Being somewhat slow (read: old

and not particularly well-versed in the parlance of these modern times, I was nothing but puzzled when a teenage boy turned to his mother after studying several of my pieces at the show and asked, "Why does she put 'smh' on all of them?"

His mother pointed out that those are my initials, and therefore the way I sign each piece, but as they left the booth I was glad that she also explained to me that SMH stands for "shaking my head." 

OMG (oh my golly!)
How could I have lived 47 years
without knowing that?

So the sub-title of this:

The Small Works Show Report  
(Baltimore Edition)

will most certainly be "Shaking My Head" --  perfect since that is often my reaction to the roller-coaster world of exhibiting at a fine craft show.

I remember at one of my first shows there was an artist I had admired for many years -- poring over her work in books, drooling when I encountered her pieces in galleries. I was star-struck at seeing her in person, and just a few rows over!  I felt terribly unworthy.

She was encouraging and kind as we chatted a bit each day.  But it was with disbelief that I learned she ended up with a zero show -- no sales! -- and went away terribly dejected and questioning everything.

If it could happen to her, 
I knew it could happen to anyone.

Thank goodness I have yet to experience it, although zero days are all-too-common, and for some reason this particular Baltimore adventure had more than its share of those.

Good ol' ACC Baltimore booth #1123

Selling large pieces of fiber art in gaily painted frames is a little like selling real estate -- you've got to have just the right person come by, and then you have to get them in the booth! --  and sometimes the people who show up are just more interested in jewelery and fashion raincoats than in embroidery.  Fact.

One wall.

Another wall.

Yup.  The third wall.

Trusty booth hand.  
You can't hire help this good.  You have to marry it.

Hannah came up from Virginia to visit. We also enjoyed seeing many other members 
of our extended family, which made the weekend most enjoyable.

I should have suspected I could be in for trouble when I helped myself to TWO fortune cookies at dinner the first night and ended up with these:

I mean, I wasn't expecting "You will make a million dollars in the next four days", but Ms. Fate could have at least thrown me a few hopeful crumbs.

Happily, dismal show days

(and my entire neighborhood had the same experience)
can yield excellent fodder for: 

  "Overheard at the Show" . . .

It's an unbelievably hard working life for people who are actually supporting themselves with craft, and in addition there's just a lot more emotional investment in creating than in -- say -- accounting.

I actually felt a little choked up as I watched a 70-something-year-old woman in her cute show dress tiredly hauling enormous light tracks to her vehicle after standing on a concrete floor for four days with a smile pasted on . . . it reminded me that I had also seen a young woman with a baby on her hip earlier in the weekend, trying to make change, eat lunch, wrap a purchase and answer questions about her work in some kind of meaningful way all at the same time.

So it should be no surprise that if things aren't exactly humming at a show, you can listen in for a moment at any artist's booth and likely hear an existential self-examination of some kind in progress, including (but not limited to) at least one of the following questions:

Are my prices too high/low?!
What am I doing with my life?!
Is my work too ____ (fill in the blank)?!
Is my work going in the wrong direction?!
Does anyone care that I MAKE these things?!
Should I try teaching?!

You can set your watch by it -- empty the aisles of art lovers and you'll fill the booths with self-doubters.  It's actually quite funny . . . sort of. 

During the post-show-tear-down exodus (which is really quite a feat, in a show the size of Baltimore!) Russ looked at one of our fellow trekkers and commented that she was very smart to remember to bring work gloves.

She quipped, "I've been doing this for thirty years . . . or as I like to say, 'Oops!  I forgot to marry an attorney.'"

At least artists -- even disgruntled ones -- 
are usually entertaining.

Thursday afternoon one of my booth neighbors said, "This seems like a really long day . . . and I mean 13 or 14 years."  She was so bored she had begun hand-sewing a dress with a hotel mending kit, and was threatening to start gardening in her booth if things didn't pick up.

Another neighbor noted that it had turned into the kind of show that he lovingly calls "a petting zoo." 

As my doll-making friend observed, "It's such a delicate balance between wanting to sell and just wanting it to be over."

And it's impossible to predict the ebb and flow of the art-buying public -- 
every show is a fickle friend, at best.

