Creativity is taking something as pedestrian as a coffee cup sleeve and turning it into a vibrant piece of art. The minds of these three artists remind me how much I love people.
Shopping blog featuring products made by people not factories.
The neighborhood of Del Ray in Alexandria, Virginia has a great little motto: “Where Main Street Still Exists.” And it is absolutely true. Del Ray’s main street, Mount Vernon Avenue, is lined with adorable shops and independent restaurants. It is the kind of place that encourages residents to hang around close to home, rather than wander into the city, and also lures in people from neighboring towns who are looking for something different.
One of those adorable shops is called A Show of Hands, and it is my favorite kind of place: a store completely devoted to selling the works of local artists and crafters.
Currently more than 300 artists have their work on display there, and more are added all the time. Nearly every artist featured is from Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC or West Virginia, with just a few sprinkled in from other areas.
A Show of Hands will celebrate its fifth anniversary this November, and over the years has served as the launching pad for several northern-Virginia area artists and crafters.
Store owner Pat Miller, who is also chairman of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts, says that was her intention all along. While the store accepts work in all mediums from artists of all levels of expertise and experience, the focus tends to be on emerging artists. Those who maybe still have their day jobs, and can’t yet focus completely on their artwork.
Having their goods for sale at a store like A Show of Hands is often the first step to working on their art full time.
The inventory at A Show of Hands is purposefully diverse. Paintings, photography, pottery, fiber work, soaps, jewelry, wooden toys, and homemade jam all have a place there, in addition to nearly anything else a local artist could dream up. The store even sells work from local musicians and poets, and occasionally sells tickets to events starring resident recording artists.
Pat and co-owner Maria Wasowski plan trunk shows and demonstrations at the store that feature resident artists, and are also planning to host performances at the shop sometime in the future.
The most popular items in the store are jewelry and baby goods, as the shop is a very popular destination for locals looking for that unique and special gift. After all, nobody wants to show up at a baby shower with the fifth Baby Gap sweater.
The store’s unique and ever-changing stock has made it a favorite destination for locals as well as tourists visiting Alexandria. Many of the handcrafted goods in the store cannot be found anywhere else!
A Show of Hands is located at 2301 Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria, VA. Drop by Tuesday through Fridays 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturdays 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Sundays noon to 5:00 pm.
Cal Breed: Cal Breed’s parents were an artist and an engineer, and he has spent his artistic life trying to bridge the dual inheritance. He works to combine the creative with the mechanical, the expressive with the critical.
In 1994 Breed was moved to work with his hands, and he began to venture into the world of glass. He spent months as an apprentice to Cam Langley, one of the South’s very few hot-glass artists. He became entranced by the medium of glass and the process by which it is made. As he progressed in his explorations, Breed studied with a variety of glass masters from around the U.S., working to develop his skills as a designer and as a craftsman. Once again, he searched for ways to combine technical proficiency with unique design.
Please welcome Laura Trevey to Try Handmade! She is a watercolor artist and blogger who is going to be writing two columns each week. Here’s her first painting column (look for photograpy tomorrow), and I know she’d appreciate any recommendations of your favorite artists in this medium. Just leave them in the comments and welcome her to Try Handmade!
I am drawn to bright and beautiful art, so it is no wonder that Lisa Congdon’s work caught my eye! This San Francisco mixed media artist and illustrator is one to notice. Aside from four painting classes, Lisa is entirely self-taught. She uses her lack of training to her advantage: instead of following refined technique, she works with her own sense of color, composition and design as her guide.
In her shop you will find a variety of paintings, prints, drawings and collages. This gouache painting on masonite speaks to me. The rich colors and wonderful composition lead your eye around the page. I love all of the different and interesting shapes throughout.
This birdhouse archival print is whimsical and fun! You may think all of the houses are painted pink. However, if you look closer, you will find a wide range of colors used such as orange, mauve, magenta, rose, purple, etc. This creates more interest and depth.
Everyone loves birds, and this Finch archival print is simply adorable! There is a lot of detail in the actual painting of the bird. Therefore a plain background works well and is very complimentary. Add a splash of color to your room.
Thank you Lisa for sharing your incredible talent with us. Your work is cheerful and colorful indeed!
