedding were included in the book Design: Paper. Well, another person whose work was included in the beautiful book, Ellie Snow, blogged about it and included a snapshot of our save-the-dates. Her blog, Mint, is so lovely and she seems to be a very talented designer, so we’re super flattered to think that she was impressed enough with our handicraft to include a mention in her post. Thanks, Ellie!

Craft Contexts

With Ink or Thread

Embroider by Marguerite Zorach, 1900

{ My Home in Fresno Around 1900, wool embroidered on linen, Marguerite Zorach }

I fell down the rabbit hole recently, scouring the interwebs for some visual inspiration in textile arts. Crochet, embroidery, needlepoint, applique, quilting–I’ve always loved a good fabric craft! I was recently reading about Marguerite Zorach (1887-1968), who was an American painter turned textile artist considered a pioneer for her rugs, tapestries, and other textile works. Though she preferred working in textiles–she said she could find more brilliant colors in wool than in paint–I found it much easier to uncover images of her oil paintings. Sadly, major art institutions and aficionados did not (and many probably still don’t) consider her textile works equivalent to her oil paintings. I disagree! Just look at these incredible pieces!

embroidered handbag by Marguerite Zorach

{ Handbag, wool embroidery on burlap or linen, Marguerite Zorach }

The Circus, embroidery by Marguerite Zorach

{ The Circus, embroidery on wool or linen, 1929, Marguerite Zorach }

detail of embroidered panel by Marguerite Zorach

 { detail of embroidered panel, polychrome wool on linen, 1925-28, Marguerite Zorach }

Maine Islands, embroidery by Marguerite Zorach

{ Maine Islands, needlework and pencil on canvas, 1919, Marguerite Zorach }

batik scarf by Marguerite Zorach

{ batik scarf, wax-resist dye on plain-weave silk, 1918, Marguerite Zorach }

embroidered rug by Marguerite Zorach

{ The Snake and Bird, wool on linen, 1937, Marguerite Zorach }

These next two pieces I found in an a New York Times article about rugs–they were made a little before Zorach’s time by unknown or anonymous artists. Beautiful and odd…

hooked rug

M.E.H.N., hooked rug, 1868, artist unknown }

applique table cover

A table cover, made of wool embroidery and cotton applique on wool, 1870, artist unknown }

Now let’s look a few contemporary artists working in textiles for even more fiber arts inspiration! Below are some of my favorite pieces I’ve found recently.

embroidery by Tracey Emin

{ Soft Blue, embroidered calico, 2012, by Tracey Emin }

embroidery by Joetta Maue

{ Asleep on the Couch, hand embroidered, painted, and appliquéd re-appropriated linen, 2012, Joetta Maue }

embroidery by Arimoto Yumiko

{ detail of embroidered bag by Arimoto Yumiko, found via Embroidery as Art }

embroidery by Stephen Sollins

{ Elegy (…and glad to be home…), embroidery, 2004, Stephen Sollins, found via Embroidery as Art }

embroidery by Ana Teresa Barboza

bordado y tela, embroidery, 2010, Ana Teresa Barboza }

cross stitch by Dina Weiss

Bowery, summer trash, needlepoint, 2010-2011, Dina Weiss }

embroidery by Jenny Hart

This Work Never Ends, hand embroidery on salvaged cotton, 2002, Jenny Hart }

embroidered linen by Joetta Maue

{ She Danced …hand embroidered, appliquéd, cut, and stained re-appropriated linen, 2011, Joetta Maue }

embroidered face by Stacey Page

{ Rachel, Stacey Page, found via Embroidery as Art }

embroidered portrait by Daniel Kornrumpf

Line of Sight (detail), hand embroidered on linen, 2012, Daniel Kornrumpf }

embroidered portrait by Stacey Page

{ Henry, Stacey Page, found via Embroidery as Art }

embroidery on satin by Jenny Hart

Luck – 1972hand embroidery, sequins and appliqué on satin, 2003, Jenny Hart }

Craft Contexts

Statement Jewelry, Then and Now

Arts and Crafts hair comb by Archibald Knox

comb by Archibald Knox }

If you haven’t noticed already, I’ve been eyeballs-deep in the Arts and Crafts movement, reading about the historical origins of today’s crafts styles and philosophies in Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. Most recently, I learned something truly fascinating (though not too surprising) about Arts and Crafts jewelers in the early 20th century. Their jewelry, crafted rather laboriously by hand using more inexpensive and easily attainable materials, was associated with progressive culture and politics. Handmade jewelry made a social statement.

