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The Philadelphia Flower Show     16 March, 2007, 11:34 am
The nine-day Philadelphia Flower Show is our most grueling and highest-grossing show of the year. The scale is enormous for us: double our regular booth size, day-long set-up time, and about 25,000 attendees per day! With so many sophisticated customers, the show is coveted by arts & craft show exhibitors so that the waiting list is said to number 700 or more. We began contact with the promoters, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, in late 1992 and our first show was 1995. The show itself is in its 179th year in 2007 and if you’ve never been there, nothing can quite compare with the largest indoor flower show in the world!

We began our physical preparations in January, after I developed the Pick Sheet for the show. We keep track of which items sold in 2006 and try to predict the same for this year. As an economist, I am always working out ratios of this item vs. that item to figure out how to pack the show.

For example, we have about 10 different note card boxes and we sell over 600 boxes at the show. We don’t sell these boxes in even quantities so I try to take exactly the proportions that we need. We sell a lot of “Irish Blessings” cards because the ...
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Second Wave Invasion     7 February, 2007, 10:39 am
Age and college major are probably the main factors that separated first and second wave artisans. Artist and calligrapher Susan Loy didn’t finish her studies at Ohio State until the late 70s, much too late to make it into the first wave. Her studies in literature, art history, and philosophy didn’t lead her directly to a career in the arts – it took time for her to invent her Literary Calligraphy art form. By this point in time, there was an expanding show circuit and a market for innovative art.

Much of the show circuit was in place by the early 70s. Potter David Ross graduated from college in Boone, NC and did his first show in 1972. There were already artists and craftspeople exhibiting on a limited show circuit. He reports lots of camping, VW buses, and general partying. Bobby Zarcone, a leather worker, had much the same experience in 1973. Upon learning his craft, he was able to do his first real show by purchasing someone else’s contract for the Washington Square show in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

A budding young artist observing the show scene and deciding to try it out bears a strong resemblance to the reaction to Elvis by the young John ...
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Elvis, first wave model     25 November, 2006, 11:26 am
First wave artisans had to scramble to make ends meet in the early 70s. There were few organized shows, and for many that didn’t want to work out of the back of their VW buses, they often opted to open a retail shop. Chuck and Nina Harris had a leather store near one of my favorite musical venues, the Agora club in Columbus, Ohio. They sold to leather bags and jackets to members of rock bands Foghat, King Crimson, Procol Harem and others, but wouldn’t claim ownership of Rick Wakeman’s hat mentioned in an earlier blog.

However, having a shop implies the need for steady hours, a concept difficult for free-wheeling hippie artists. Bill Baldwin opened a leather goods store in Lynchburg, VA in 1972 that was only open on Wednesday afternoons. When he would return from long weekends in D.C. with his future wife Sue, he would find his door peppered with notes from enquiring customers. The store did not last.

Early first-wave painters had their unique problems getting their paintings seen, especially at outdoor shows. Works on paper were difficult to deal with in the days before canopies. The 1960 Three Rivers Art Festival was forced to close after 29 hours when ...
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Leather hats & the first-wavers     28 September, 2006, 04:46 pm
Check out the leather hats worn by rock musicians Rick Wakeman (Yes) and Mike Love (Beach Boys) from the early 70s. These stylish hats were undoubtedly made by some first wave leather artists that were discovered by these musicians on their endless tours across the USA.

Carrying the musical metaphor forward, I maintain that the first wave artisans that entered the arts & craft show circuit in the 1960s played the role of Elvis in the history of our business. Like Elvis, who brought obscure blues songs to teenage America, first wavers didn’t invent arts and crafts, but they introduced hand-made products into an entirely new population segment. Baby-boomers and anti-establishment types could find non-mass produced goods, made by people that looked just like them!

I was 17 when I walked through the 1965 edition of the Three River Arts Festival in Pittsburgh. Even though I was considered a fairly hip kid (I was in a high school rock band), I don’t remember connecting with the arts or artisans there. The festival would have been only six years old that year, and its artists were weighted heavily towards academic types and weekend painters. The true first ...
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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 ...
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