The producer and the life of a Gypsy

by Jan Wheatcroft

I’ve been putting on shows and fairs for many years. My friend Helen Feller and I began on Yale Avenue in front of local stores with kind owners. Then we moved to the front of my house and finally to the parking lot of the “old” Claremont Forum and Prison Library Project.

We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years. Some of the shows such as Material Girls and our themed show, which is open to all artists, are rather small. However, it is the Gypsy Sisters that is the largest show. We are 30 artists all showing together, so we need space. 

We call ourselves the Gypsy Sisters, as we have moved and been shuffled about so many times we ended up feeling like a group on the move. We are now located in the basement of the United Church of Christ, where we are happily settled and have been for quite a few years. We divide the large basement into smaller spaces, and each Gypsy has a good-sized area to set up their tables and show off their handmade wares.

We do Gypsy shows twice a year: a spring showing and a winter showing just before Christmas. The next project we have to deal with is finding artists who want to be a part of the fair and whose work fits in with what already exists. Helen and I try to choose carefully so that there is not too much of any one type of art, keeping the competition to a minimum.

But we have to like what each artist brings in and make sure that everything is handmade by the artist and that the artist will be there on-site to sell his or her work. That personal touch makes a difference in who buys and in repeat shoppers. It personalizes the work.  It is different from buying an item in a glass case being sold by a sales person who has not worked intimately with the materials to create the piece.

Gypsies do drop out. They get old, they get sick, they move away, they stop working and often they just make personal changes. With this in mind, Helen and I decided to take on an enthusiastic artist/Gypsy who is willing to become involved and help us. 

Besides keeping things flowing with the church and the other artists, we have to deal with promotion and advertising. This means writing up small articles to submit to the Claremont COURIER Calendar (and remembering to do it in time for publication) but also organizing the adverts in the paper as well.

The ads have to be paid for, and this comes out of a rather small fee each artist is charged for the three days of the fair. We also have cards printed and host a small gathering to address them, stamp them and have them ready for mailing. In order to make all of that work, the money must be collected from each Gypsy. 

Trying to coordinate 30 working people can be difficult. City licenses must be paid. Signs are made and put out and then taken down again. Helen’s husband generously takes care of that. A pre-meeting is held a month before each fair. We are able to show each Gypsy where their booth will be so they know their space and can prepare for it. Cards are passed out, and there is time for questions.

Although we choose our Gypsies on the basis of artwork, we do take into consideration their attitude. We need helpers, supporters and people we can rely on, otherwise we have to let them go. We also make a donation to the Claremont Forum and The Prison Library Project. I think it is a healthy gesture to choose a nonprofit organization one believes in and to give back by helping someone or something else. Helen and I do that with all of our shows. 

The best part of this whole project for me is arranging my artwork and meeting the public. There are those repeat customers who it is always good to see and to share my new work with. There are new people that come by and many who stop to admire what I have made and ask questions. The most commonly asked question is “Did you make all of that?” Then there are the “whizzer-bys” and the “barely-lookers.” It can be a challenge to catch their eye to have a small chat with them.

But I enjoy it all and I think this is part of the reason I do this work. I usually have a project that I am working on while I sit in my booth to keep me busy and even perhaps attract attention. 

When the fair is over on Sunday and my car is unpacked and everything is stored back in my garage to await the next showing, I have to pay bills. We are always tired both physically from the work-load and mentally from the stress of putting on a good show. 

Although it is good to put my feet up and finally relax, it’s always satisfying to work with the public, to see old friends and meet new ones, to hear compliments, make people happy when they find exactly what they want and to be a part of an authentic community.

This year’s Gypsy Sisters art sale is set for Friday, December 9 from 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday, December 10 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, December 11 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will take place on the south side of UCC, located at 233 Harrison Ave. in Claremont.


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