Crafts for sale at Audubon St. exhibit

Cuddly stuffed animals, along with blown glass globes, can now be seen side by side at a crafts celebration on Audubon Street.

Just in time for holiday shopping, the nonprofit Creative Arts Workshop is in the midst of its annual Celebration of American Crafts, which will continue for the next six weeks. Showcasing the works of over 450 artists from around the country, the exhibit features crafts that range in price from as little as $2 to a few thousand.

“People with any budget can find something to bring home,” said Rusti Icenogle, director of public relations and development for the workshop. “It gives access to the average person to see high-quality American crafts.”

The gallery space, which usually holds paintings, has transformed into a more object-oriented display.

“About 10,000 objects come in in about six weeks,” said Susan Smith, executive director of the workshop. “We try to highlight the big things in contemporary crafts in our displays.”

Smith said that while some of the items on the first floor are somewhat high in price, they are there mainly for display purposes. She said she does not expect some of the more expensive items, like the furniture, to sell, but thinks these crafts are important for people to see.

The second floor carries a wide range of crafts that are generally less expensive.

“We feature jewelry, toys, clay and more,” said Meryl Drabkin, this year’s chairwoman. “We try to have as wide a variety as possible.

A large part of the exhibit is crafts in the form of animals, including a Washington artist’s “Friendly Footstools” — soft, furry footstools in the shape of bears, moose and other animals.

“For some reason,” Smith said. “This is indeed the year of the animal.”

Smith also described a growing change in the view of crafts as aesthetic objects.

“Craft is merging with fine art,” she said. “Twenty years ago, more crafts would have been purely functional.”

Begun as a one-day fund-raiser for the workshop, the celebration is now in its 34th year. The workshop now runs classes with more than 3,000 students and has a faculty of over 55 artists. While the classes are mainly financially self-sustaining, the celebration helps to fund programs offered to the greater New Haven community. Smith said the event brings in about 15 percent of the workshop’s operating costs.

“We wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise,” she said.

In the years since its inception, the celebration has gained a core group of artists who return to sell their works every year. Other artists are found at large crafts shows and invited to submit their work for judging. A selection committee composed of volunteers then chooses which works to display.

Artists receive compensation for their submissions either by the workshop’s direct purchase or through sales’ commission, Drabkin said.

“We split it 60/40 with the artists,” she said. “So we’re pretty generous.”

The exhibition will continue through Dec. 24 and is free and open to the public.

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