One artist told me of a woman who explained that, although she ADORED them she couldn't possibly purchase one of his pieces because her doctor said she could only lift 5 pounds.  So she would just take a card instead (to which he really wanted to reply that his cards weigh just over 4.75 pounds . . .)  Actually, his pieces weigh less than three.

Thankfully, things picked up considerably on the weekend and the aisles were thronged with all the usual characters, as well as a few genuine art appreciators (even of the hand-stitched kind!)

One of my favorite sightings was a man wearing a Tabasco holster on his hip, complete with a half-used bottle of Tabasco sauce.  I suppose he had eaten at the show before and knew the eight dollar turkey wraps were so bland that even a four dollar diet coke couldn't improve them, so he came prepared . . .

A more elegant (but related) contraption, was the intricately hand-beaded  (gold plastic beads!) water bottle holder slung across the shoulder of an older gentleman who was also sporting, among other things, a top hat and a long silky patchwork coat with billowing sleeves that fluttered elegantly when he walked.

A less remarkably costumed man stopped directly in front of my booth, squirming a bit and complaining, "what I REALLY need to find is a way to get my pants to stay put!", His wife merely responded, "Yes, dear" and kept walking.  Embroidered suspenders crossed my mind . . . but only briefly.

We try not to laugh until these types 
are well out of earshot . . . 
that's just polite, after all. 

And I can't thank them enough for the entertainment --
it is certainly part of what makes shows worth doing.

All in all, it was a really good weekend -- contacts full of promise, new friendships begun, and several adoptions in which my children went to what will surely be wonderful homes.

To all who took the time to stop and spend a few minutes with me and my work, thank you.  Truly. You can't possibly know how much it means.  Because I am, after all,



Too cheesy?  Okay.  But it leads me to yet a third possible meaning for SMH -- "so much happiness" -- exactly the gift I receive each time I enjoy the enormous privilege of a weekend spent sharing the work of my heart and hands with a few people who find it to be beautiful, meaningful or worthwhile.

I suppose 
I'll keep at it.



Leenie said...

Welcome back SMH.(I think "So Much Happiness Fits" well). I guess in a case like this going home empty handed would be a good thing. Glad you met with some success and adopted out some of your beautiful and cleaver art children. It is such a bag of mixed feelings to see them leave!

Big shows like that are the BEST for people watchers. Your booth looks so bright and colorful and fascinating. I would have stopped and coveted all those pieces.

Looks like the fortune cookies have you pegged. Thanks for the update. Wish I didn't live so far off the beaten path so I could hope to meet you some day. Ever thought of a trip to Yellowstone Park? I know a great place to stay not far from there ;0D. (General Conf?--four hours away)

Allie said...

Got a good giggle that he thought you were signing your pieces with shaking my head....Susan, your post-show posts are always enlightening! I'm glad it wasn't a zero show my dear. I wish I could have been there myself!

I'm also wondering if I should start signing my pieces with my initials....AAH. Hm. Better ask my kids if that has any other meanings!

Amelia Poll said...

Sounds like the last day was a good one? :)

It was so much fun to see you. And so much fun to see your work I am so mad at myself that I forgot to get a picture with you and Boston. I even told Justin that I wanted to take one on Saturday. Argh. Oh well. Next time, I guess.

Boston says, "ah dath, *pbtttt*" which, roughly translated, means "love you, thanks for letting us come hang out with you :)

Jennifer Robin said...

I always enjoy your posts, but this one really spoke to me. Thanks for the reminder about freedom vs happiness; I needed to hear that today :)

Sara said...

Susan, we loved meeting you and feel so fortunate to have taken one of your "children" home. Thanks so much for coming to Baltimore! We hope to see you again soon. Sara & Jason

luanne said...

Glad you had a good show and got to be with Hannah too! But the parts of your post about self-doubt & zero-sales days & shows just really wrenched my heart; making a living in fine art/craft these days is certainly not for the faint of heart. Bravo to all who put yourselves out there.

And if you don't mind, I'm going to enlarge that last freedom/happiness fortune image and tape it right above my desk. So true!

susan m hinckley said...

Thanks for reading the whole long show report, friends -- and for your sympathies with/support of artists everywhere!

aveens11 said...

Susan, I'm in trouble: I often use the acronmy SMH because it's my local newspaper Sydney Morning Herald. Love your column. You must tell me how you so much visual variety. You're really accomplished. Anton Veenstra.

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