Once customers discover the Celebration of American Crafts, they will return every year, said executive director of Creative Arts Workshop (CAW) Susan Smith.
Celebration of American Crafts is an exhibition and sale of contemporary artwork presented by CAW every November and December. Now in its 35th year, the exhibition will showcase two floors of crafts by over 450 artists from throughout the United States.
The event is run entirely by volunteers, who select, inventory, display and sell the pieces. Meryl Drabkin, who has volunteered at the event for over 30 years, said she has noticed a change in the type of artwork on display.
“When it first opened, it was tie-dye, macrame and copper bracelets — hippie [things],” Drabkin said. “Then it gradually became much more sophisticated.”
Drabkin, who served on the selections committee this year, said she picked pieces that were “interesting and good quality, [ones you wouldn’t find at] a regular outdoor crafts show.”
Handmade and designed for all budgets and ages, the pieces include jewelry, clothing, ornaments, paper crafts, furniture and ceramic ware. On one shelf stand two leather penguins filled with tiny grains, a high-brow version of the Beanie Baby. Two seven-foot green flamingos occupy another corner. On the walls hang the carved tops of oil drums, which change colors in different weather conditions.
The exhibition is a major fundraiser for Creative Arts Workshop, a community-based school that offers visual arts classes for 3,000 students annually. CAW keeps 40 percent of the revenue from sales, which range from 50-cent trinkets to $4,000 quilts.
One group of artists, called My Sister’s Mustache, sent in bags made of subway maps and magazine covers. Another artist crafted tiny mice in costumes ranging from King Henry VIII to a kilted bagpipe player. Drabkin said one of her personal favorites was a series of wire figures constructed by artist Bruce Campbell. Campbell creates the figures — which range from bats to seahorses — on his daily commute into New York City.
“It gives him something to do on the train,” Drabkin said of the wire figures, which were a hit among customers last year.
Smith said the exhibit includes expensive art that might not sell, but enhances the show. These pieces, featured in the Collector’s Corner, include an elaborate fabric candy box and a series of geometric wooden figures posing as Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.
Smith said this year’s exhibition is bigger and better than ever, featuring the work of 120 new artists. For the first time, CAW will also offer three Featured Artists Weekends, each showing an expanded selection of one artist’s work. The featured artists — including an award-winning fiber artist and a jeweler — will be available to meet customers and explain their work.
Smith said artists selling at CAW’s exhibition enjoy several perks. Artists are not required to come in person, and pieces sell better at exhibits that display a variety of work.
“Artists do better in this kind of setup than in crafts fairs because when you see multiples of the same thing, it doesn’t seem as special,” Smith said.
Many customers said they have been coming to the event for years. Betty Monz, Director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, said she tries to take her two daughters every November.
“We make a priority to buy gifts,” Monz said. “It benefits artists and it benefits Creative Arts Workshop. It’s a win-win [situation].”
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