Arts and Crafts necklace by Murrle Bennett

{ necklace by Murrle Bennett }

These jewelers “rejected both costume jewelry and social jewelry, the two professional types of their day.” Costume jewelry is made from inexpensive substitute materials, such as tin alloys and fake stones, rather than gold and precious stones, and is “produced in the least labor-intensive, most mechanized way possible.” Like the cheap jewelry you find at Forever 21 and Target, and even more expensive pieces you can find in more “high end” retail outlets that are still made in bulk from cheap materials in factories overseas. Costume jewelry is imitation social jewelry, pieces made from the real materials–gold, platinum, diamonds, emeralds, etc. Social jewelry is a sign of wealth and status. Beyonce’s 18-carat diamond engagement ring, anyone?

Arts and Crafts necklace by Brainerd Bliss Thresher

{ necklace by Brainerd Bliss Thresher }

“Arts and Crafts jewelers,” on the other hand, “proposed a hierarchy of taste instead of a hierarchy of wealth,” and their works were associated with “reform clothing,” which advocated for more casual, practical clothing, especially for women of the time. Their pieces were commonly made from sterling silver or copper and included glass beads, carved bone, enameling, and semi-precious stones. Their works also featured nature-inspired motifs, including a variety of flora and fauna. This was a common feature of Arts and Crafts works, as the movement often praised more rural ways of life.

Arts and Crafts necklace by Maurice Daurat

{ pendant by Maurice Daurat }

Arts and Crafts brooch by George Pierre

{ brooch by George Pierre }

Arts and Crafts necklace by Arthur and George Gaskin

{ necklace by Arthur & Georgie Gaskin }

While reading about this, I immediately thought of the “statement necklaces” that were everywhere a couple years ago or so (and are still pretty popular?). Sadly, the only statement most of these necklaces were making was just a “fashion statement,” as they were only large pieces of costume jewelry. However, there were and still are quite a few craftspeople and artisans creating jewelry that make both a fashion statement and a social statement—bold, colorful, original pieces of art that are handcrafted, often from affordable materials, like embroidery thread and wooden beads, as well as recycled metals and stones.

handmade necklace by Edith Robertson

{ necklace by Edith Robertson }

 handmade necklace by Tamara Bavdek

{ necklace by Tamara Bavdek }

handmade earrings by Heejin Hwang

{ earrings by Heejin Hwang }

handmade bracelet by Karen Konzuk

{ bracelet by Karen Konzuk }

handmade necklace by Arlie Trowbridge

{ necklace by Arlie Trowbridge }

handmade rings by Polly van der Glas

{ rings by Polly van der Glas }

necklace by Orly Genger

{ necklace by Orly Genger }

handmade ring by Elke Kramer

ring by Elke Kramer }

handmade necklace by Pauli Ochi

necklace by Pauli Ochi }

handmade necklace by Viktoria Luftensteiner

necklace by Viktoria Luftensteiner }

The next time I purchase a piece of jewelry, I’ll try to be more conscious of the statement I’m making….

Craft Contexts

Old is New

"Daisy" wallpaper by William Morris: photograph by Beata Wilczek

Daisy by William Morris }  { fl by Beata Wilczek }

Today’s Pretty Pair comes with a mini history lesson for anyone who isn’t familiar with the Arts and Craft movement, of which William Morris (1834-96), whose wallpaper design is pictured above, was one of the founders.

