I actually began doing art shows way before Steve. In the early 1970's I used to go to art shows in California with my cousin and sell beautiful necklaces made from beads that my aunt brought back from her travels in Africa and parts of Asia. It was so simple then. We just showed up, spread out a blanket and stayed until we sold out or got tired. Everyone around us made what they sold, some of it was fine crafted and some of it was not but I don't think the idea that they didn't make it themselves was ever of question.
Over the years the idea of buying finely made original art in an outdoor setting evolved and suddenly it became more structured. There came a purpose and a sense in the community that when you went to these shows that you were seeing the best the area had to offer in the arts. We all bought white tents, white vans and learned how to take professional photographs of all of our work so that we could be compared against our peers for a chance to have a spot at these coveted venues. There were years when the community went in masses to buy work by the artists and to commune with them to understand the hours of labor that went into each and every piece on display. It was a respected and valued way to make a living.
Then the economy tanked and suddenly a few things began to change that have caused us all to stop and wonder about the future we face as more people decided to join the art show circuit. There are still incredible artists and craftsmen who have chosen to sell their work directly to the public. Yet we are now challenged at these very venues by booths full of "vendors" who sell items that they did not make themselves or they may have initially designed and have now found a way to mass produced on the cheap. The promoters of some of the shows we have historically supported no longer care if the work is original or not or even if the visitor knows that what they are looking at is actually made by the artist or not.
I spent a great many years in the corporate world in sales competing against other companies. What I always knew was that integrity in sales was the most important value I could bring to a customer. As someone who has lived in both the art and corporate world I find the situation I am witnessing these days really interesting. Do the customers we talk to every week really interested in buying from the artist who actually handmade the work or has the retail world now changed things so much that no one cares? I personally faced this challenge a few weeks ago when I bought a garment from a fellow "artist" only to find out later that she didn't make them but bought them from a wholesaler and marked them up to resell at the shows. It made me question so much about how I felt about what we do now and how I should respond to the artist in question.
As customers visiting the shows, it comes down to deciding why you are there I guess. For most people it is just a way to while away an afternoon and maybe purchase a small item to remind you of the day. For the people standing in the 10 x 10 booth spaces however it can mean a great deal more.
Bonnie Harmston works side by side with her husband Steve and travels the art show circuit with him.