You’ve always liked art. In fact your favorite memories from summer camp are the arts and crafts classes. You’ve made dozens of friendship bracelets. You can latch hook a rug like nobody’s business. You still have that composition book with the black and white marble cover, from when you went through your poetry phase in junior high. You painted watercolor unicorns and action figures. You sculpted miniatures of the entire cast of “Saved By The Bell” out of clay. But, you grew up. You got a job. You became responsible. But it’s still there, somewhere inside of you. You wonder, what would my life be like right now if I’d pursued art?
Well, you’ll be happy to know you have some options. You could pay the $35,000 per year to go to a private art school, or, you could mosie on down to Gallery’s Choice in Downers Grove, Illinois and learn oil painting, stained glass, jewelry making, watercolor painting, mosaics, copper enameling, acrylic painting, lampworking, origami, or silk painting. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
The owners, Rose and Bill Jarecki, along with their daughter, Katie, are living testaments to what life can be like when a person follows their dream. Having gotten an MBA and spent fifteen years in corporate marketing, Rose decided to leave that life behind and follow her dream of living an artistic life. She is a self-taught glasswork and silk-painting artist who has pieces displayed in the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.
The shop has been open for five years in Downer’s Grove and in that time has gone through some radical changes. Giving up half their retail space, for one. I asked her what made her decide to partially turn her art gallery into a working art studio. “I noticed other artisans getting discouraged and not making the money selling their work as they’d hoped,” Rose explains. “Customers have changed their focus when it comes to the arts. More and more people are saying, ‘I don’t want to buy it, I’d rather experience it, make it myself’.
“And if they do want to buy something, they want it to be custom and unique. Not something that’s been sitting on a shelf somewhere. The most successful artists are the ones who respond to the customer’s wants. So we made the decision to dedicate 50 percent of our retail floor space to classroom and studio space.”
I asked how business has changed since going from being just a retailer, to a retailer and art learning center. “I really feel that we are giving back to the community,” she says. “We are very family oriented with a hands-on approach. We’re doing both chilldren’s and adult’s classes, but I especially love being able to give kids the support I always had as a kid. I was allowed to try anything. We’ve had over 5,000 Girl Scouts come through our doors. And we make sure that students have some success right away, in order to encourage them to not be afraid to try different, maybe more complicated techniques.”
It’s not just kids who keep the shop busy. Gallery’s Choice hosts “Girls’ Night Out” events, birthday parties, and couples’ stained glass classes. And, I have to mention that I was impressed and surprised at how much shelf space had been given to display beginning artists and art students. “People are more sensitive to keeping business local. So, the community seeks us out. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t really matter, as much as you might think, if a piece is made by a beginner versus a long-time professional. Customers are telling me, ‘I don’t want a print or a replica. I’m tired of going to the mall.’ I’m hearing that on a daily basis. If a piece speaks to a person, they buy it and the value is that it’s been made by hand.”
The response to Rose and Bill’s hands-on approach has been tremendous. I can’t help wondering if we can expect their model to be the new direction for art galleries and shops. But, Bill feels there’s room for different art experiences. “We like to make art more accessible for people, that’s true. But, there’s definitely room for our type of shop, as well as the high end galleries. In fact, people come into our place and learn to make and buy art, and then they are not afraid to go to the high end shows. If they take a stained glass class here, then they can attend a retrospective on Louis Comfort Tiffany and feel comfortable. They are now interested and not intimidated. They feel they understand the work better, they can speak with knowledge about the medium and the process, and can better appreciate the genius of the masters.”
Increasing their class offerings has certainly transformed the business, but Gallery’s Choice remains, very much, a gallery with dozens of local artists and artisans on display. “In the beginning it was just my work. I was kind of scared to let other artists show here,” Rose admits. “Coming from a business and not an art background, I struggled with wondering if I was good enough, but it was about getting over that. Artists just found us through word of mouth. I’m glad, now, that I had the confidence to let other artists show their work alongside mine. It’s been wonderful. We’ve found such a high quality of work. Jewelry, fiber arts, glass makers, etchings. And we get tons of referrals from customers as well.”
And now, Gallery’s Choice is using the social networking site Facebook in order to give the public a chance to see some classroom experiences, new artists and upcoming programs and events. I asked Rose if giving up half the sales floor has affected the number of artists they are able to show. “Oh, there’s always room for one more,” she replied. “We aim to keep our gallery accessible. We are a self made environment.”
Gallery’s Choice, 1014 Curtiss Street, Downer’s Grove, IL, 60515, USA.