Celebration of American crafts kicks off

There is a celebration down on Audubon Street.

Last Saturday, the Creative Arts Workshop Community School, located at 80 Audubon St., opened an art exhibit called “Celebration of American Crafts,” a retail exhibit of artwork — ranging from sculpture to jewelry — by American artists from across the nation. Now in its 42nd year, the Celebration provides an opportunity for artists to show and sell their work to a public that normally would not see their art, while providing a revenue stream for the Workshop through sales of pieces.

A retail exhibition of artwork run by the Creative Arts Workshop gave the public a chance to see and buy art.
The New Haven Creative Arts Workshop
A retail exhibition of artwork run by the Creative Arts Workshop gave the public a chance to see and buy art.
The New Haven Creative Arts Workshop
The New Haven Creative Arts Workshop

Beyond the retail aspect of the show, the Celebration also serves an educational purpose for students in the school, said Susan Smith, executive director of the Workshop and associate master of Branford College.

“The goal of the exhibition is to have students exposed to examples of artwork from professionals,” Smith said. “It’s an educational tool.”

The exhibit was originally created in 1968 as a one-day sale event to celebrate the opening of the fall term of the school, Smith said. The event has since come back year after year, acting now as one of the major sources of funding for the Workshop, Smith said. It has also grown since its initial inception in number of participants and amount of funds raised, she added, noting that today the Celebration is a two-month-long event, versus the founding one-day bash.

Over 300 artists are presenting their artwork in this year’s exhibition, a long list that includes professors and students of the Workshop, along with artists from around the country who have been invited by a selection committee — a group comprising administrators and faculty members at the Workshop. Anyone else interested in presenting work at the exhibition is welcome to submit pieces to the committee as well, which then handpicks the pieces that go up in the exhibit, said Nancy Duble, a member of the selection committee who also sits on the Board of Directors at the Workshop.

“Organizing this event is a yearlong job,” Duble added. “We go to several galleries and art exhibitions to find people who would be a good addition. We ask them if they would like to participate, and then draft a contract.”

Of the 300 participating artists, at least 100 of them are new every year. Smith added.

Eighty percent of the work in the exhibition is on consignment, which means the artists agree to present their work without being paid upfront by the Workshop, allowing the school to keep their work for the duration of the show. If the consigned art sells while on display at the Workshop, 40 percent of the funds go to the school and the remainder goes to the artist, Smith said.

Penny Toney, one of the sales associates working at the Celebration, added that 40 percent of the funds collected from the exhibition go toward creating more scholarships for students attending the school, as well as toward funding more art programs in the community.

The exhibition includes handmade jewelry, wearable and decorative fibers, ceramic pottery, items of clothing ranging from scarves to jackets and coats, and metal and wood decorative pieces.

“They have a great selection, and lovely art work,” said a New Haven resident who was looking around the shop for items.

The resident was among seven other shoppers who had gone to see the exhibition last Sunday afternoon.

Kris Wetmore, an art teacher at the Workshop as well as a sales associate at the exhibit, said that while most of the attendants are local New Haven and Connecticut residents, there are also organized groups from neighboring states such as Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts.

“We see people that come in town every year just to see the exhibit and do their Christmas shopping,” Toney said.

The exhibition closes Dec. 24. The Workshop — which was founded in 1960 — will also be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

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