Meet the makers

The Baltimore Sun

The stock market rises and falls, but the 33rd annual American Craft Council Show, which returns to the Baltimore Convention Center this weekend, is for investors of a different sort. The largest indoor craft show in the country will showcase the work of 700 artisans.

"We're anticipating a good crowd," says Bernadette Boyle, the council's senior marketing manager. "People who come to the show are investing in the craft."

There is something for every taste and budget. For the second year, an Altcraft section will highlight the burgeoning indie craft movement. There will be green artists who use recycled materials or environmentally friendly ways to produce works. There will be Baltimore artists for people wanting to shop local. And for those who can afford it, there will be fine craftsmen whose pieces cost thousands of dollars.

Here's a rundown of some of the artists you'll find at the show:

Shop local

* Ronnie Aroni, pottery

A founder of Baltimore Clayworks, Aroni will bring her functional porcelain to the show for the 28th year. Aroni says her work features simple forms in imaginative colors. "I like to paint on it to get different color in the work," she says. "I garden a lot. I look at color and the way things play together."

Her work ranges from $20 to $150.

* Alison Dryer, Pistol Designs, fashion accessories

Dryer, who designs and makes purses, will be returning to the show for the second year. Although she learned to sew when she was 11, she only became a full-time artisan a little more than a year ago. Today, her purses are in shops from Boston to Santa Cruz, Calif.

She describes her approach as "modern meets vintage." "I gravitate toward fabrics that could be vintage but with a modern twist," she says.

Her purses sell from $70 to $180.

Indie craft

* Allison Fomich, Tiger Lilly Shop, jewelry

Last year, the show's organizers asked Baltimore-based Fomich to demonstrate the electroforming technique she uses to make metal jewelry. This year, the artist is returning as an exhibitor in the Altcraft section. Fomich says she doesn't consider herself an indie artisan, but acknowledges the category can be hard to define. "It's more grass-roots. It's more survival. It's also a feeling," she said, struggling to come up with the words.

While she makes jewelry from buttons and other objects, at the show she will be exhibiting metal pieces that she imprints with natural images. "I'm working hard in the studio to come up with some new, fresh ideas," she says.

Most of her work ranges from $12 to $50.

* Linda Johnson, Little Flower Designs , ceramics

Johnson, who lives near Philadelphia, has been creating pottery for 14 years, but this is her first time at the craft show. "I keep my form simple because my focus is on the design," she says. Most of her works are inspired by nature; birds are a frequent motif.

Prices range from $20 to $150.

Green craft

* James Mullan, Mullanium, jewelry and sculpture

Mullan, of Pompano Beach, Fla., was a green artist before the term became popular. In the 1960s, he scoured San Francisco pawn shops seeking broken jewelry that he could turn into art.

"I'm like an old hippie," he says jokingly.

He travels throughout the country gathering discarded items: old cameras, croquet balls, bird decoys. "That's part of the fun, when you find something spectacular that people don't know is spectacular," he says.

Mullan has been attending the craft show off and on for 20 years, and this year he'll bring his popular bird sculptures that are made of old decoys and art carvings, which he decorates with rulers, pieces of old jewelry and even binoculars. "I try to come up with things that make people smile. If it makes them feel good, they'll want to buy it," he says.

His jewelry ranges from $25 to $125; his sculptures from $35 to $1,300.

* Jerry Kermode, woodworking

Kermode of Sebastopol, Calif., has been turning discarded trees into works of art since 1991. During his fourth appearance at the craft show, he will be teaching others how he does it. He will demonstrate how he searches for burls, the bulbous underground tree growths that he uses to sand and shape into bowls and vessels.

Kermode says that even during the recession, demand for his craft remains strong. "People are saying this is something I can touch, feel and get my head around."

His work ranges from $100 to $2,500.

Splurge

* Damian Velasquez, Modern Handcrafted Furniture, furniture and lighting

Some artisans pack a suitcase of jewelry, board a plane and fly into Baltimore for the show. Marylanders pull up outside the convention center and unload their goods just hours before the show opens. Then there's Velasquez, a furniture maker, who has to pack a cargo van and travel solo 1,850 miles to exhibit his craft.

Velasquez, of Albuquerque, N.M., describes his work as functional pieces with clean lines made of steel and wood, often walnut, maple and cherry. Some of his signature items are bureaus that look like drawers stacked crookedly and dressers with holes in the middle.

His items range from $450 for a chair to more than $4,000 for a dresser.

* Jon Michael Route, metal working

Route, of Frederic, Wis., has been traveling to the Baltimore show for 20 years. This year, he has a reason to look forward to it more than ever: His son, Michael, will also be an exhibitor. The two have rented adjacent booths to display their work. Both are metal workers, but they use different media and approaches. The elder Route prefers copper, brass, bronze and aluminum to create wall art. Using a hot patina process, he infuses the metals with different colors. Among his most popular items are bird and branch motifs.

Prices range from $500 to $4,000.

The younger Route prefers to work with steel and iron to create furniture and housewares. "I like the industrialness of steel or iron. I like how it moves," he says. His works range from $35 for a bottle opener to $5,000 for a bench.

Michael Route says he is new to his craft and has high hopes for the Baltimore show.

"I'm doing what I love, and it's important to me," he says.

His father says that, while he has warned his son about the precarious life of being an artisan, he is proud of him and looking forward to the craft show.

"It's going to be fun to introduce him to my friends," he says. "He does wonderful work."

if you go

The American Craft Council Show runs 10 a.m.-9 p.m. tomorrow, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Tickets are $14 per person, $20 for a two-day pass and $6 after 6 p.m. tomorrow night only. Children younger than 12 and American Craft Council members are admitted free. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to craftcouncil.org/baltimore.

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