Art Fairs

Art Fairs

When the pandemic started and everything shut down, all my summer art fairs were canceled. I had the idea to write about all the crazy things that happened during art fairs, but let's be honest I was too exhausted. I was trying to keep my business open, my elderly parents alive, and be supportive to my frontline worker husband. I had a full plate.

Things have quieted down and I'm still not doing art fairs. This may come as a surprise to some people, but I actually don't enjoy doing art fairs. I may even go so far as to say that I hate them. When I was an apprentice 20+ years ago I wrote this in my journal:

Heidi Fahrenbacher journal text

That first sentence sums up my feelings then and now: "Well let's see, I vow to not work at art shows unless I have to." I will add that even when I got a full night's sleep, art fairs were still exhausting. But I participated in art fairs through no sales at all, theft, severe weather, illness, car trouble, etc. 

Do I miss them? I wish I could say yes, but I don't miss participating in art fairs. I mean there may come a time when I need to do one for cash flow purposes, but I hope that day doesn't come. Or maybe someday I will want to participate for nostalgia. But right now, I am really enjoy spending 8 hours on a weekend outside doing whatever I want. I feel calmer and a lot less rushed.

But I mean c'mon all those years and all those art fairs and I do have some stories I would like to share with you.

I started Bella Joy Pottery in 2005 and the first art fair I did, well the first art fair I was juried into and paid the booth fee for, I never showed up. That's right I was a no-show. 

Let's back up for a minute, so I can give you the whole picture. When I started Bella Joy Pottery I thought I had to do art fairs to make a living, but the problem was I didn't have a tent or a booth display. My friend Michael Gunderson let me borrow his display to set up a "booth." I remember hauling everything down to the basement of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in January (art fair applications are due months ahead of time) setting up the display with my pottery and taking photos.

These "photos" were actually slides and it was a pain in the butt, because you could only use tungsten light bulbs. All other light bulbs would tint your images blue. How do I know that? Because I did that. You name a mistake, I have probably done it. I like to learn the hard way.

After I took all the photos of "my display" and individual pieces of pottery I took the slide film to the Kalamazoo Color Lab to be developed. I usually took a week. Once I got the slides back, I would pour over them to find the best images. I remember back then I didn't really have a style and my slides varied from ceramic sculptures to wood-fired pottery to bright red reduction fired porcelain. I chose four images and one booth shot, put them in a plastic sleeve along with my application and jury fee and mailed them off. Then sat back and waited for my acceptance letters to roll in.

I got into four shows that first summer: Greekfest in Detroit, the Royal Oak Clay and Glass Show, Art in the Park in Battle Creek, and the Downtown Art Fair in Traverse City.

On that first weekend of June I packed up all my pots, borrowed a tent, loaded up my mom's Jeep Cherokee and took off. Once I hit 55 mph the Jeep started to shimmy pretty bad and my brother, who I dragged along, said I think you might have exceeded the Jeep's weight limit. It turns out I did and freaked out and turned around. I didn't even go to my first show! Now it's make me laugh, but looking back I felt like a complete failure and burst into tears. My friend Michael Gunderson was doing that show too and when I didn't show up he was worried something happened to me. Ugh. Lessons learned that weekend.

So the first art fair I did, that I actually attended, was the Royal Oak Clay and Glass Show. Again I dragged my brother with me, borrowed a tent, and packed less pottery. It was fine on Saturday, I think I sold maybe $500 worth of pots, I really don't remember. What I do remember is coming back Sunday morning to a kerfuffle about how people had broken into the show. Most art fairs have overnight security, but if you have expensive items you pack them up. When I went to unzip my booth I noticed empty plate stands! Oh crap I thought and started looking around and I had had approximately $350 worth of my pottery stolen!

It was later shown that the culprits caused a ruckus on one end of the street to distract the security guards while another group snuck into the far end and stole artwork.

I was so angry. I couldn't understand why you would steal handmade pottery? Where you going to decorate your house? Give gifts? Can you sell stolen handmade pottery? Perhaps on ebay? Etsy had only just started, so I doubt that.  

I also didn't have insurance, like I said above I like to learn the hard way. But it reality how many new potters would have insurance, probably not many. 

I never went back to the Royal Oak Clay and Glass show. It's still around, but now it's called The Art of Fire - Clay, Glass, and Metal. It wasn't necessarily the theft, but I just did better at other shows.

But I did learn I needed exhibitor insurance and to make it a little harder for thieves to plunder my booth.

I wonder what ever happened to that stolen pottery?

Bella Joy Pottery booth circa 2016

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