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In a Slumping Economy, One of a Kind Gifts Soar

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“People are giving fewer gifts these days; they want what they buy to be truly special,” said Jennifer Woolford, senior vice president of Consumer Shows for MMPI in Chicago (photo, above). “There’s a real appeal to buying from an actual craftsperson, someone you can see and talk to.”

From December 11 through 13, craftspeople gathered for the One Of A Kind show, Pier 94, Twelfth Avenue at 55th Street. Judging by the crowds of shoppers, there will be many hand-crafted items under the tree and in stockings this year. We visited the booths and what follows are some of the best of the best. Visit today, Sunday, December 13, but if you can’t make it to the show, you can order online in time for the holidays.

Rest assured, the recipient will be pleased. “The standards for artists are very high,” explained Woolford. We don’t allow just anyone to participate. Not only must the quality of the items for sale be top quality, but also a photo of the booth itself must be submitted. If the booth looks badly put together, it will not be attractive to potential customers.”

There are strict rules for those who do make it into the show. “The wares must be unique,” said Woolford. “We have artisans working in wood, 2D photography, paper, all kinds of media. Many people have now made their passion their profession. We have former stockbrokers and bankers who are now working intently in their chosen field of art.”

While some questioned bringing the show to New York, Woolford said the goal was to “knock it out of the park.” She added: “And we have! There’s no sign of a struggling economy here. The customers are very selective. We call them the `non gift card giving consumer.’ The response has been so great, that the exhibitors have had to stay up all night making merchandise to replace what’s sold out.”

Of course, all artists have to make a living, so in addition to arts and crafts shows of all stripes, nowadays everyone can be reached over the internet. While it was hard to single out just a few people from such a talented group, here are the ones we found truly outstanding.

susan-obrent

Susan Obrant (above) creates unique clothing, cloth sculpture, and paintings. Her outgoing personality is ideal for this kind of a hands-on event. “People I’ve met at other shows are here. It’s exciting to see how everyone has grown. It really is a family of artists.”

Susan is known for her soft, pliable fabrics, which can easily drape to create different looks. “I am not Edie Beale,” laughs the vivacious redhead. “I just like to give my clients as much versatility as possible with my garments.” Susan herself is the best ad for her line, and shoppers were quite literally buying the clothing right off her back. One collector of her clothing has a whole section in her closet with Susan’s name; another saw an elephant soft sculpture and commissioned a cloth ferret for his daughter to take off to college. Susan loves to work directly with clients, and will find exactly the right piece for every taste and budget.

Susan Obrant; www.susanobrant.com; 914-734-7490; susan@susanobrant.com; prices vary, generally from $100 up.

Kate Strong

Like Susan, creating beautiful wearable art is a family affair for Strong Wear owner Kate Strong (above). “I’m of Danish heritage,” she said. “My great grandmother crocheted and did lace work. My mother crocheted. I’ve passed on my skills to my daughter, who loves to knit, and to my nieces, who help with the business.”

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Kate said her work supports a family of four. “It’s very empowering for the young women of my family to understand that they can make their way in the world on their talent and hard work,” she explained. “I’ve shown them how to take old fashioned hand working technique and adapt them for the modern age. For example, everything I make is machine washable.” (Above, Marie Lou Ortiz, on left, and Grace Lam Chui find Strong Wear hats irresistable).

Kate’s lively color palate also brings a contemporary sensibility to the hats she creates for children and adults. And she has a unique take on outerwear. “My real interest is in creating hats; for me, coats are the accessories.” Even in our fast paced world, it’s almost impossible for women to pass up trying on an attractive hat, and Kate’s booth area was never empty.

Strong Wear;www.StrongWear.com; 773-927-3880; StrongWear@hotmail.com; prices from $16-$88 for children’s, adults $52-$84, coats $180.

shoes

Ever wish you had a pair of shoes that fit perfectly? The Cordwainer Shop is the answer to the prayers of many a foot weary soul. Sara Mathews (above, left), a slender brunette, and her silver haired sister, Molly Grant (above, right), learned their craft from their dad. Their grandfather began the family business in the 1930′s, and the sisters know pretty much all there is to know about creating beautiful, comfortable shoes.

“A cordwainer originally meant someone who worked in cordovan leather,” explained Sara. ” We have customers from all over the country and of course, we prefer to fit them in person. We love to create handmade, fun designs in all kinds of colors. Craft shows are wonderful for meeting new customers. And no, we don’t know Daniel Day Lewis, but we’d like to.” It would be well worth the trip to New Hampshire to be fitted by Sara and Molly, too.

The Cordwainer Shop; www.CordwainerShop.com; 603-463-7742; 67 Candia Road, P.O. Box 110, Deerfield, NH 03037;$500 and up.

Eve Behar

If you recognize the humor with an edge from ceramics artist Eve Behar (above), it will come as no surprise that her mom is Joy Behar of The View fame. “My mom is my biggest fan,” said Eve with a smile. Her designs reflect her natural wit, and are “Colorful, functional ceramics. Every day items should be esthetically pleasing.” Eve welcomes the exposure a craft show provides because, as she says of her studio location, “No one comes to the South Bronx!”

Eve Behar Ceramics, www.EveBeharCeramics.com, evebeatjoi@aol.com $40-$100.

Kristen and Rick

Kristen Wornson of Skipping Lilies is one of those artists who stays up nights to provide enough product to satisfy her many customers. “The night before the OOK show, I was up 18 hours, soldering and wet toweling the pieces.” Her boyfriend, Rick, was happy to help out. The work was well worth the effort. Kristen makes real flowers and hand blown and hand cut glass into exquisite little pendants that can also be made into earrings. (Kristen, above with boyfriend, Rick).

Once again, the family theme enters into an artist’s story. “My granddad in Iowa made stained glass, and my mom pressed flowers,” explained one-half of a team that includes her brother, Eric. “We also sell charms. The flowers include forget-me-nots, daisies, and elderberry flowers. We have a lot of fun coming up with unique colors, too. Michelangelo blue, sea foam, and moss are very popular. The work ranges in size from ½ by ½ to 1″ by 1″. Of course, we can also accommodate special orders.”

Skipping Lilies, skippinglilies.com, 612-824-0105, skippinglilies@gmail.com.
$50-$60, chains are $15.

Katie Geerling

Katie Geerling (above) is a really good egg. No, honestly; Katie’s enthusiasm for her decorated egg artwork is contagious. Not only are these ornaments beautiful, but they truly reflect the joy that makes Tinka Egg-Art so compelling.

“Tinka is short for Katinka, which is a form of the name Katherine,” she confided. “I’m originally from Hungary, and I get a lot of my inspiration from traveling. The eggs are not as fragile as you might think. Each one has two coats of acrylic, and the crystals are strategically placed to help make the eggs hold together well. I’d advise the same tender loving care you would give a treasured glass ornament. Each egg takes approximately two full days of work, starting from the drawing. I find it a meditative experience applying the crystals, which are all Swarovski, only the finest. Do not put these away after Christmas; put them in the window, and watch how the light brings out the brilliance. I so enjoy being able to share my passion for these beautiful eggs with my customers!”

Tinka Egg-Art; www.tinkaeggart.com; 860-491-3384; katiegeerling@tinkaeggart.com
Non-crystalled eggs, $95, Duck eggs $60-$85, chicken eggs $20-$185.

Chris Mosley

Like Katie and several other artisans, handsome Christopher Mosey (above) also teaches classes. In his case, people can learn the technique of glass blowing, to make their own ornaments. Although he’s enjoyed coming to New York for the OOK art show, Chris is a great booster of his home city. “Artists are paid to go to Chattanooga,” he said with enthusiasm. “We have a great art scene there.”

If his magnificent glass sculptures are indicative of the talent there, Tennessee just might be the place to be. At first glance, they resemble enormous geodes, in jewel tones of aquamarine and lapis. “It’s an intense process to create them; you have to pour hot glass on cold crushed glass.” Chris also works in acrylic on wood paneling. His inspiration comes from nature, especially naturally occurring rocks. “If I weren’t an artist, I’d be a geologist. My original training was at the Appalachian Center for the Arts. It’s not cheap to do these shows. We have to pay for our own plane fare, hotel, and to ship the work. But it’s worth it for the exposure, and I do enjoy meeting potential clients.” For such a talented guy, Chris is extremely down to earth and congenial. But his work is simply a Wow!

Christopher Mosey; 423-265-2565; info@ignisglass.com
$1200-$3500

Rouge Confections

Sherri Adler (above) is a wildly popular artisan. And why not, when she freely dispenses samples of her mouth watering chocolate from Rogue Confections. “No, we are not associated with Sarah Palin,” she good naturedly answered the question. With help selling from her sister Lori, Sherri is presenting her business launch of the company that provides the ultimate stocking stuffer. “I’ve chosen the chocolate manufacturer very carefully, to make sure the handmade Belgian chocolate is of the highest quality. It has to taste good, because people are meant to eat my art work!”

She continued: “I use antique designs from textiles and wallpaper, and put them on the candy in the form of sugar paper. I also do custom designs, including company logos. My profession has been as a set designer for film and for the Conan O’Brien show, which is moving from New York.” It’s easy to understand why Sherri has won the Blogger’s Award for the OOK show. “Chocolate should be as beautiful as it is delicious,” she confidently declared. To all who passed by her booth, the only question was, “Can I please take another piece?” Yum!

Sherri Adler; www.RogueConfections.com; 917-797-4845; Sherri@RogueConfections.com
2 for $5, Box of 6 for $15, $30 and up for custom designs.

Also participating in the OOK show are emerging artists associated with Etsy, “a vibrant handmade marketplace.” www.etsy.com

One Of A Kind Show And Sale NY; www.oneofakindshowny.com Pier 94, 12th Ave at 55th St.; Open to the public. December 11-13, 2009.
Parking and café on the premises.

For all those not able to attend, take heart. The OOK show will be back next year.

Michall Jeffers is an accomplished cultural journalist. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She writes extensively, both in print and online. She is an active member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, International Association of Theatre Critics, Dance Critics Association, and National Book Critics Circle.

Photos by Carol Wasserman

One Response to In a Slumping Economy, One of a Kind Gifts Soar

  1. vmanlow says:

    This is a great article! It is nice to see some of the products ranging from clothing to ceramics and confections. Very nice idea for meaningful holiday shopping.

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