In 1998 I was a lowly freshman at IU, going home every weekend to visit friends and family and not really taking in all the amazing-ness that this town I’ve come to call home had to offer. In 1999 I was a sophomore, going home less and experiencing life more. I’d been back in Bloomington a week, classes had just begun, and I stayed in town for Labor Day weekend – the first of many. But, since it was a new dorm, I hadn’t yet met the many life-long friends I would eventually come to Love, and so I ventured downtown alone and came upon one of the most impressive sights I’d ever laid eyes on. Fourth Street Festival.
I didn’t know what it was. I’d just stumbled into it. Tent after white tent filled with colorful, awe-inspiring paintings, photography, pottery. It went on forever and ever. I felt . . . both lost and at home in the same breath. I’d never been to an art fair before. Heck, I’d never been to a craft show – even your grandma’s craft show (though my grandma was super crafty). And here I was, in a sea of creativity, surrounded by stunning work made by the hands of the very people sitting in those tents…and I was amazed.
For the next 14 years Fourth Street Festival would be my dream. Every year I would go, aisle by aisle seeing the new artists, the old artists – watching them grow and learn and evolve. I would look at their name tags and see the ‘exotic’ places they were traveling from (Florida, Washington, Michigan, California) and wonder what it must be like to be them . . . to travel the world selling art and doing what you Love.
When I started selling my art at shows (in 2009), I never imagined I would ever in a million years even remotely try to sell my work at Fourth Street. It was so beyond me, so above me, so . . . much better than me. It was something I always aspired to, but nothing I never thought would really happen. Then, one day I had the nerve to ask the President of Fourth St herself what she thought of my work . . . and if she thought I should apply to the show. And she said yes, and then, there was no turning back.
That year I applied, and I was promptly denied. I wasn’t heartbroken though. I’d applied! To my first ART show. Fourth Street Festival, for those of you that don’t know, is one of the top-billed Fine Art Shows in the country. And it’s here, in my small little town, on Labor Day weekend. It was an honor to even have been considered. So, then, the next year, I applied again. I don’t give up, that’s one thing you’ll learn about me eventually. And, alas, I was wait-listed. WAIT LISTED!!! I was beyond excited! I nearly cried. I might have cried. I didn’t get in though, but I didn’t care. I’d been WAIT LISTED! And so, the next year, (this year), I applied again. My photos were better. My booth was better. Let’s face it, my product has gotten loads better. And again, I was wait listed. And I was still A-OK with that. I’d just gotten home from two wholesale trade-shows and was feeling the pain of too many orders for these two little hands to create.
And then . . . Friday morning before the Saturday/Sunday show I got the call. I dropped the phone. Literally, no, I’m serious, when ‘…Fourth Street Festival…’ came out of her mouth I dropped the phone and tears came from my eyes. I kid you not. Someone had cancelled at the last minute and I was IN!!!! “So, you want the spot then,” she said when I picked the phone, and my mouth, off the ground. “YES!” Are you effing kidding me!? This is my DREAM! My ultimate art goal in life! Of course I’m in. I’m there. I’m yours. Show me the dotted line, and I’ll be there.
And so, that’s how it came to be that I was able to participate in my dream show – my ultimate goal that I’ve had for the past 14 years in the making. Something I never thought possible, something I never thought imaginable, something I never thought I would be good enough for. And I was. I am. I am good enough for Fourth Street Festival.
And now here I am . .. with my dream having come true. And on the high from that for weeks afterward. . . but where to go now? Where do you go when you finally reach that dream you’ve been hoping for FOURTEEN years?! Up. You keep going up. So, I’ll tell you now my dream, though I often don’t share these for fear of jinxing things – but like I said, I don’t give up. And so, one word. I’ll leave you with one word and hopefully, not in another 14 years, but if it takes that long I’m ok with that, I’ll be writing another post with another dream because this one will be reached. Anthropologie.
Things have been quite hectic around here lately – what, with summertime coming to an end, all the kids starting new schools in the fall, birthdays, trade shows, the Gathering pop-up shop, art shows, and then I found out Pearl and the Beard is coming to northern Indiana in early September!!
Nonetheless, with all the excitement and change that has been coming and still is coming – I have to recognize that my little boy turned four! Four!
To think, just four short years ago I sat not knowing what was about to happen . . . how my heart would grow exponentially to fit in all the Love for this little curious, talkative, sing-songy boy that Loves to dance, Loves to draw, Loves to hug and snuggle . . . a little boy so different and yet so much the same from our other children . . . a little boy with bright blue eyes, a smile that goes on for years and years and that perfectly straight blonde hair that gets all the girls looking and commenting. To think, just four short years ago I was walking around in late July at the county fair, counting down the hours until he would come into my life . . . sweating bullets in the 90+ degree heat while the other kids rode rides and screamed at the top of their lungs while they filled with the smells, the scents, of elephant ears and funnel cakes and Indiana sweet corn. This was the world you were brought into little boy – this wonderful little world of ours filled with who knows what and who knows when, but us. And we’re perfect, all 5 of us.
And so I finally got around to catching up in two of his baby books (of sorts) and while the book goes from 3 year birthday letter to 3 1/2 and directly to 4 – it’s all ok. I think he’ll understand we’ve led a busy life living these days and didn’t quite have the time to write it all down while it was happening. Oh my Love.
It’s been weird these last few days . . . or weeks. I’m not used to spending this much time away from my family, my responsibilities, my making . . . I find myself enjoying the time, but then feeling guilty for it.
Every morning is the same, and I Love it (sometimes). I wake up early, stretch and shower. I pack my lunch, and head out the door just as the sun is rising. In Chicago it’s earlier, in Atlanta I wait a bit to see the sun before I head out. Either way, it’s gorgeous. I walk a block, turn, walk another four, taking in the shops of the city, the shops I hope that will come visit me here at the Chicago Gift Market. A few have in the past (Paper Source, Francesca’s) a few might not ever make it the 15 minute train ride down to the Mart (Anthropologie, Free People) but I still marvel at their windows, their accessories, their message. I walk on.
I can hear the train rumble on its tracks as I get closer and closer to my station. While I can’t see it, I know it’s there. There are a lot of things like that in the city. Like, benches. I want to take a break, stop and take all of this in without just looking like a tourist stopping in the middle of the street to soak. But, the first outdoor seating I find is taken by two homeless men still sleeping from the night before. I marvel at their bravery. I don’t pity them, nor am I scared of them. I just acknowledge they are there and don’t interrupt their slumber.
At last I arrive at my station. Stairs. Stairs Stairs. Atlanta had escalators at every turn so stairs are almost (almost) a welcome occurrence. The train station is above ground, even above above ground and the sun is rising behind the city and it’s beautiful. It’s amazing. It’s breathtaking. There is dew and a bit of rain most likely on the benches here, but I don’t care. I will dry, or I won’t. I sit and bask. The train rumbles and unlike in Atlanta, I wait to rise. The train isn’t going anywhere without me. There are not hundreds of people waiting for this train at 6:35 am on a Saturday. No, there’s just me, a sweet girl on the bench 100 feet to my left, and the sweet sweet sun on my left. We board, and the train is filled with light and windows and possibility.
May I never be in the city long enough to ride the train into (or out of) the metropolis and not open my eyes, not peer out the windows showing you what you’re about to face today. The opportunities are endless. The possibilities forever. And I plan to watch my forever with eyes wide open.
American Greetings approached a friend of mine at this past week’s AmericasMart in Atlanta, “Can you make 20,000 of these?” to which she responded, while nodding her head in dismay and fear, “Yes!” It got me to thinking . . . would I respond the same way, and could I within reason?
If you haven’t noticed yet, each and every item I make is one of a kind due to the materials that I use. The book boxes are created from discarded books and thus, while they might have the same cut-out inside, they are all a different REAL vintage books on the outside. My leather work is the same way– the leather I use is reclaimed, recycled, upcycled (whatever you want to call it these days) and comes to me in bits and pieces and very occasionally in large sample segments or hides. I’ve created four lines from the materials that have enough consistency within them that I feel comfortable doing trade shows and selling wholesale to shops – but, alas, they are still one of a kind. Could I make products that weren’t so one of a kind? Yes, I could. But it would change my entire process, my buying intuition, and my goal.
I make one of a kind items because I don’t want 20,000 of the same journal flitting around downtown NY like something you bought of a shelf from Barnes and Noble. I want my work to stick out. To be remembered. To be a keepsake. I want to create art. I don’t want to create mass-produced products that fit in fine on the shelf at Wal-Mart. That’s not why I’m doing what I’m doing.
But the money. Oh yes, the money. Can you imagine, 20,000 products to a single store in the course of 3-6 months – would help pay any child’s tuition, buy a new car, pay off our mortgage. That money could do a whole lot of things, but it wouldn’t make ME (deep down) happy knowing I’m just adding to the conglomeration of STUFF. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am adding to that conglomeration, but I want my addition to be mine and mine alone and make a difference.
So I’ve had to think long and hard after this last show about where I want Conduit Press to go. Do I want to hire a small factory of amazing women to join me in my endeavor and produce produce produce . . . or do I want to employ like-minded individuals who share my vision of creation in making only one of a kind items that put me in difficult situations when attending trade shows with big name companies who want to buy you out. Yes, that’s what I want. What a great problem to have, no?
I started this business as art. It will end that way. The past year I’ve been grooming myself to move into the Art Fair world (away from my beloved Indie Craft) and all that would be for naught if I were to change my process, my materials, my end-goals. I’m not a production factory, I never will be. I will eventually hire help, but my work will still remain the same. Custom to a point. One of a kind. Artistic. No other single person will have a piece of work exactly like another, and that’s how I (personally) like it. It will remain art. Or at least, I like to think so.
This is all not to say I don’t appreciate the fine art behind those who are able to produce like-minded objects – I admire them more than you know – it’s just not how I roll.