By Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun
7:51 AM EST, February 22, 2013
For a craftsman, David Sleightholm knows he's pretty lucky. One of the biggest craft shows in the country is right in his own backyard.
"People come from all around the country to do this show," Sleightholm, who works out of Hampstead, says of this weekend's American Craft Council Show at the Baltimore Convention Center. "People show up from all around the world to buy at it. The level of the art there is just amazing."
An annual event for 37 years, the ACC's Baltimore show will bring together about 650 artists and craftspeople, working in everything from paper to jewels, leather to metal. It is, says council spokeswoman Pamela Diamond, the largest show the group puts on.
"We draw a lot of people from a good five-state area," Diamond says. "This region has been very supportive. People just love to come into Baltimore for this show."
The artists, especially the 65 or so that hail from the Baltimore-Washington region, realize that and make the most of it.
"If you want to participate in just one craft show in the nation, this is the one," says woodcrafter Jeffrey Oh, who works out of a studio in Olney. "People know that they can see every available craft at this show, pretty much everything that's offered in the U.S. and Canada."
Certainly, the variety of pieces available at the ACC show would be hard to match elsewhere. The convention center will be divided into nine categories, to make it easier for visitors with limited time, budget or interests.
Categories include Greencraft, items made using eco-friendly processes; Handmade under $100; Local, for artists from the Baltimore area; Foodieware, focusing on objects connected to eating and drinking; Men's Dept.; and Bride-to-be.
In addition, the 2013 show will feature three new shopping categories: Holiday, for items celebrating Christmas and other festive days; The Great Outdoors, items intended to be used outside; and Upscale, items priced at $5,000 and up.
It's not just the quantity of the crafts available at the show that attracts people, Diamond says, but also the quality. Because it's a juried show, competition is intense to get in. There were at least 3,500 requests to exhibit at this year's show, she says, meaning that less than 20 percent made the cut.
"There were some very difficult decisions that needed to be made," Diamond says. This year's list includes about 100 first-time exhibitors, she added.
For prospective buyers, the appeal of a show like this includes the chance to buy one-of-a-kind items, pieces that offer unique insights into both the artists who made them and the discerning buyer who chose it to take home. How satisfying is it to own a piece of interior decoration, jewelry, or furniture that no one else has? Plenty, assures Diamond.
"A show like this is the perfect antidote to the modern-day malaise of mass manufacturing," she says. "People are definitely looking for something that is, like, 'Oh my God, where did you get those earrings?'"
This will be the fourth year for Gayla Lee of Annapolis, who specializes in decorative glass art. She's also exhibited at other local shows, including Artscape, Merry Mart and the Visionary Art Museum's Bazaart. But the ACC show, she says, is invariably the highlight of her year.
"It's certainly the biggest and the most important show for me," she says. "It's a local show, meaning I don't have to travel, but I still get a lot of exposure from it. But what's really great about this show is that you get, in general, a very educated clientele. They are people who are educated about high-end crafts, which is something you don't always get at street festivals."
If you go
The 37th American Craft Council Show runs through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Hours are 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets run $14-$16 daily, $25-$28 for a weekend pass; $5 Friday after 5 p.m. Information: craftcouncil.org/Baltimore.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun