In the age of mass production and underwhelming quality, it’s not easy to find that truly special piece you’ve been looking for. At the Contemporary Crafts Market, you’ll find a plentiful selection of custom items fit for the home of your dreams.
BY: Sara Smola
For those looking to elevate their home, a trip to IKEA isn’t going to cut it. The Contemporary Crafts Market is a one-stop event to peruse artisanal handcrafted goods for the home and beyond. The Market’s artisans will be on hand to explain their inspirations, work ethic, and process in detail. With a multitude of categories from furniture to jewelry to weavings, the Market has something for everyone, at every price point.
Contemporary Crafts Market Founder and CEO Roy Helms was inspired to start the Market over 30 years ago because he was appalled at what he saw as the lack of opportunity to purchase American-made, handcrafted products. “There was a void, there wasn’t a show like this. We started in Santa Monica because the Civic Auditorium was quite amenable to having us start a show there. It was too small for a major national show, but it was just right for a regional show,” says Helms. The show quickly outgrew the space, making a new home in the Pasadena Convention Center. “We’re going to be at 200 [exhibitors] this year. It started at about 150 and as word spread, the audience grew. It’s not in a demeaning way, but I was told by many people, ‘Los Angeles has no taste, you can’t do a market there of quality work.’ I said, ‘Then our job is to educate them,’ and that’s exactly what we did. We brought good quality, high-end crafts, and the public has responded. They’ve been responding well for 30 years.”
From Nov. 11–13, over 200 exhibitors will gather at the Pasadena Convention Center to showcase their American-made, handcrafted artisanal products that range in categories from wearables such as textiles and jewelry, to ceramics and home furnishings. Yet, despite being in the same categories, each exhibitor features vastly dissimilar products. “The interesting thing is that there are many jewelers there, of course, but they’re all different. Every single one is different,” says Helms. “There’s so much originality and creativity. It’s like visiting 200 boutiques all in one place.”
To maintain the highest caliber of quality and to ensure the uniqueness of the offerings, Helms and his team go through each submission individually before deciding which to accept—or reject. “[Exhibitors are] reviewed, and there are rejections but they’re not permanently rejected, they can come back and try again,” says Helms. Along with quality and craftsmanship, another prerequisite is that everything sold must be handcrafted and American-made. “You can’t be buying your products from China and then selling them at our show,” Helms scoffs. “Everything has to be made by you and made in the U.S.A.”
For those seeking to have their first pick, Helms emphasizes the best time to come is Friday morning. “The Friday crowd that comes to the show when it opens knows there are one-of-a-kind pieces, and if they don’t come on Friday they won’t get to choose from the wide variety—there’s no second chance because these are one-of-a-kind, and that’s when our most dedicated customers come.”
The show attracts thousands from the community and beyond, and those who participate can receive national exposure. Enamelist Marianne Hunter has had her work featured in prominent galleries for institutions such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. And, textile designer Nancy Kennedy received national exposure when one of her woven rugs was featured in the February issue of the design publication Dwell. Kennedy notes, “Every time I participate in the Market, I meet new people who appreciate my art. The Contemporary Crafts Market gives the public access to a wide array of beautiful, handcrafted items that are just not available in most stores. Meeting the artists in person adds an element not available in other venues. When you purchase our handiwork, you are buying a piece of the artist.”
Though the talent of the professionals is of museum quality, the exhibitors are warm, welcoming, and eager to share their creative process with anyone who asks—whether you’re a serious buyer or merely curious, the artisans are truly passionate about their craft. “Take the time to talk to the artists, to ask them questions, to find out about their work and technique,” says Helms. “For many people now, you go to the store and you buy things that come from China, but to actually meet the artists and have someone explain how something’s made—that’s what’s special about our show.”
MEET THE MAKERS
In just a few weeks, over 200 Contemporary Crafts Market exhibitors will gather at the Pasadena Convention Center to showcase their handcrafted goods. Here are a few of our favorites to watch out for.
City: Pasadena, CA
Years Participating: 5
Craft: Woodturning How did you get started? I have made things all my life. As a child, I would hop on the bus from my home in Altadena and head to the Boy’s Club (located where Villa Park is now) and spend many afternoons in the wood and lapidary shops. Wood is one of the few materials we shape in our art that comes directly from living plants. Customers are attracted by the wood and often ask me about the origins of the wood I use—if not, I usually tell them of my use of urban-forest wood—how I salvage wood from dead and dying trees—how I will try almost any wood in search of new beauty. I will tell them of the range of wood I have found locally and point out examples. I will tell them the story of the wood involved in particular objects when I can. I also will describe how the life of the wood in a growing plant shapes the wood in the object they are examining. I try to capture the quality of the wood in my work—it is the wood itself that draws many customers to examine the work more closely. They love to touch the work—feel its surface and, when possible, the weight, often lightness, of the object in their hands. I use other materials—metal, glass, and stones—to enhance and contrast with the qualities of the wood rather than hiding the wood behind opaque surfaces.
City: Eureka, CA
Years Participating: 8
Craft: Handwoven area rugs and wall hangings How did you get started? After graduating from college, I worked in various office jobs until I left that world and learned to paint wood-carved songbirds and duck decoys, which my late husband and I sold at small art and craft shows in Southern California. I did not have an art background, but found I had some talent for it.
I had never thought about weaving until a friend asked me if I would take a beginner’s class with her. It was one night a week for four weeks and the project was a wool scarf. I was immediately captivated. We were allowed to take table looms home with us between sessions, and I would stay up half the night, working on my scarf. After that first class, I got my first floor loom and continued to take classes and workshops. It was early on that I determined rugs were what I most wanted to weave. Over the next few years, I acquired more looms and then ultimately got the big rug loom I use now. I was in my 50s when I started weaving. By the time the Market happens in November, I will have turned 79, and I have no intention of slowing down anytime soon. Discovering weaving opened a whole new world and I have never looked back. I had finally discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up.
City: Los Angeles, CA
Years Participating: 3
Craft: Functional art and sculpture. I specialize in creating works of art from salvaged trees, steel, glass, and leather. How did you get started?
I have been creating and refining my art form the majority of my life. My deep connection to and artistic interpretations of nature were formed when I was very young. The design and composition of my work was refined while at SCI-Arc and draws from 25-plus years of architectural design experience. As a child I was always designing and building things—Lincoln Log cities, tree houses, and snow forts. Once I was big enough to hold a hammer, my father taught me woodworking and an appreciation for design and craftsmanship. I began designing and building furniture in high school, continuing throughout college and as an architectural designer. Designing and building furniture and functional art has always been a favorite of mine, as it is such an intimate process and connects me personally with the art.
I founded Primal Modern to integrate my passion for the beauty of nature, precision design, craftsmanship, and environmental sustainability. My designs are inspired by nature and the art and philosophy of “wabi-sabi.” When people “feel” my work, I know I’ve achieved my goal.