Service of Crafts Worthy of the Name

November 13th, 2014

Categories: Arts & Crafts, Color, Creativity, Simplicity, Uncategorized

Modern American Table by William Robbins,

Modern American Table by William Robbins,

Craft show aficionados know what to expect when they visit a great one—fashion, jewelry, textiles, woodcraft, glass and ceramics for starters. What they don’t know is how the artisans and artists they meet will translate their visions, skill and creativity into their specialties. These surprises make a visit—and purchases–worthwhile.

“Woman, Head on Knee,” by Bob Clyatt, Raku-fired stoneware.

“Woman, Head on Knee,” by Bob Clyatt, Raku-fired stoneware.

It’s time for my client’s American Fine Craft Show Brooklyn, November 22-23, the weekend before Thanksgiving. For the second year the show, in a borough increasingly recognized for its artistic talent, is at Brooklyn Museum.

Spoiler alert: I have illustrated this post with some of those surprises.

The Brooklyn Museum show inspired a museum series—the Art of American Craft–that provides the appropriate showcase for the master crafts my clients, Joanna and Richard Rothbard, select for their shows. Next year they’re adding two additional events, one with the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford Conn. in April and the other at the Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, in October.

Beth Farber, Elizabeth Farber Designs,

Beth Farber, Elizabeth Farber Designs,

Museum series and craft show co-founder/director Richard Rothbard asks: “How many museum visitors make the connection that what they see in exhibitions found its origins in the work of artisanal craftsmen like the ones in our shows–designers of ceramics, jewelry, furniture, glass and fashion?” Coincidentally, concurrent with the craft show, Brooklyn Museum is running an exhibition “Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond,” featuring 35 artists who live or work in the borough, on view through January 4, 2015.

If you visit the craft show, your fee will cover general admission to the museum and its exhibitions which is a lovely gift. 

Do you own/hold precious a handmade fashion, table accessory, cabinet, table, sculpture or handmade decorative object that you’ve bought or that someone’s given you? To what museum exhibitions do you gravitate: Fine art, posters, drawings, fashion, decorative arts, jewelry, sculpture or what?


Andrea Geer, Andrea Geer designs,

Andrea Geer, Andrea Geer designs,

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12 Responses to “Service of Crafts Worthy of the Name”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Great topic. Yes we have many objects we cherish dearly… From African crafts, to sketches by famous artists, Prints of etchings from the 1600s, from original plates, but printed more recently…and one of our favorite was a gift of a small wooden model of an Adirondack chair! Love all of them… Have a great show… The timing is perfect… And looks as if great objects will be available…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You touch on something about crafts as gifts: They tend to be spot-on. I’ve been to a zillion craft shows and haven’t left a single one without something that makes me think of a person on my gift list that I can’t wait to give them. And because they remind me of a friend or relative’s beloved hobby or because the motif or colors of a scarf, piece of jewelry or jacket are a favorite, or because the fabrication is amazing, I know I’ve hit the jackpot.

  3. EAM Said:

    I would say that I’ve collected jewelry (primarily), wall decorations (bought a beautiful watercolor for a friend having a baby). I think what strikes me is how creative people can be with simple resources. I always get a lot of complements and it makes me feel good to know that I’m wearing/own a unique item. I think the way that products are displayed are really important. I once went to a show where the man displayed exquisite gloves but it looked like an installation so no one wanted to enter the booth. Good luck with the show.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your comment struck me in a few ways: Starting with your last one, the gloves installation. It reminds me of cheese at a cocktail party at home. I always put cheese on a few crackers to get the various cheeses started as I’ve noticed that people [not me] hesitate to dig into a perfect piece.

    On the other hand, [a pun?] a beautiful display catches a visitor’s eye and is essential so in zipping by visitors see what’s special.

    I love wearing creative handmade jewelry because I feel fashionable even if I’m wearing an otherwise ho-hum outfit and as you wrote, often people comment on the pin or necklace which is a bonus. A spectacular and singular giant handmade reversible silk scarf of mine went to Paris with a friend who borrowed it to wear on a business trip!

  5. Sallie S Said:

    I was just talking to a colleague about how most people don’t really understand what makes a Craft Fair so unique—and why they are paying higher prices for unique items.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Some find it hard to distinguish a $5 imported ceramic at a store like TJ Maax and a $40 handmade ceramic by an artisan. Both might have flair but the hand, color, texture and essences are very different. Price is another matter and a person’s gift budget is pertinent–but beside the point. If you add time to the cost of raw materials you’ll see that the handmade ceramic gave the artisan only a few dollars an hour, if that much. The impact of a piece you love is priceless.

