( Column 2 / 2001)

"The Lost Valleys"...by...Ron Gladkowski

          "A commentary about creative people living in the small communities scattered through the hills and valleys of Central New York"
          Published in The County Review

          A lot has changed since you first started visiting Art & Craft shows.
          The Arts and Crafts "Industry" has become too large, too impersonal, and too filled with factory made or imported products. When you visit most fairs, you make the presumption that the person sitting in the booth is the artist or crafts person that produced the work. That may, or may not be so. More and more work is being produced in factories, or assembled from pre-manufactured pieces, and represented as the hand made work of a small studio. No longer can you feel sure that you have a truly hand made product.
           What is a small studio? One definition, that has been explored, is: "A studio with, at most, two principles who design, create, and market all the work, using appropriate materials, and components, and have no more than two assistants." This would seem to be a reasonable approach to allow for sufficient production, and assuring customers that they are receiving a work of the artists.
          There are many creative people who want to continue to produce hand crafted, well made, original work for their customers, and maintain the integrity of their work. They want to develop a more personal relationship with their customers, and give assurance that they are purchasing original Art & Fine Craftwork. This is the way the Art/Craft renaissance began, and this is where we hope to return to.
          Don't get me wrong, there is a place for the larger factory type studios. They fill the needs of the many Art and Craft Galleries throughout the country, where a large volume of consistently well made, unique products are needed. These large volume manufacturers should not, however, be allowed to represent themselves as individual artists in order to participate in shows advertised as made by "The Hand of the Artist".
          A great many promoter run shows, (some of the largest, and most well known.) are more concerned with making money, then they are with promoting the arts. They don't limit the number of exhibitors, nor do they truly enforce the rules that all the work should be the work of the attending artist. In short, they aren't "Artist Friendly". If they pay the booth fees, participate in a substantial number of the promoters shows, and have a product that looks attractive, anyone can participate whether they ever touch the work during it's manufacturing or not. Very often they are just salesmen or women sent to "Hawk" the wares. They are good sales people, good actors, and even good people, but they aren't the artists that make the work.
          How can you tell the difference? Well, it's not easy, but there are some clues:
          While no single, or even a couple, of these points can conclusively label any exhibitor as a factory, you should give some thought, and perhaps ask some questions before you buy. Better yet, get to know the artists personally. If you are looking for something special, not made by them, they will usually be glad to recommend someone who can help you.

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