Thursday, June 28, 2007

TCA on the road: new york crafty

Inspired by several crafty happenings going down in the Big Apple a couple of weekends past, I braved the overnight bus to see what’s shaking, craft-wise, in New York.

The main event was the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn (June 16 & 17), an outdoor "indiecraft" bonanza that began in Chicago in 2003 and has inspired countless similar fairs across the world. This year's fair was gynormous, with over 200 booths (and reportedly around 300 vendors) jammed into the McCarren Park Pool, a depression era relic drained in 1983.

The Renegade program read like a crafty walk of fame roster, with craftstars like Jen Corace, the small object, My Paper Crane, and Lotta Jansdotter in attendance. Some booths were occupied by crafty mega-networks like Etsy, Craftster, and The Sampler. I was pleased to find a strong Canadian contingent, including Toronto makers Hoi/Construct & Hoibo, the sweetie pie press, Katie Muth, Danielle Maveal, and Smitten Kitten as well as Montreal cuties Damned Dollies and the Pin Pals.

Pin Pals @ Renegade Brooklyn
Pin Pals booth

Emily of Black Apple @ Renegade Brooklyn
Emily of
Black Apple.

Sian Keegan @ Renegade Brooklyn
Sian Keegan's booth.

True confession time: All in all, I found the fair to be quite overwhelming. Trying to take in 300 vendors in a concrete pool amongst scores of eager shoppers on a scorching almost-summer day in Brooklyn was a bit of an ordeal. While much awesomeness was to be found, I was bummed to see sooo much repetition among the wares – screen printed bird t-shirts, antique-style charm necklaces, and of course stuffed woodland animals abounded. (Hence my rather cranky
comments to the NY Times reporter!!!).

To some extent this can no doubt be attributed to the craft community’s presence online, with people checking out each others’ work on blogs, messageboards, social book marking sites, etsy, and other online shops. Some repetition is of course natural within subcultures or artistic communities, and there is nothing wrong with riffing off of one another’s ideas. But when so many similar things are seen side-by-side on such a large scale, it can feel a bit... icky. Vendors suffer too, due to increased competition. So while I have always craved a Renegade-style show in Toronto, I found myself feeling grateful for our smaller fairs which tend to be curated with a concern for avoiding repetition.

Anyhow, moving on (and backwards), as the sun went down on Friday night I headed over to the
Etsy labs - also in Brooklyn- for the 2 year anniversary party for The labs not only serve as head office for the etsy enterprise, but are open to the public for craft workshops, getting support for your etsy shop, networking with other makers, trunk shows for international etsy members, and use of equipment and supplies like button makers and sewing machines (some free, some not). The labs are also home to a number of crafty enterprises like Burda Style and MAKE magazine. [Sounds like something off our CraftChat T.O. wishlist – anyone up for getting something like this going in Toronto??? ]

etsy labs sewing stash
Sewing corner @ Etsy Lab

Sitting in one of the etsy staff's gentleman's club-style office checking out the whiteboard to do list that included "screen print tote bags" and referenced a meeting with BUST magazine, I felt like I was in some parallel universe where crafters ruled the world and CEOs drink homemade soy chai lattes vs. aged scotch. Crazy business.

etsy labs sign

Other NYC craftiness included a visit to fabric addicts’ haven Purl Patchworks (the fabric division of
Purl Soho) and to the amazing design section at the Strand bookstore, where I picked up this beauty for an amazing price. Highly recommended!

Purl Patchwork Shop window NYC
Purl Patchwork Pinks NYC
Glorious bolts @ Purl Patchworks

Perhaps the most impressive of all of the weekend’s activities (second of course to riding the Cyclone at Coney Island, soon to RIP) was the Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting exhibit at the Museum of Art & Design (MAD). We were super lucky to stumble upon this Museum across the street from the MoMA after deciding not to join the insane lineup for free Friday entry (good to know about, if you’ve got the patience & don’t mind crowds).

Here’s a little blurb on the show, from the MAD program:

Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting explores knitting, crocheting, and lace-making by contemporary artists from around the world. Blow torches, fiber optics, digital technology, shredded currency, video, rubber, and chocolate are used by 30 artists to create memorable, surprising, and compelling works. They have reinvented traditional handcraft with new materials and unorthodox methods that defy categorization as art, craft, or design.

There were some seriously inspiring pieces in this show, on a conceptual level and in terms of pure craftsmanship (check out those mini-gloves!!!). I was particularly blown away by the meticulously hand cut muslin lace by
Piper Sheppard, and “Filigree Car Bombing” by NSCAD grad Cal Lane, who used a blow torch to create lace patterns into found car parts. ''Wartime Knitting Circle'', the basement installation by Sabrina Gschwandtner (founder of the truly awesome KnitKnit magazine), was also quite engaging: Surrounded by machine knitted photo blankets depicting various wartime knitting scenes, visitors were invited to use her patterns in producing items such as body count mittens (documenting U.S. Soldier deaths in Iraq) and knitted helmet liners.

Hildur BjarnadóttirUntitled (Skulls), 1999 (detail) 4 x 54 x 54 in. (5 x 136 x 136 cm).
Crocheted cotton yarn, wood table. Collection of the artist.

Radical_Lace_Merback Althea Merback (Ancient Greek Gloves), 2005. Silk thread. Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection, Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, Maysville. Photo: Althea Merback

Radical_Lace_Wilson_Topologies Anne Wilson (Topologies), begun 2002 (ongoing). Lace, thread, cloth, insect pins, painted wood support. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, and Paul Kotula projects, Detroit. Photo: Stephen Pitkin

So yeah, it was a great visit. If anyone has any New York craft/design finds to share, please do. Of course there is a million more to be discovered in that crazy, wonderful city….



Blogger Sweetie Pie said...

just a side note,

we were told at renegade that although most of coney island (read: astroland, the sideshow, et al) is being razed, the cyclone will survive due to its historic significnce. i was just starting to think that new york didn't care about history at all. turns out they do, but only a little bit.

nathan's will also allegedly remain.

anyone want to see pictures of our grand evening out in coney island? you get to see jen shooting guns and demolishing a funnel cake. it's like crafters gone wild.

1:52 p.m.  
Blogger bookhou at home said...

I'm sorry to hear the renegade was not all that great. It's hard at craft fairs to see really original work. I am so jealous that you saw the subversive knitting show. We are planning a trip to the big apple and am looking forward to purl soho. Thanks for the post.

2:24 p.m.  

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