    Nobody questions the price ranges in car brands. Funny that some criticize the cost of a handmade piece of jewelry, a jacket or hand-carved glass bowl as being too expensive while driving off in a Mercedes.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    This is a very timely and thoughtful post as the whirl-a-gig of advertising for gifts is underway. Commercially manufactured goods, often short on taste, flood the market at a surprisingly wide range of prices including the high end. So often a “label” item proves to be simply that and nothing more. However, it may also double as advertising for its manufacturer or for some as a proclamation of an imagined social ranking. Such items are blithely devoid of originality, sensitivity, or fine or even good workmanship and materials.

    It refreshing to be able to see original and even iconoclastic interpretations, and carefully produced or executed version of items we need, use, or simply want or want to share. Well designed and executed clothing, accessories, flatware, tableware, linens and household objects can be a source of delight beyond their function. The adventure of discovering new craftsmen and artists, curating for oneself within the frame of shopping is also a pleasure.

    It is unquestionable that some selections on exhibit at a carefully curated or vetted craft fair will find their way into today’s museums as well as future ones. And then there is the charm in the case of the American Fine Craft Fair in Brooklyn of a trip to a neighborhood and a Museum that should prove a source of many delights.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You captured what I have long loved about craft fairs. I am increasingly bored by the me-too of much of what is available and have never fallen for labels–not that I bought couture level fashions at any time.

    When I see something amazing at a craft fair, it’s hard for me to get it out of my mind. The clothing I have bought I’ve worn for many, many years because while unusual or even quirky, for me the coats, jackets and belts never lose their charm and because they are well made, they last.

    If I put peanuts in a fun handmade bowl with amazing color, pattern or texture it turns a mundane snack into a cheerful treat.

    As for Brooklyn Museum, if you haven’t visited it in a while, or ever, you are in for a treat. It’s not your grandmother’s museum!

  9. Judy Schuster Said:

    There is no craft show in the Twin Cities of this caliber. However, there is a shop known as the General Store which features some of the best crafts, in addition to some manufactured items. I’ve purchased multiple Christmas ornaments there … all handmade. And when my mother used to visit me regularly, she insisted on visiting this shop to buy Christmas gifts for her friends. I always bought ornaments for my grandchildren until the last couple years, and they were always personalized by someone at the shop while I was still there. I’ve taken a few friends there and they always go back on their own. JBS

  10. Dante Schicchi Said:

    Your quote from Mr. Rothbard to the effect that the beauty and originality we find exhibited in museums such as the Brooklyn first came to be because of the work of humble craftsmen struck a nerve. One can only admire, and be thankful for, the tenacity and determination to be creative of these early men and women who stuck to their craft despite every obstacle and often meagre reward. It is entirely fitting that a Museum should be the venue in which they will exhibit their creations. Without both their efforts, we would still be living in a barren and forlornly backward world.

    I once experienced firsthand some of the adversity creative artisans learn to expect in plying their craft. A few years back, my then clients, foreign investors who owned a just completed Manhattan luxury high-rise, asked me to negotiate with its craftsman creator the installation of a spectacular cut glass assemblage in the building’s lobby. The idea was that this highly original sculpture would greatly improve the “tone” of the building, and the owners had clear, decided ideas about what they wanted. This accomplished, imaginative glass crafter, just as decidedly, knew what he wanted to create, and he was as stubborn as Michelangelo was dealing with Pope Julius over the design of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He had my sympathy, but the owners were my clients. It was a most unpleasant confrontation.

    God bless the craftsmen. I look forward to seeing their work, and the Brooklyn Museum is always a delight to visit.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I know you are supposed to use candles, and they are particularly enchanting to set the right mood at Christmas. You gave me handmade Christmas candles years ago. I wrap them carefully every January and pull them out for the front hall candlesticks every December. I love them! I wonder if you bought them at this store?

    My clients who founded and produce the American Fine Craft Show and Contemporary Art Fair also own An American Craftsman Galleries, in Manhattan and in Stockbridge, Mass. in the Berkshires. These stores also do very well and have a loyal following.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I LOVE the story about the lobby decoration. This happens in my world as well. When a PR or marketing firm hires “talent,” whether author, physician, actor, sports figure, or someone with celebrity, to present their client’s message, paying them plenty, the “artiste,” happy to take the endorsement money, isn’t always willing or able to remember to repeat the message or pronounce the name of the brand as requested, or refer to it accurately or even to do what they agreed to.

    I think that any artisan who agrees to take on a commercial project should do what the client wants or refuse to take on the project. I was working on a video project for a client and the producer said she couldn’t possibly ask the talent to do what the client wanted. The request was benign. I am usually polite but this time I was blunt. I said that this 18th rate celebrity is taking money from this venerable brand and if she objects to the simple request, then the company should find a different “celebrity.” No more was said and the “celebrity” did what I asked for.

    Like you, I clearly admire master craftsmen and women. I envy their talent and am so lucky to write about and regularly see their work.

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