THE ART OF CRAFTS Annual convention showcases work of 20 Towson State artists


Laurie Flannery is very fond of the copper sarcophagus pendant she has sculpted, baked and painted over the course of a few months at Towson State University. So fond that the 33-year-old art student isn't quite certain she wants to sell the piece at the American Crafts Council (ACC) Craft Fair, continuing today and tomorrow at the Baltimore Convention Center and Festival Hall.

"It's one of a kind so I'm making a slide of it but still, it could be gone," says Ms. Flannery wistfully. Then excitement wins out over artistic possessiveness. "To be there and have people buy your things is really a thrill," says Ms. Flannery. "Thousands of people apply. I have always gone to the show and thought people who made the crafts were great. I hope to be above and beyond those people, to do something unique with my own style."

Ambitions are bubbling over for the 20 Towson State students chosen by their university's art department to participate in a New Talent Showcase at the ACC Craft Fair, one of the largest wholesale and retail craft events in the country.

The 15th annual fair is expected to draw more than 30,000 people representing stores, art galleries and the public. Sixty percent of fair-goers will travel from out of state to see the work of some 950 weavers, potters, painters, sculptors, metal and wood-workers. The wares for sale range from jewelry and clothing in Festival Hall to furniture and decorative art in the Convention Center. Highlighting this year's fair will be the raffle of a $3,000 clay vessel by ceramicist Bennett Bean to benefit the Craft Emergency Relief Fund. There will also be a continuing fashion show with jewelry and an exhibit of ceramic and wood crafts from the Netherlands, part of a Maryland initiative between local cities and those overseas.

The Towson students will exhibit pieces they have completed as school projects. Many of the students say having their work recognized will be a boost not only to their egos but hopefully their careers as well.

Such was the case for Scot Cahlander, 26, a recent TSU alumnus who participated in the New Talent Showcase in 1989. The inventive furniture of Mr. Cahlander and eight other wood-workers was noticed by The Meredith Gallery, which exhibited the students' furniture after the show. Since that first contact with the gallery, Mr. Cahlander has sold more work at The Meredith and is looking confidently ahead to his future in furniture design.

This is the way things should be for students, says Carol Sedestrom Ross, director of American Craft Enterprises, the ACC division that oversees the show.

"We wanted people who visit the show to know crafts people are professionals," says Ms. Ross. "People go to school to learn crafts, they don't crawl out from under mushrooms to do it. We also wanted students finishing up their educational years to know what it is to market their crafts."

Ms. Ross says a jury of artists and retailers choose the fair participants from a field of 3,000 applicants. Vendors spend between $600 and $1,000 for a booth. The Towson students participate in the show for free, but may sell only to the public. This is the fourth year Towson is participating in the New Talent Showcase, which began in 1987. The work of art students from New York and North Carolina will also be featured.

"Art schools don't talk about making money," says John Fix, Towson State professor of art and organizer of the student show. "That's been one nice thing [about the craft fair]; more than just making things, there is the possibility of making a living. It's a real eye opener to students. To realize you can be self-employed is very appealing to a number of people."

One of the best lessons for young artists, Ms. Ross believes, is the inevitable rejection that comes somewhere along the line.

"It's very hard to make something, put it out there, and have someone go by and say, 'Have you ever seen such an ugly thing?'" she says. "Some exhibitors collapse; they are in tears and leave the booth. They aren't prepared for the negative. You have to have a tough skin, know what that's all about."

Jim McKee, 39, a master of fine arts candidate, says he won't mind if no one buys his unusual ceramic creations. "Selling one item isn't like having a regular income. It's more important the public can see what I can teach," says Mr. McKee, who aspires to work in art education.

"I don't have to be worried about selling and marketing," says Shana Kroiz, 23, a graduate student in metal-smithing. "It's an opportunity to show work without real estate worries."

Sheila Brooks looks forward to returning to the fair, where she sold a linoleum block print in 1989 for more than $300.

"It was so exciting to sell something . . . but this time, I'm more excited about people seeing what I can do," says Ms. Brooks, who is 27.

The ACC Craft Fair at the Baltimore Convention Center and Convention Hall is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow. Admission is $5, free for kids under 12. The continuing fashion show with jewelry will take place in the Hall E restaurant area, and the raffle, which costs $5 per ticket or $20 for 5 tickets, will be held at the close of the fair Sunday. Ticket-holders need not be present to win. For more information, call 962-1122.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad