Artisan Shows Provide Shop-Local Venues

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The hallway on the second floor of the Ward Bakery Building in Youngstown was largely empty on a mid-November afternoon, but in a few days it will be filled with artisans and other vendors for the 13th annual Artists of the Mahoning Commons Holiday Open Studio & Art Sale.

The show in the Mahoning Avenue building is just one of several opportunities for local artisans to showcase their work, particularly during the gift-giving season.

Marcie Applegate, one of the show organizers and owner of Flybird Designs, primarily makes jewelry in her studio but also does some photography and painting. She and a few other tenants offering classes there decided it would be a good idea to open the historic building to the public for an event.

“We just thought it would be a good outlet for local artists to sell their work and also invite the public in to see what a great historic building this is,” Applegate says.

The sale, one of two the Ward Bakery artists stage each year, will take place Thanksgiving weekend, featuring about 35 artists, half of who don’t have studio space in the building but are invited to showcase and sell their works. Visiting artists are charged $35 for each weekend – Ward Bakery tenants slightly less – to cover marketing costs.

The market takes place on consecutive weekends – the first was Nov. 19 and 20 – and between them, Applegate expects between 800 and 1,000 visitors to stop by.

“It’s so much fun to see everybody that I haven’t seen for a long time and meet new people,” says Maryann Limmer, who has a pottery studio in the building.

Entrepreneur Derrick McDowell was aware of the number of artisans participating in sales like Artists of the Mahoning Commons and Artists of the Rust Belt, as well as exhibiting at the Soap Gallery and other venues throughout the Valley.

Even so, he was surprised by the response to the launch of the Youngstown Flea Market for Makers, which ran monthly from April through October at a parking lot adjacent to the Covelli Centre. Beginning with 38 vendors at the April 23 market, he ended the season with about 65.

“I didn’t know we had that many makers and dreamers and creatives,” he says. “But I knew if I could get them a Broadway stage and open the curtain that the community would support them.”

McDowell is returning with the Holiday Flea, Dec. 2 and 3 at the DeYor Performing Arts Center, coinciding with the annual Youngstown holiday parade and tree lighting.

That timing is no accident.

“It’s a foundational event,” McDowell says. “The goal is to expose the message that we want to begin a new tradition downtown.”

Another new show for artisans this year is the Christmas Marketplace, a market at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s Tyler History Center on Dec. 4. The event, featuring more than 30 crafters, bakers and candy makers, is being staged based on the successful Memories of Christmas Past and Cookie Tables & Cocktails events, says Leann Rich, the society’s external relations manager and the marketplace co-ordinator.

“We wanted to give the bakers who are so generous to us the opportunity to sell their cookies for Christmas, like how the different churches used to do cookie walks,” Rich says. When they didn’t get enough response from bakers, organizers decided to open the show to crafters as well.

In total, 26 artists and bakers are exhibiting, enough to fill the center’s ballroom, Rich says. Depending on how the inaugural market goes, next year’s event could add bookings on the third floor to accommodate more vendors.

Rich is “very satisfied” with response to the inaugural event, which was marketed via news releases, social media and the society’s website as well as fliers at craft shows.

The same weekend as the Holiday Flea and Christmas Marketplace, the Butler Institute of American Art will stage its 46th annual Art & Artisan Show. The two-day event, Dec. 3 and 4, has more than 90 vendors booked, with more working through registration process, reports Wendy Swick, the museum’s public relations director. “A lot of times we have over 100,” she says.

Normally vendors confirm earlier for the event but some are concerned about the construction on Wick Avenue, she notes. Access to the museum is being maintained throughout the yearlong project. Contractors “always have someone letting people through to get to our driveway” and work is stopped on the weekends, making it “a little bit easier” to access.

Vendors at the Butler show offer handmade clothing and jewelry, woodcraft, health items, fragrances and baked goods, as well as paintings, photographs and metal sculptures.

“We use most of the main space in most of the galleries,” Swick says. “To preserve the artwork, they move a lot of it and store it safely so it can’t be damaged.”

Vendors are charged $250 per space for the annual show, she says. Funds raised support the Butler’s free programs and admission.

Staging the event last year cost $36,000 and organizers always try to find ways to cut expenses. Among the costs the Butler has to deal with, she says, are labor, security, marketing and advertising, paying Youngstown State University for the use of its Wick Avenue parking deck and, sometimes, entertainment.

Among this year’s vendors at the Butler’s show is painter Laurie Anderson of Artistic Designs by Laurie. A professional artist since she did her first commissioned portrait in 1991, she gave up her day job nine years ago to paint full-time. The Mineral Ridge artist works in watercolor, mostly doing flowers and landscapes. “I also paint on ceramic tile with alcohol ink and I frame those,” she says.

Anderson sells artwork through her website and on Esty, an e-commerce site focused on handmade and vintage items. She also does custom work, using either pencil or watercolor to recreate images clients send her.

Anderson has exhibited at the Butler’s show for 12 years, one of about 16 she participates in annually, including the Artists of the Mahoning Commons shows, Columbiana’s Christmas in the Woods in October and the Artists of the Rust Belt shows.

The next Artists of the Rust Belt show, the Last-Minute Market, is set for Dec. 18 at the B&O Station. Artists of the Rust Belt, which has been active for eight years, stages about five shows every year, says Tony Nicholas, executive director. Exhibitors “run the gamut,” from knitted works and home décor to photography and pottery.

Response has “been getting better and better,” drawing about 300 to 400 people on average, although an August show done in conjunction with a local car club draws about double those numbers, he reports.

The Last-Minute Market “draws a lot of people,” he says, predicting attendance will reach 500.

“It’s a one-day show for the first time this year. The building was booked solid so we could only get one day,” Nicholas says.

David Jones, proprietor of Chisel Me Timbers in Canfield, is exhibiting at both the Holiday Flea and Christmas Marketplace. A preservation carpenter by trade, in 2014 he began selling items he makes using woodturning, including honey dippers, bowls and plates along with smaller gifts like wine stoppers.

Jones began selling at craft shows 18 months ago, noting that his sales numbers “have been getting progressively better with each one. I certainly am getting a following,” he says. Selling his wares at these shows is also proving to be a business model, he says.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” he says. “If you put your time in and you don’t stagnate you certainly grow with it and I’ve grown with it.”

In addition to providing a sales venue beyond his website, the shows help Jones connect with the community. “People see that there is a group of individuals who want to support locally made small-business items and the community comes out to support the artists and the makers,” he says.

That’s also a sentiment he says that carries over to the internet. “You can be local but the world is local once you’re on the internet,” he notes. “People like to support small business. They like to support an individual as well as a corporation when they’re gift buying. They want to give something that has a more personal touch than big-box items.”

Pictured: Maryann Limmer operates her pottery studio in the Ward Bakery Building, 1024 Mahoning Ave., in Youngstown.

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