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Inside the American Craft Council Show

The mall will be waiting this weekend, like always. But people searching for originality will probably head to Baltimore, where more than 700 artists will be selling one-of-a-kind things.

The American Craft Council show isn't just Maryland's biggest crafts event — it's the largest in the country, and among the most prestigious. Masters in metal, glass, fiber, wood and ceramics will be showcasing their work, and everything is for sale. Jewelry. Furniture. Clothing. Home accessories.

"These are things that are handmade and have a story behind them," says Pam Diamond, marketing and communications director for the Minnesota-based council. "People have a chance to bring home something that's one-of-a-kind, something that's handmade, something that's sustainable."

For the first time this year, the show will highlight artists selling affordable items. The "under-$100" vendors will be mixed throughout the show, but people will be able to find them through signs at their booths and notations in the event directory.

"People think, 'Oh my gosh, those are beautiful things that I can't possibly afford,'" Diamond says. "But we want to say, 'Yes, you can — not everything costs thousands of dollars.'"

Though artists come to the event from across the country, homegrown Maryland talent is showcased, too. Here are a few local artists to look for:

Caitlin Phillips, Rebound Designs

Caitlin Phillips rescues unwanted old books and transforms them into fashion for the literati. With a wink, she calls her business Rebound Designs.

The 31-year-old, who lives in a loft in Mount Rainier in Prince George's County, has found material at library sales, moving-day giveaway piles — even through a little Dumpster-diving on occasion.

As someone raised to treat books with respect, someone who never wrote in her books and tried hard not to bend pages, Phillips considers her endeavor a way to "preserve and celebrate."

As a teenager, she worked at a used-book shop and was horrified to learn how many books were thrown away, even ones with beautiful, artistic covers.

"It seemed like such a shame that nobody wanted them," she says. "That was the germ of the idea."

This is Phillips' fourth year at the show. In addition to her purses and wallets, she'll debut zippered pouches made from paperbacks and lined with book pages. Pouches and wallets cost $35, while purses start at about $100.

Though Phillips is drawn to the classics and books with covers that make her giggle, her most popular bags are made from titles by Jane Austen and the series following girl detective Nancy Drew. Some well-known authors have commissioned bags made from their books — including Amy Tan, Kitty Kelley, Dr. Ruth and Caroline Kennedy, who had one made from "The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis." After filming the movie version, actress Keira Knightly ordered a purse made from "Pride and Prejudice."

Her customers might be well-dressed, but they're always well-read.

"Everyone tells me about their favorite books," she says. "Everyone has a story."

Find Caitlin Phillips at Booth 508.

David Sleightholm, Sleightholm Arts

Even as a little boy, David Sleightholm knew he was an artist. When he was fidgety, his parents would send him away with a pencil in his hand. When he was a bit older, his grandparents bought him watercolors and pastels.

Still, when he graduated from high school, he put his paints away to become a sales manager. "I thought that was what I was supposed to do as an adult," he says. "I was wrong."

After a few years, Sleightholm quit the sales gig and followed his heart back to Maryland, where he resumed painting and began working with metal — a medium that truly inspired him.

This is the artist's seventh appearance at the show. At this week's event, the 37-year-old from Hampstead will be showing a collection that includes candlesticks and lamps on the smaller side and custom-made handrails, tables, doors, cabinets and headboards that folks can order at the show.

While his candlesticks sell for $300, an elaborate Sleightholm headboard can cost as much as $40,000. He works in glass, aluminum, stainless steel and concrete.

"Jewelry is nice, but it just hangs off earlobes," Sleightholm says. "I like making something people can interact with architecturally. If I could make a whole building out of metal, then I would."

Find David Sleightholm at Booth 2205.

Gayla Lee

Gayla Lee, 29, boils her philosophy down to a simple statement: "I want to make beautiful things that will have a place in everyday life."

The glass artist from Annapolis wants her work to be seen, used and appreciated.

Lee specializes in murrine, a style of glassmaking popularized in Venice, Italy. It's all about layers of colors and pattern that she fashions into jewelry, platters and panels meant to be hung on the wall.

Swirls and stripes dominate Lee's work. Some pieces resemble wood-grain, others have a geometric, almost tribal feel. Everything is infused with deep, rich color. Prices range from $50 for a pair of earrings to $3,000 for larger works.

Lee apprenticed under Baltimore's Anthony Corradetti, but only after pestering him for months. He wanted her to sign up for a class. She wanted to be there every day.

"I had seen glass blowing as a kid at the Renaissance Fair and was fascinated by the heat and the drama and the energy," she says. "I said, 'I'm going to do that.'"

This year, her second at the show, Lee will be featuring a lot of blues and blacks with whites. She'll also be bringing a set of four panels featuring leaves, inspired by the four seasons.

"Glass takes over your life," she says. "It's an addiction. It takes years and years before you can produce anything good, but it never ever gets boring."

Find Gayla Lee at Booth 1907.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

If you go

The American Craft Council show runs 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Ticket prices vary. Call 800-836-3470 or go to craftcouncil.org.

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