The Rise of Craft Shows     20 September, 2007, 03:58 pm
The 70s saw the expansion of the arts & craft business and with it, a lot of new show opportunities for established and emerging artisans. Established shows were expanded (and copied) while totally new venues, including malls and newly-minted craft promoters, rushed in to make arts & crafts more available geographically and culturally. Crafts were part of the back-to-nature movement that was so important in the 1970s. That artists and promoters could make money in it was so much the better and word spread quickly.

There were long-established shows like Greenwich Village or guild shows including New Hampshire and the Southern Highlands (discussed in an earlier blog) that artists plugged into. Alice and Chuck Hollander were at Greenwich Village in the mid-70s, selling macramé wall hangings and necklaces. She was a kindergarten teacher in Long Island and the setting must have seemed very exotic for her. This show is still going strong today.

Add to these established shows, a list of college-sponsored (however loosely connected) venues and the list expanded. Jeff Nelson, the artist behind Hudson River Inlays of New York, did his first show as a student in San Francisco and Macomb County College in Michigan. Likewise, painter Nancy Strailey was at Penn State and showed her paintings, "leaning against the parking meters in front of the New College Diner" at that summer show throughout the 70s. The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts at Penn State continues to be one of the top shows in the country.

Professional promoters like Sugarloaf, Carolina Craftsmen, and Craftproducers (to name a few) got their start in the 70s. Jerry Perry a North Carolina woodworker was at the very first Craftsmen show at the Greensboro Coliseum in 1973. He sold every one of his hand-carved pipes and remembers most of the exhibitors as "hippie types" and mostly full-time artisans.

Shopping malls across America were quick to pick up on the craft craze. Malls became sort of a farm system for the bigger art shows. They offered many artisans their first taste of art and commerce. One of Susan’s only mall shows was at the Crossroads Mall in Roanoke where she was located downwind of the Chick-Filet restaurant. The mall-ordained hours were grueling, but the show was filled with Roanoke and other local artisans. This show is now long gone, and the malls now use their (formerly) booth-friendly wide aisles to establish permanent pushcarts offering cell phones and imported fuzzy dice. There are still some mall shows around but they are no longer a vibrant part of the hand-crafted scene.

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