The Arts and Crafts movement was influenced by the writings of three Victorian men: Morris, A. W. N. Pugin, and John Ruskin. It was not just an aesthetic movement but also a social movement, started in response to industrialization and urbanization in 19th century England and the resulting consequences of dehumanizing labor and the abandonment and destruction of nature. Advocates of this movement sought to assert the value not just of beautiful objects but also of the makers of those objects and the personal benefits derived from handmaking processes. According to the authors of Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, Ruskin believed that workers “could derive satisfaction from their labor only if they were given some creative control.” Furthermore, “this vision, above all others, inspired the craft revival,” which elevated the practice of design in society and applauded people’s individuality expressed through handmade artifacts and the imperfections inherent in humankind and its handicraft.

Throughout his lifetime, William Morris, a follower of Ruskin’s, taught himself how to glaze ceramics, letter and illustrate manuscripts, engrave wooden printing blocks, dye wool and silk, print textiles, and weave tapestries and rugs. With several colleagues, he founded a sort of design and craft fabrication firm, eventually named Morris & Co., that produced murals, carvings, glass, metalwork, jewelry, furniture, and embroidery.” The motto of the company and its legion of international followers was “Art into Life.” Through tremendous acclaim, Morris & Co. helped to elevate craft to more of an art status. Morris himself is perhaps best know for his exquisite wallpapers, which were painstakingly drawn and followed the philosophies of the Arts & Crafts movement. According to Makers:

“His influence on the crafts was (and is) immense. By his own example, he elevated craft from a trade to a vocation, linked handwork with idealism, and became a hero for generations to come. Morris & Co. was a successful business but not a cutthroat capitalist one. It gave dignity back to labor (even if its workers weren’t designers, as Ruskin might have wished). Morris insisted that craft could be art and that art must be incorporated into the daily lives of ordinary people. This just might be his most important legacy of all.”

The ideal of the Arts and Crafts movement was to combine beauty and usefulness, that handcrafted goods have value beyond their utility. Followers also claimed that craft is the foundation of the arts—one can’t separate fine art from folk art—and that nature and regionalism can and should be expressed through handcrafted works.

These assertions are certainly nothing we haven’t heard before in the last few years, but they were pretty revolutionary for their time.

Craft Contexts

Craft is Not a Four Letter Word

carnations in a chain-link fence

{ carnations in a fence outside the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival 2013 }

While Brian and I were at the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival this past weekend, we ran into a friend of mine who had some of his photographs on display in one of the festival’s popup galleries, which were coordinated by the South Logan Arts Coalition. After catching up, I mentioned my summer project — reading through Makers: A History of American Studio Craft and writing regular blog posts on topics or ideas inspired by the text — and that I was at the festival to gather some material for my next post. He seemed genuinely interested but a little puzzled. “So you’re a… crafter?” he asked, hesitating on the word, as if he wasn’t sure what the appropriate term was.

Evan Baden with photographs from Under the Influence

{ Evan Baden in front of his work, photographs from Under the Influence,

at a South Logan Arts Coalition popup gallery }

He admitted that it seemed almost like a dirty word, that some people speak about craft as something to be looked down on. And it’s true—many people consider “craft” to be of less value than “fine art.” Perhaps they think of craft as requiring less imagination, less intellect, less skill — who knows what, just less. But I don’t hesitate to identify as a crafter, though I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that I’m more of a hobby crafter or a domestic crafter rather than a maker of fine or studio craft.

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Stephanie Burke and Jeriah Hildwine

{ detail of T and O Map by Stephanie Burke & Jeriah Hildwine }

After confidently shaking my head yes, yes I would call myself a crafter, my friend seemed a little perplexed again at my reason for attending the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. Perhaps he was worried I wouldn’t find much by way of craft inspiration. But the funny thing is that the very popup gallery we were in, which showcased the work of at least six different artists, had more to do with craft than not. Almost one entire wall was taken over by Stephanie Burke and Jeriah Hildwine, whose several pieces of mixed media work included quilting, embroidery, and sewing. Textile arts? Or textile crafts? You say potato.

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Garth Borovicka

Ends of the Earth by Garth Borovicka }

Also in the room were wooden miniature works by Garth Borovicka, which I’ve seen at the Renegade Craft Fair and on Etsy. Those are pretty clearly “craft” venues. These Borovicka pieces that were on display at the popup gallery were hanging on the wall next to a slip of paper that described the work — its maker, its materials, its title. So, if it’s hanging on a wall in gallery, it’s art, and if it’s sitting on a table at a craft fair, it’s craft? My head hurts. Either way, Borovicka’s pieces are delightful….

