From bling to bargains, artists show wares at American Craft Council show

Walking through a giant hall in the Baltimore Convention Center, Susan Johnson and Sherry Mills stopped to admire a bronze-and-steel sculpture with water cascading out of it.

"I need this," Mills said.


"You may want to come around this side first," Johnson said, nodding at a sticker announcing the water feature's $18,000 price.

The sculpture by San Francisco artist Michael Szabo was among the many pricey items at the American Craft Council show this weekend. Others among the 650 crafts people at the event were showing high-end jewelry, paintings, furniture and glassware, with prices reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars.


Yet while many of the most expensive pieces relied on traditional and even ancient methods, some at the show were looking at ways to use technology and new production techniques to make pieces of art more affordable.

Szabo's sculpture, called "Bivalve," features bronze horns on a steel base. The water, he said, is the third material, falling in two sheets from the points of the horns.

"It's contributing to the form, rather than just flowing over something," he added. "There's a kinetic element; the sound is a big part of it as well."

Szabo said the vases he was also showing were his "bread and butter" for a long time and are an easier sell at a few hundred dollars. But exhibiting his bigger pieces in Baltimore has led to commissions. He said a large sculpture ordered at a past show was recently installed in Jessup.

Many of the artists followed a similar strategy, displaying larger, expensive items alongside smaller, less expensive things. Philadelphia-based Stacey Lee Webber brought a sculpture with tiny birds cut out of coins with a jeweler's saw. Price? $2,000. But she was also selling bits of jewelry made from coins that she hoped could serve as souvenirs of the show.

At another booth, Judith Kaufman was showing her jewelry, including a $45,000 gold, silver and diamond bracelet. She revealed that the item was inspired by a piece of rusted metal she found in a parking lot.

"If I'm draw to it — a shape or a color — I have to keep pulling the thread," she said.

Kaufman said that as the price of gold has climbed, the price of her work as necessarily risen. To keep the cost of her jewelry down, recent Towson University MFA grad Rachel Timmins has turned to new technology and uses 3-D printing to make plastic jewelry.


Looking to the over-the-top styles of hip-hop jewelry, she creates chunky plastic chains and giant "diamond" rings. The printer she uses for her work can print an entire chain as a single piece, as long as it is designed correctly in a computer program, but the jewelry comes out of the printer plain white, so Timmins paints it.

Some of the pieces she had on display Saturday were hot off the press, she said. The result is bling without high-roller prices. She sells her jewelry for between $30 and $325.

A few booths over, some current Towson students had a commercially available 3-D printer up and running at the Convention Center.

The printer, called a Replicator and made by Brooklyn, N.Y., company MakerBot, builds up an object using layers of plastic. And using a Microsoft Kinect, normally a controller for Xbox video games, the students could scan in an attendee's image and use it to print a bust on the spot.