There's a thrill that comes with shopping for gifts and decorations at local holiday art markets. It's a blend of the anticipation, just weeks, if not days away from the holidays; the cheerful spirit of market-goers; and, most of all, the rush of getting something handcrafted and one-of-a-kind straight from the artist.
And behind every gift — every artisan jam, beaded necklace and hand-molded sculpture — is a story.
Read about these five artists who will be featured at some of the biggest art markets in the Baltimore area.
Monique Langley, recycled terrariums
You've seen a lot of what Monique Langley does before, but probably never like this.
Langley, 35, who will be setting up this holiday season at both the Creative Alliance's Merry Mart and the Charm City Craft Mafia's Holiday Heap, specializes in making the most creative things out of recycled objects. She makes desktop planters out of egg cartons, refrigerator magnets out of pine cones and, perhaps most engagingly, terrariums out of burned-out light bulbs.
"I'm a scavenger," she says. "I love scavenging."
Her scavenging, Langley notes, takes many forms. She's been known to collect driftwood from beaches, and will scour the ground around Lake Roland for moss. Her neighbors sometimes drop off their recyclables on her doorstep, confident she'll find them a good home. She'll poke around bottle dumps, looking for decades-old glass. Area merchants hold on to their old light bulbs until she can come by and begin the process of repurposing them.
But mostly what she does is clean up what she finds , stick some moss and maybe a few air ferns inside, and offer for sale some of Charm City's most irresistible planters.
The Hamilton studio of her Nik da Pooh Designs (Winnie the Pooh was a childhood favorite, she explains) is festooned with bulbs of all shapes and sizes, from a few inches high to a foot or more. She's even got a fluorescent tube she's trying to match with the right plant (it has to be something that is thin and grows straight up), and is toying with the idea of what she can do with the coiled compact fluorescent light bulbs that most people are using these days.
"I really love doing something with the old bulbs," Langley says, "besides just recycling them."
Of course, it's not simply a matter of tossing in a bunch of plants (mostly living, although she'll use paper plants at times — made from recycled paper, naturally). First she has to pop out the base, the very bottom of the metal part of the bulb. She removes the innards, including the filament, and uses water, sand and other materials to scrub the inside until the bulb's glass is clear. Then the sand, soil and plants go in.
Her creations, which can cost anywhere from about $25 to almost $200, are pretty hardy, she says — no green thumb is required. "People are always saying to me, 'Oh, I kill plants,'" Langley says with a laugh. "I tell them the only way you'll kill these is if you water them."
See her work at Merry Mart, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave. Free. creativealliance.org. Also at Holiday Heap, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 10 at St. John's United Methodist Church, 2640 St. Paul St. Free ($25 for one-hour-early admission). charmcitycraftmafia.com.
Alice Gadzinski, sculptures
Alice Gadzinski specializes in reproducing things you probably never thought of reproducing — like oversized cigarette butts and lipstick canisters.
From behind the counter at the American Visionary Art Museum's Sideshow gift shop, where she works, the Michigan-born Gadzinski shows off a handful of her shelf-size papier-mache sculptures. Guarantee you've never seen a cigarette butt so big, or a lipstick canister so formidable. She also makes ice-cream ornaments, the occasional life-size sculpture (she has a masters degree in sculpture from Maryland Institute College of Art) and rings with pieces of sculpted cake attached
"I like to work with very recognizable things," says Gadzinski, 29, who will be participating in her first Bazaart market at AVAM this year. And she also likes to see people enjoying themselves — which explains the giant cigarette remnants. "People like the cigarette butts," she says with a smile. "They're kind of like a one-liner."
They're also kind of adorable, in a way. As well as affordable ($30), instantly recognizable, not too big and irrefutably quirky.
All of which suits their creator fine. Gadzinski, who lives in and creates out of Highlandtown's Creative Alliance, likes to work with common, often found, objects that can appeal to both young and old (maybe the butts wouldn't qualify, but her lipstick canisters are as popular with little girls as they are with women, she says). She also cherishes things that she can produce quickly, but still work a little bit of herself into the creation.
"There's an underlying cynicism in a lot of the work I make," she says. But it's clearly a puckish cynicism, not an overbearing one.
Gadzinski also puts a premium on keeping her art affordable, so people can buy it — and appreciate it — on a whim. She'll never charge over $100 for anything, she says.
She likes to think of her art as "crossing boundaries, between the people who are capital-'A' artists, and the people who are just appreciators."
See her work at the Bazaart Holiday Art Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway. Free ($10-$20 for First Dibs Preview Party, 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m. today). avam.org.
Sinem Oren, ceramics
After taking a wheel-throwing class at Maryland Institute College of Art during her sophomore year, Sinem Oren said her world changed.
