Figuring it out
We had an exceptionally successful time selling work at the Philadelphia Craft Show this year. Thinking that we must have done something right this time, we’re trying to figure out what that something was. The truth is that it was probably due to forces beyond our control, but still, I like to believe that some of our decisions had something to do with our success.
Here is a short video of our move in and set up at the show.
We find that we can determine the approach someone takes to our work, by how we present it. We had a very central 15 x 10′ corner booth, with an easy way in and way out of the space. We showed a combination of work pinned to fabric covered walls and work on table tops. Everything was clearly marked, but price tags weren’t the first thing that you noticed. Nothing was under glass, although some work was worth thousands of dollars. Because of the formal nature of the presentation, people would come up to look with their hands behind their backs. We had to encourage them to touch and handle the work, and that small interaction led to conversation and questions.
David found three transparent architectural panels that I bought for something and never used. We put those along the back wall, and encouraged our neighbor to forgo her usual black drape so that the light from her booth would come thru to our space, and vise versa. This contributed to the “work & construction” theme of the display. We also had the help of Katie Van Vliet, a young artist with retail experience. She remarked that unlike many other displays where the artist sat in a chair at the back of the booth, we were standing and circulating around the space, which added to the feeling of activity. The work on table tops was formally centered on stacks of white printer paper–an idea borrowed from a jeweler friend, who borrowed it from someone else. We also hand wrote in pencil, information about the pieces shown on the paper stack. This re-inforced the idea that a real person made this work by hand. We also showed an overview of 15 years of work from our own archive of older pieces, mixed in with the new work. The written descriptions dated the older work.
That idea specifically came out of a series of studio visits from museum groups over the summer. It was an intense experience to host 20-40 collectors, who arrive by bus, and stay for only an hour. I found that I couldn’t be everywhere at once, so I started placing work around the studio on stacks of paper with notes about the when, how, why, and materials of a piece. People liked exploring in their own time, and they appreciated the older work as much as the newer work. Seeing it through their eyes changed how I saw our older work myself . Instead of being an artifact from our own timeline, the work came alive again for me.
It’s tempting to think that if we do all of the same things at our next show in Baltimore, then we’ll have the same success. While it’s only human to try to rationalize the marketplace, it’s unlikely that our next show will be the same. The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft show is an exceptional event, and we’ve been lucky to have been a part of it for sixteen years.