Life on a budget is not life without art. A mug, a painted scarf or a simple ceramic bowl can bring as much joy to one's surroundings as more elaborate and costlier pieces. "Good design and quality of workmanship does not necessarily mean a high price tag," says Michael Monroe, the former curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery in Washington. Both can "be found in a butter knife."
The annual American Craft Council Show, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, is a great place to start a collection, however modest your means.
Monroe, an independent curator and arts adviser, will lead craft-show visitors on a walking tour called Collecting Your Thoughts on Craft. While visiting the booths of artists who work in ceramics, glass, textiles, metal and wood, he will provide tips on how to start a collection with as little as $100.
When pondering what to collect, the same principles hold true no matter how much money you plan to spend, Monroe says. "It's really a kind of tour of how to sharpen your eye and zero in on something you respond to." Monroe, himself, has a collection of lapel pins that cost less than $100.
Wayne Werner, a Havre de Grace goldsmith who will be at the show, always offers a piece or two in the sub-$100 range. A late mentor, Santa Fe jeweler Carrie Adell, taught him that a smaller, affordable brooch or ring is a "little piece" of larger, pricier masterpieces.
Werner's silver earrings have "the same integrity and same functionality" as his more ambitious pieces, he says. They also reflect the same, personal touch of the artist, he adds.
Linda Svatek didn't begin to collect pottery until she saw the work of Lynn Lais in Western Maryland 20 years ago. Svatek, who lives in Catonsville, began with a tiny pitcher made by Lais.
"Every year after that, I expected to buy something and set the money aside," Svatek says. Some years, she only has $50 budgeted for her annual vacation visit to Lais' studio. Over time, though, a piece here and there has accrued into a collection of many "absolutely stunning" pieces.
For anyone considering their own collection, Svatek has this advice: "Don't start until you see something you absolutely can't live without."
Advice for prospective collectors
If you are a new collector on a budget, approach this weekend's American Craft Council show at the Baltimore Convention Center with these suggestions in mind:
* Whether you're spending $100 or $10,000, your standards for craftsmanship should be the same.
* Get to know an artist before you buy his or her work.
* Look at an artist's range of work, not just one or two examples.
* Instead of "indiscriminately sampling everything," a well-thought-out initial purchase allows you to develop a plan for building a collection.
* A $100 limit doesn't confine you to a particular craft medium.
* Look for purity of design and the care an artist has put into a piece, no matter how humble the piece seems.
* Remember that what you collect is a reflection of your personality.
* Collections often start with one, modest purchase.
* Don't buy a piece solely as a possible investment.
* Look for an artist who brings "something new" to an established art form.
* Allocate money in your budget for craft shows.
* Before making a purchase, ask yourself if it is something you will still like in 10 years.
* While at the craft show, don't feel insecure about your minimal spending power. "We're all approachable," goldsmith Wayne Werner says.
Tips from independent curator Michael Monroe, goldsmith Wayne Werner, collectors Linda Svatek and Paula Rome.
Attending the show...
The American Craft Council show takes place 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. Michael Monroe will lead a tour called Collecting Your Thoughts on Craft at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Several other American Craft Council walking tours will take place during the show. All begin at the American Craft Council Information Booth. Each tour is included with the price of admission.
Admission is $12, or $18 for a two-day pass. For more information, call 410-583-5401 or visit www.craftcouncil.org.