The Istanbul native no longer wanted to be confined to 2-D illustrations and drawings — she wanted to mold creations with her hands, and that required patience.
"It's one of those disciplines that really helps you grow as a person," said the senior ceramics major. "I think that's how I approach my art, too. I used to be more of an impatient person who wanted to resolve things very fast with my artwork, and that was devaluing my work after awhile. But with ceramics, you can't take away time from what you're doing, because then it actually blows up in the kiln or something definitely goes wrong."
Today, Oren's days are filled with clay creations in MICA's ceramics studio as she prepares for her second MICA Art Market.
She's pinched, prodded and smoothed out bold charms and porcelain beads of various sizes for necklaces and the occasional bracelet, which remind her of the colorful jewelry featured at the street bazaars in Turkey. She creates beer steins stained in earthy shades; geometric-shaped vases with imperfect lips; ancient-looking vessels; and other-worldly sculptures with thwarting limbs, which she describes as simple and prehistoric with a touch of modern. Sometimes she finds frustrating cracks in her sculptures — even the cracked pieces have received offers, she said — but it's all a part of the process.
Her style, which she notes takes on an archaeological theme, boils down to her fascination with human beings and natural forces, she said.
"I'm inspired by my own culture and traditions inspired by nature," the 21-year-old said in her workspace recently, her fingertips covered in an off-white dust.
"The idea of holding on and letting go, and how holding sometimes warps the vessel itself."
Her jewelry — sometimes reminiscent of '90s fashion with flowered pendants and leather straps — will range from $12 to $30 at the market, depending on the materials used, she said. She's still contemplating which of her sculptures she'll bring to sell.
See her work at MICA Art Market, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 7-9; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 10. Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center, 1301 W. Mount Royal Ave. Free. mica.edu/artmarket.
Mubtasin Zaman, knitting
Maryland Institute College of Art senior Mubtasin Zaman's artistic repertoire typically includes portraiture, but for the next few weeks, he's working to capitalize off of one of his favorite hobbies — knitting.
The 21-year-old general fine arts major from Hicksville, N.Y., will make his debut at the MICA Art Market this December with his homemade winter beanies.
The winter essentials, made with acrylic yarn, will come in an assortment of colors, patterns and themes, some which are inspired by the various houses of "Harry Potter's" Hogwarts and the LGBT pride flag.
"From what I have so far… they're all different. No two look alike," Zaman said of the winter caps, which range from $20-$40.
Yet Zaman's beanies are a departure from his other works. Typically, he creates portraits and illustrations with charcoal and colored pencils, but sometimes, he needs a breather.
"Knitting has always been something that I've found really relaxing and it helps me focus on things, so ... a lot of times if I'm really stressed out about my drawings, I can take a break and knit for a little bit," he said.
For his senior thesis, Zaman is working to transform reality TV star Kim Kardashian and her family into depictions of royalty through portraiture, his way of exploring and commenting on society's obsession with celebrity culture.
You won't see those works at the market — though some beanies may have been created while watching a "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" episode or two. (He admits he's seen every episode.)
See his work at MICA Art Market.
Juliet Ames, broken plate figurines
If there's anyone that can make beauty from a broken mess, it'd be Juliet Ames.
For the past decade, the 37-year-old North Baltimore resident and owner of The Broken Plate Pendant Co. has morphed shards of broken plates into two-dimensional and multicolored cut-outs of the state of Maryland, animal figures, cuff links — even nipple pasties.
"Anything I can make out of recycled china, I'll try to make it," said Ames, who will be displaying her art for at Charm City Craft Mafia's Holiday Heap art market for the 10th year.
Despite the name, Ames doesn't spend her time smashing plates on the floor of her studio.
"That sounds really sexy and fun," she said with a laugh. Instead, she sources the plates from thrift stores and flea markets and cuts them with saws and tile stamps to preserve interesting patterns or pictures.
"People also send me their plates, like sentimental family plates to make stuff with," she said.
The Towson University alumna once hoped to pursue darkroom photography, but that was no longer offered as a discipline when she was in school; instead, she majored in interdisciplinary crafts. But after graduating and getting a "real job," she didn't create for months, she said — until that artistic itch returned.
Her first broken plates project was a mosaic mailbox made from plates she collected over the years "for no apparent reason," she said. She transformed the remaining scraps into jewelry, and she knew, she was on to something. That was around 10 years ago.
She's made thousands of pieces since then, some which have been featured in publications across the country, and many more which will be featured at the upcoming art market priced between $25 and $60.
But Ames does more than manipulate broken china. She also cooks, and says she's typically the one at the dinner table Instagramming her food. So it only makes sense that she's also selling her self-published cookbook, "The Broken Plate," which is a compilation of recipes she's made for her family ($30 for softcover, $40 for hardcover).
See her work at Charm City Craft Mafia's Holiday Heap