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The art of creating and exhibiting one’s work

by Jan Wheatcroft

I weave, sew, make jewelry, make books, print, draw and create all sorts of things that I display and sell through shows, fairs and galleries. I?use any means that I can dream up. The creating is done mostly in my home and in my garage and, sometimes, in workshop studios along with other artists who want the guidance and the opportunity to use machines and materials not available in their own space. 

The art of crafting is something I do all of the time.  It is what nourishes me and keeps me going. It is what gets me out into the world to see what exciting things are happening, what is new and stimulating and where I can find old things to make into new. I can make and make and do and do but then I need a way to share what I have done with others. I need to find a way to sell my art. 

I first began to weave seriously in New York during the two years that we lived in Croton-on-Hudson. I had also learned how to spin my own yarn and dye it with colors I made from plants. My first experience of selling was through craft fairs. These were local outdoor shows along the Hudson River and once in New York City, where I set my art out on tables in parks or on the street. People came and bought. I was thrilled. 

Moving back to Claremont, I became involved in the pre-Village Venture fairs, where we got to set up in front of shops that we liked and sell for one day. I was usually found in front of Bentley’s Market (now Rhino Records). This was just a small booth but was fun to do. Later, it became a more formal venue and the city took it over. 

I sold along Yale Avenue for years, focusing mostly on selling hand-spun, plant-dyed wool hats. Later, I moved over to the corner of Harvard and Second to a large space next to my friend Helen Feller, the Quilt Lady. Selling at street fairs is great fun. I’ve done it in Monrovia, Riverside, Pomona and Upland to name a few places. It is not always a success, because sometimes it is too hot and sometimes it rains. Then there are times that no one comes or the passersby are looking for old tools and kitchen utensils.

Eventually Helen and I started our own street faire which we eventually named the Gypsy Sisters (when men joined us we later added on ”and their brothers”).

We finally moved it indoors and were able to have it be a three-day affair as the set-ups could be left safely overnight. After more than 20 years, the Gypsy Sisters fair still exists and we are located in the basement of the UCC Church, a glorious open space with 30 artists exhibiting twice a year. This is one way an artist can display and share what he/she makes in a very personal way. The artist not only has to make the art but has to be there to set up the booth, sell the work and then to tear down, pack and clean up. It is hard and intense, but it is satisfying to have one-to-one contact with the public and to explain what you do and how you do it. I enjoy telling people where I have obtained the beads and pieces that I use in making my jewelry; the age, the origin and what it is made of. It also seems to make it more interesting to the prospective buyer. Personal contact does make a difference. 

Another way of exposing one’s work to the public is through exhibitions. Galleries show artists’ work and often are happy to have a few pieces or an entire show for just one person. Often there is a long wait to get in to a gallery for a solo show. I just had a show in a wonderful, small gallery in the Village, Bunny Gunner. I waited for nearly three years to have my own show there. Having a show in most galleries means that they hang the show for you and handle all of the transactions. They also take a percentage of sales for their work in putting the show together, notifying everyone and putting on a great spread for the opening. I had postcards made and I sent them out, letting my friends and contacts know about the exhibit. Having a show at Bunny Gunner lasted a whole month, which is a long time to be in the public eye. It was a great experience for me and I felt proud to be chosen to be there. 

There are a number of other venues here in Claremont and also in other cities nearby. The work has to be ready to hang or to be placed on stands. They also need to be labeled and priced.

Another way to go is the individual exhibition. Helen Feller and I, under our Two Sisters Production title, organize a show just for putting our art out into the public view. We do this once a year calling the show Material Girls. Anyone can devise and put together such a show. I used to call them “Pop-up Shows” due to the fact that we never knew where we would have them. We often waited to find a store front that was empty and would rent out the space for a weekend at a decent fee. Now, however, it is difficult to find any empty space in the Village and we have found a fairly permanent space near the Village that we rent each year.

The other show we do is a show that is open to anyone with art to exhibit. We do not judge or jury the work, and only ask that it fit in with the theme that we choose each year. We, along with Helen’s husband, hang the show and, on opening night, all the entrants bring food and friends to the show. For these openings, we have a great group playing music and making the whole scene very festive. This show allows any artist or budding artist to have a place to show their work and enter into the exhibition arena. 

Putting on shows and fairs is a difficult business but one that we find can be successful, especially if you don’t want wait around for a chance to be in a gallery show. Finding a space, printing out cards, handling the promotion, sitting the entire show, setting up and then cleaning up are just a few of the things we deal with. When there are other artists involved, we have meetings to explain what we are doing and to get input from the artists who are a part of our “art community.” 

Another access is through museum exhibits and fundraisers, as well as art organizations. Meanwhile, each artist must be continuously creating and be ready to work with new ideas and challenges as the public always demands updated ideas as well as looking out for the traditional items. This keeps the artist in me on my toes.

Is it all worth it? There is a balance between making the art as a pleasurable pursuit and, at the same time, hoping to engage and encourage people to want to buy it. I love the contact with the public and feel happy when people own my work and enjoy it. So, yes, for me it is all worth it.

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