Ceramic artist Brian Beckenheimer admits that after owning As the Wheel Turns, a store in Harborplace for 27 years, and doing art shows for 34 years, "I was totally burned out."
He sold his house in Owings Mills last year and took the year off, moving to Arizona to be with his grown daughter, a hairstylist, and doing no pottery. Eight months later, he reconsidered.
"I just got so bored with doing nothing," said Beckenheimer, 57, who now lives in Mount Washington and rents studio space with several kilns in a Woodberry-area warehouse that also houses several cabinetmakers and an architectural model maker. His new business also has a soap opera-inspired name, Clays of Our Lives.
"So I'm back and my customers really missed me, so they're really glad I'm back," Beckenheimer said.
Being back means making the beautifully glazed ceramic mugs, chowder bowls, ikeabana flower pots, toothbrush holders and soap dishes that fill shelves and tables around the small studio space, which is heavily dusted with clay residue, as is Beckenheimer's clothing.
And it means returning to an old haunt, the semi-annual Sugarloaf Craft Festival, Oct. 4-6 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, where he is a longtime regular in the competitive, juried shows.
Beckenheimer is one of two local artists who will be among 250 artists and craftsmen from around the country selling their work at Sugarloaf, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors to see art ranging from pottery and sculpture to wood and metal crafts, photography and fine art.
"The jurying process for the festival is highly selective and participants are chosen based on the quality of their work and the uniqueness of their items," Deann Verdier, Sugarloaf president, said in a press release. "Just as important, the show offers something for everyone and for every budget."
The other local artist is jewelry maker Mary DeMarco-Wolfe, 53, who is also a veteran of Sugarloaf.
Wolfe and her husband, Buddy, of Towson, operate a store and gallery at 2010 Clipper Park Road, in a converted foundry building next to the restaurant Woodberry Kitchen.
For DeMarco-Wolfe, Sugarloaf is an oasis in a world of juried shows where she often doesn't make the cut. She estimated that about a third of the shows she applies to be in send her rejection letters, including Baltimore's annual Artscape festival.
"I never get into Artscape, ever," she said. "I don't know why. I have to go all the way to Michigan during Artscape (to a show in Ann Arbor). Ann Arbor loves me. I never get rejected there."
She never gets rejected at Sugarloaf, either, and that's where she'll be this weekend, displaying her whimsical, handmade pewter jewelry, including a peacock-themed line, with prices ranging from $34 for earrings to more than $300 for more elaborate, ornate, labor intensive pieces in her Proud as a Peacock collection featuring semiprecious stones.
"Sugarloaf is just a steady Eddie for us," said DeMarco-Wolfe, who used to have a store at the Village of Cross Keys shopping center and a studio on Falls Road in Hampden, where Red Fish Liquors is now. She said Sugarloaf customers are "cool" and often are drawn to her gallery in Woodberry after the festival ends.
"I feel like I'm always busy," she said. She said the economy is still a problem, as is indirect competition from artists in China, whose work shows up in mall art stores and gives customers a point of price comparison to her work.
But she said, "I think women always want to buy jewelry," and that even in bad times, "It can be an earring economy. People can always afford earrings."
Beckenheimer, too, swears by Sugarloaf. In fact, he said that although he is back in the pottery game, he has reduced his workload by choice, including the number of shows he attends.
"I'm basically doing (only) Sugarloaf shows around the mid-Atlantic and shows in Cape May at the beach in the summer," said Beckenheimer, who still plans to spend pottery-free winters with his daughter and her family, which is soon to include his first grandchild.
"I missed working," he said, but added, "I got back to having fun again. Before, I was putting the kids through college. I've rejuvenated myself. My glazes are coming out better than ever."
He said he loves Sugarloaf "because they love me. Sugarloaf is great. They're good to you. They're like a family. That's part of why I came back."
He said Sugarloaf's offerings also tend to be more affordable than other shows, such as those by the American Craft Council, where he said crafts can run thousands of dollars. His ceramics range in price from $12 to $65, he said.
Even so, Beckenheimer too still worries about the economy.
"It hasn't recovered," he said. "It makes it so I can't raise my prices. All my costs are going up, but my prices aren't. How long can you sell a mug for 10 bucks?"
And he said that although people are starting to appreciate handmade crafts more, his customer base is his age.
"Younger people aren't coming," he said.
The Baltimore native could have joined the family grocery business, Brown's Supermarkets (now the Food King chain), where he worked in various jobs as a teenager.
"I hated it," he said. "It wasn't me."
He shrugged and added, "I'm a potter."
The Sugarloaf Crafts Festival will be held Friday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 5, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Road, in Timonium. Admission is $8 when purchased online and $10 at the door, and is good for all three days of the show. Children under 12 are admitted free. Free parking is available on site. For more information, go to http://www.sugarloafcrafts.com or call 1-800210-9900.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun