First Wave Artisans     7 September, 2006, 09:28 pm
If you look very closely at the tiny print, you can see that the 1969 Woodstock festival was actually billed as a “music and art fair.” Indeed, there were crafters there including jeweler Harriett Barnett, still active at shows. She was what I call a first wave artist.


I identify at least four waves of artists that have joined our business since the 1960s. These waves roughly correlate to the decades since the 1960s, and the pattern seems fairly prevalent across the United States. In some cases, first wave artists were able to join established guilds, such as the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen that had its first show in 1930. In other cases, they invented the business by setting up near rock concerts, farmer’s markets, etc. to ply their wares.


The earliest recollection that I have recorded is Terry Ostovar, whose mother was on a university art faculty at the University of Minnesota and exhibited at the Uptown Festival in the 1950s. Her mom would put her pottery out on a blanket on the grass. Little Terry would line up her own sculptures on a park bench or picnic table.


Sam Rizzata was a high school student in 1957 when he exhibited at a local community art show in suburban Chicago while attending classes at the art institute. He eventually became a commercial artist, but gave it up to start doing craft shows as a musician.


Local arts organizations gave many artists their start in the business. Lucy Moore was a former teacher turned weaver started who started exhibiting at the Southern Highlands Guild in the mid 1960s. That guild had presented member shows since the 1930s. Tom Wolfe, a wood-carver, exhibited at his first show at the Huntington, WV town hall in 1965.


Other first wave artisans had to invent a market to sell their wares. Robert Trisko was an art teacher who organized a three-exhibitor show in Minnesota, selling bent nail rings from a card table in 1965. Around the same time, arty kid Alexa Smarsh set up a table and sold enough macramé necklaces to buy gas for her boy friend’s VW bus to leave Provincetown, MA.


Most first wave artisans, if not hippies themselves, certainly connected with the hippie counterculture to sell their creations. Commercialization was out! Leather workers set up outside (and inside) rock festivals that became widespread following Woodstock, selling belts and floppy hats. Candle makers provided the centerpiece for counterculture parties that featured listening to rock albums in darkened rooms. Macramé weavings provided plant hangers for the back- to-Earth hippie subculture.


Now the only macramé left is used for expensive watchbands among two exhibitors I know. The hand-made candle business is down to precious few- who can compete with Yankee Candle? I did however see a fourth-waver last week who came up with oil lamps made out of painted rocks. Heh, I’ll save that story for later.


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