Wooden miniatures by Garth Borovicka

{ Desktop blocks by Garth Borovicka }

Everyday objects are transformed into public art in these tiny worlds. A paper clip becomes an oversized sculpture in the manner of artist Claus Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, adding wonder to any work space. —- Garth Borovicka

Like the wood and textile works in the popup gallery that I’ll call “craft adjacent,” miniatures are a phenomenon that seem to float somewhere between art and craft. A good friend of mine who works in the art auction world was recently describing a miniatures collection that she was helping to sell. It seemed odd at first, not just the idea that someone had collected thousands upon thousands of teeny tiny handmade pieces of furniture and home décor, but also the fact that these pieces were part of an “art auction” being sold for a couple hundred bucks a pop. She showed us a few pictures, and after I stopped awing over the preciousness of the itsy bitsy works, I started to wonder at the skill required to make exquisite replicas of furniture, sometimes famous antique pieces of furniture, on such a small scale. My friend then passed around her phone with a picture of a miniature silver platter with incredible detail — it was about as tall as one’s thumb. When she was helping to unpack all the miniatures, she unwrapped this little platter, turned it over in her hand, and found her father’s signature on the bottom. Her father, a silversmith, had actually made this piece. Apparently, his mother was an avid collector of miniatures herself. What a small world (and other puns).

Miniature Furniture

{ hand-carved Rosewood miniature furniture }

So what’s the difference? Why is “craft” sometimes a dirty word in the art world? I wish I could explain it. Truth be told, I’ve spent the last few months trying to figure it out, reading books and articles, asking curators and craftspeople, thinking about it while I stare out the bus window on my commute home. I think I’m beginning to formulate my own understanding of the division, but it’s just a nugget of an idea right now. There seem to be a number of ways to slice it: form versus function, head versus hand, expression versus reflection. But none of these divisions really tell the whole story. There’s no doubt there’s plenty of grey area here. I’m sure I’ll never figure it out completely, and I’m sure my opinions will evolve over time, but after this summer, I hope to have a better understanding of studio craft and, therefore, a better idea of how craft is similar to and different from art. If I get closer to an answer, you’ll be the first to know!

Craft Contexts, Faire Play

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival 2013

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival 2013

After my last post on craft fairs and their impact on commerce and culture, I was motivated to get out of our apartment this weekend. The beautiful weather didn’t hurt either. I went with Brian to the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival yesterday in search of some crafty inspiration. We were not disappointed! For those of you who weren’t able to attend this fun neighborhood event, I am happy to share — through the modern miracle that is the internet — some of my favorite sightings. Feast your eyes upon these glorious works of creativity! May they inspire you in some way…

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Stephanie Burke and Jeriah Hildwine

{ T and O Map by Stephanie Burke & Jeriah Hildwine }

The first several photos were taken at one of the festival’s popup galleries, which were put together by the South Logan Arts Coalition.

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Stephanie Burke and Jeriah Hildwine

{ right: Eldar Thing and T and O Map by Stephanie Burke & Jeriah Hildwine }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Garth Borovicka

{ Ends of the Earth by Garth Borovicka }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Garth Borovicka

Ends of the Earth by Garth Borovicka }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: photograph by Evan Baden

{ From Under the Influence by Evan Baden }

 Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Evan Baden at a South Logan Arts Coalition Popup Gallery

Evan Baden }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Atira Design

{ Atira Design }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Atira Design

Atira Design }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Penguin Foot Pottery

{ ceramics on display at the Penguin Foot Pottery tent }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Penguin Foot Pottery

{ ceramics on display at the Penguin Foot Pottery tent }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Rich Salamander's wire portraits

{ wire portraits by Rich Salamender of Neglected Renderings }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Rich Salamander of Neglected Renderings

{ Rich Salamender of Neglected Renderings }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Natalie Wagner

It Could All End in an Instant: The Existance of Absolute Destruction by Natalie Wagner }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Natalie Wagner

{ It Could All End in an Instant: The Existance of Absolute Destruction by Natalie Wagner }

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Natalie Wagner

Craft Contexts

Craft Fairs!

