How to Evaluate Fine Handmade Objects

June 27th, 2022

Categories: Art, Artisans, Arts & Crafts, Craft Show


By decorative fabric needle felting artist Juliana Boyd, South Hamilton, Mass.

Great Barrington-based potter Dan Bellow

Most people sell their time in addition to their service and/or skill. That goes for a chauffeur, bus driver, plumber, PR person, dentist, lawyer, babysitter, computer techie, physician, financial advisor, artisan or artist for starters.

So how do fine craft artists calculate the prices of objects they have designed and created?

I asked my client, Richard Rothbard, who with his wife Joanna Rothbard, has promoted the work of artists and artisans for over three decades in his galleries and at shows and festivals. He owns An American Craftsman Galleries in Lenox, Mass. and is days away from swinging open the gate on the 21st annual Berkshires Arts Festival, July 1, 2 and 3, in Great Barrington at scenic Ski Butternut.


Iva Kalikow, Fine Art in Glass, Beckett, MA

Artists shoulder the same skyrocketing costs as any business, he reminded. To exhibit their work there’s gas for hours-long trips via van and propane or oil to run a  kiln or furnace 24/7 for potters or glass blowers. Just as the price of commercial construction supplies have increased, so have fine woods–some quadrupling–for the vessels, sculptures and implements artisans fashion.


Designer Dahlia Popovits, Boston,
Mass.

The time to create one fine work precludes making a normal living said Rothbard. “It can take six hours for a glass artist to fabricate a piece for which he charges $400. If there were no expenses–such as the purchase and maintenance of a furnace, shears, paddles, tweezers, blowpipe and raw material, not to mention marketing and insurance costs–the artisan would make less than $60/hour. And consider the years it took to perfect the skill.”

Some of the exhibitors at the Berkshires Arts Festival who use furnaces or kilns are Michael Radigan, Pittsford, N.Y., creator of fused glass plates, bowls, pendants and sculptures and stained glass artist Iva Kalikow, Fine Art in Glass, Beckett, Mass.; potters Lynne Puhalla, North Attleboro, Mass.; Dan Bellows, master potter, Great Barrington and Jenna Cranna Cahalan, New Milford, Conn. as well as ceramicist Gail Markiewicz, Woodbridge, Conn.

Rothbard observed that if artisans paid themselves what their customers make an hour, few could afford their work. According to comparably.com, the average salary of a crafter in the U.S. in 2018 was $33,572, the median $30,720 with ranges from $18,680  to $59,750. In the “Quality of Life” section of the website: “With a take-home pay of roughly $2,478/month, and the median 2BR apartment rental price of $2,506/mo, a Crafter would pay 101.14% of their monthly take-home salary towards rent.”

Do you own and enjoy jewelry, ceramics, wood pieces, fashions, photographs, art glass, prints or paintings you bought in a craft boutique or art festival?


Sculpture by fine wood turning artist Paul Petrie, Gloversville, N.Y.

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9 Responses to “How to Evaluate Fine Handmade Objects”

  1. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: Sure do but thankfully purchased before prices skyrocketed, even if for the valid reasons you point out.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Linda,

    I suspect that many who populate the world of fine crafts absorb the costs that giant corporations don’t. I receive notifications from the likes of Verizon telling me that I will be paying $X more due to their increased expenses. I’m given no choice. Same with Con Ed.

    My post is meant to point out obvious things that most don’t consider when they wonder why a hand crafted piece costs “so much.” I own things purchased at craft and art shows over decades and have never had buyer’s remorse. Ceramics with fun motifs make me smile and a knit swing coat I’ve worn for years is one of my favorite belongings.

  3. BC Said:

    Appreciate artisans. Have many fine pieces of jewelry, rugs, and carvings which we enjoy! Adore museums with priceless items.

  4. CC Said:

    CC on Facebook: This is a major consideration in Santa Fe, where there are so many artists, jewelry makes, silversmiths, weavers, wood carvers, pot makers, glass makers, etc. We know, in talking to them, how they are affected by fluctuating costs and availability of materials. The prices we pay are not low but we are happy to be able to support the talented people who make their living this way and make our lives better by providing things of beauty.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    Some museums sell jewelry and fashion accessories of local artisans. Museum shops often have fun things to buy but I like these best of all.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    CC,

    I remember some of the pieces you’d bought in New Mexico when you still lived in N.J. especially jewelry and a pair of magnificent gloves.

  7. Martha T Takayama Said:

    I have some of all the artisanal items you refer to above. Some were handed down to me, others I learned about from my parents. I was always and continue to follow fashion reviews and love fashion photography. I work with fine art in various media, but concentrate on photography. I have various kinds of art glass, porcelain , fine china and some metal works. However, at this point in our ongoing (despite pretending it doesn’t exist) pandemic, I only can admire and understand assigned values for the fine things. I personally would like to be able to make them evaporate or disappear because of the manner in which our social lives have been restricted and because I prefer that more things be available to all in museums and exhibition venues.

  8. lucrezia Said:

    Alas, I haven’t the faintest idea – and have little inclination to learn!

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I’d be delighted if a museum would accept some of my favorite things but unfortunately, because I use my thing, most have little chips and dents.

    Fine photography can be magnificent. Your collections must be fascinating and museum-worthy.

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