Hiya friends! Sorry I’ve been absent the past few weeks, but, I’ve got an exciting summer project that will keep my posting regularly now. I’ve started reading through the book Makers: A History of American Studio Craft by Janet Koplos and Bruce Metcalf. Boy is it a fun read so far—chock full of fascinating facts, stories, and historical context that’s really enlightening my understanding and appreciation for contemporary crafts. As the reading inspires me each week, I’ll share some of what I’m learning. I’m pretty pumped about it. First up? Craft fairs. Yay!

Renegade Craft Fair Chicago 2012

{ from our trip to the Renegade Craft Fair Chicago 2012 }

With June wrapping up and the weather FINALLY getting warmer here in Chicago, I find myself, joyously once again, in craft fair season. My favorite time of year, mind you. I’m particularly lucky to live in Chicago, which has a large and strong craft community and is home to one of the most popular contemporary craft fairs in the US, the Renegade Craft Fair. There’s also a long list of other fantastic craft fairs lined up in Chicago—which I’ll get to later!

shopcolumbia holiday market art booth

{ from the ShopColumbia Holiday Market 2011 }

In recent years, it seems that dozens of new, indie craft fairs pop up each year, and the more established ones keep getting bigger and better, drawing even larger crowds of hip, DIY loving shoppers. My kinda crowd, really. And while this ever growing canon of indie craft fairs seems so fresh and progressive, there’s no doubt that today’s booming crafty economy draws on a long history of fine craft and economic trade.

New York World's Fair 1964-1965

{ image found at }

As Makers points out, world’s fairs were one such phenomenon that particularly influenced today’s art & craft world. As many Chicagoans who’ve read Devil in the White City know, world’s fairs were massive public exhibitions offering economic and cultural exchange at an often-unprecedented scale, encompassing everything from art, design, and architecture to science & technology, international trade, tourism, and much more.

According to the authors of Makers, these fairs were “of pivotal importance to the history of craft,” because they provided craftspeople an opportunity for exposure, artistic recognition, and commercial success, as well as inspiration and education from others at the fairs. These diverse marketplaces “influenced taste and artistic development.”

Centennial International Exhibition 1987

{ source: Library of Congress }

The first world’s fair in the US was the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Makers asserts that “a renaissance in American decorative arts can be traced to ideas generated by the Centennial Exposition displays.”

World's Columbian Exposition 1893

{ the first Ferris wheel, at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893; source: Wikipedia }

In 1893, Chicago proudly hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, displaying grand achievements in architecture, design, and invention, including the first Ferris wheel.

World's Columbian Exhibition 1893

{ an exhibit hall at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893; source: Wikipedia }

This fair also included displays of American heritage through design and handicraft, as well as the cultures and customs of countless other nations.

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

{ Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago; source: }

The Fine Arts Building, which was constructed for the World’s Columbian Exposition, is now Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, housed nearly 9,000 works.

Louisiana Purchase Universal Exposition 1904

{ “Artist Views of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition – St. Louis, 1904”;

source: My Papered Past }

Next, St. Louis welcomed the Louisiana Purchase Universal Exposition. For this fair, a Palace of Arts was created, which is now the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Louisiana Purchase Universal Exposition 1904, Palace of Arts

{ Palace of Arts building constructed for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904; source: unknown }

Then, in 1915, San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and the Palace of Fine Arts was built to display over 11,400 artworks from all over the world.

That woulda been a sight to see, huh?

While today we don’t have any single event quite like a world’s fair to attend, there are innumerable fairs and festivals, large and small, that celebrate the works of artisans and fine craftspeople. There likely wouldn’t be the craft fair circuit we know and love today without the standards and traditions established by the world’s fairs of yesterday.

Here are a few of the crafty festivities I hope to hit up this summer!

Renegade Craft Fair

Dose Market

Revolution Craft Show


Chicago Flea MKT

Lillstreet Holiday Craft Fair (which I get to help organize this year!)

Which craft fairs are you excited about?