Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

A Tale of Two Shows: Part I, One of a Kind Show and Sale

One of a Kind Show - Merchandise Mart - Dec. 5-8

Chicagoans love their art fairs and flock to attend in big numbers. The first big one is 57th Street Fair in the Hyde Park neighborhood (think U. of Chicago and Obama home) and finishes off with a bang the first weekend of December. If you live in this area you will have a long withdrawal period between December and June.

December 5-8 heralds the best overall shopping weekend for the city. The One of a Kind Show draws huge crowds of shoppers. There are over 600 spaces full of interesting gifts, including sculpture, large paintings and designer cheeses and everything in between, all price points represented. 

A large section of the show is the "Fashion District" that has an amazing array of beautifully designed clothing in fabrics from silk to recycled cashmeres. You know there was jewelry including everything from crocheted to gold and gems.

This event is "juried by check". If you as an artist have the wherewithal to spend a minimum of $2500 to be there then you can be in the show. What you get in exchange (besides a warm heated building, carpeted floors, good lighting and signage, coat checks, a 10 x 10 space, unlimited free passes for your customers, a professionally presented show, a great website that promotes you all year, amazing PR and news releases, etc.) is a crowd that is happy and excited to be there and ready to shop. 

Here's what we found:

When we arrived on Friday morning there were long lines waiting for the elevators to go to the 8th Floor. We took the stairs and upon arriving were caught in another long line that wrapped around the core of the 8th floor as people patiently waited to check their coats. My thanks to jewelers Robert Trisko and Ian Lieberman who stowed our coats behind their booth ... otherwise we'd still be in line.

I attended with my friend Sandy and within 10 minutes of our arriving she said, "let's come again next year." It has that kind of feeling that you are seeing and being part of something special and that the next booth will not disappoint but be even more interesting.

What is missing: any pretense that this is anything but a buying opportunity for the attendees. Do not expect children's activities, bands to entertain the young, or sponsors that are anything but classy (a nice Toyota booth near a bar was a nice touch.)

Besides artists we all know and respect (printmaker George Raab, glassblower Paul Willsea, doll maker Lucia Fredericy, photographer Mikel Robinson, painter Carla Bank, jeweler Christine Bartling, printmaker Marina Terauds, digital artist Chuck Wimmer, quilt maker Kelly Marshall, Mimi Damrauer, photographer Oscar Matos Linares, jeweler Robert Trisko and metals Elaine Unzicker) you will see artisanal baked goods, soup mixes, chocolates, pasta, salsa, etc.Booth with a view: Laurie Freivogel took advantage of the natural light with her glass and the show stopping view through her window of downtown Chicago.

Here is Jim McCollum's booth. Nice color for his work, isn't it? You get hard walls and then can have them painted any color you like. This is a union facility, so don't show up in your painting clothes.

Here are a few booth shots to give you an idea of the variety of the work.This booth in addition to the mobiles had a case of jewelry in the same designs, beautifully displayed (the crowds were too large I couldn't get a shot). That is another difference at this show, you are free to show work in different media within your booth.

Wood pieces by Angelica Montoya

Exhibitors were from across the country and  many had simple but dramatic booths, just a few props done in an unusual way, lit well, and they were ready.

We enjoyed meeting Angie Consalvo whose work was all a collage of recycled fabrics made into bags, wall pieces, jewelry and had a very cute booth whose background and flooring was all painters drop cloths that added that looked great with her work. She kindly posed for the camera ;)

We made a return trip on Sunday morning and the crowds were there again and the buzz was on and some booths were noticeably emptier of work, although I did speak with a friend who said, "I'm still in the red." My summary: great place to shop, a wonderful place to expose your work to people who understand the value of one of a kind handmade work, but you have got to know your market do all the preparation and roll the dice.

On the El platform going home:

Not only were we happy shoppers but the people on the other side of the tracks heading to the northern suburbs had obviously been there also.

Did I mention that it was 9 degrees in the city that Saturday and it got as high as maybe 15? On Sunday the snow started and we got out of town just in time.

We will return.


Here is a video from 2011:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkilBI-UqHI

If you "search this site" you can learn a lot more, including a post from Steve Cebula and a lot more.

See Part II of this post about the Lambs Farm Craft Show right here: http://www.artfairinsiders.com/profiles/blogs/a-tale-of-two-shows-p...

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Comment by geri a. wegner on December 17, 2013 at 3:54pm

You forgot to mention that OOAK does not require the art be OOAK, hence, Mistura was there.

(I see red every time I see their booth)

I will be going next year.  Talked my partner in crime into taking Friday off so we can go.  

Comment by Amy Ikenn on December 17, 2013 at 5:05pm

This is not juried by check.  I know several artists who have tried for years to get in and have been rejected.  Some categories are easier than others.  Also, the contract does state that everything must be hand made by the listed artist, but they do allow sales help so they do not require that the artist be on the premises.  An attempt was made by a group of people to discuss the watch issue with them, but yes, they were there.
Connie - I hope some day I meet you.  You seem to attend many shows that I am participating in but I guess we keep missing each other!

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 17, 2013 at 5:21pm

Heh, heh, Geri. I put that in there just for you ...

Actually I thought you were in Florida this time of year. I did get to meet face to face those other stalwart buyers in Chicago Ed and Judie Seidman and actually have a video with Ed talking about how and why and what they buy and attend art fairs.

Thanks for that clarification, Amy. My apologies to you and everyone at OOAK. I guess the mix of exhibitors just looked to me that way. 

I should have checked the exhibitors list before I went. I missed so many people that I wanted to meet including you and Carla Bank too! Couldn't believe that. I love these shows and could spend days looking at everything and meeting so many great people and shopping too that I get a little overwhelmed and promised my traveling partner that we would not stop at every booth, but now I am so sorry I missed so many people.

Comment by mary johnston on December 17, 2013 at 6:01pm

Hi Connie.....thanks again for coming by and visiting!  I am going the 'second' the comment about it not being a jury by check totally....jewelry category is especially hard to break into.  What is a huge positive about the show is that once you are in you can stay in your booth spot even for the next year if you put a deposit down before the end of the show.  I became a featured fine artist 3 years ago - 6 years now doing the show - and I love it.  I think the watch people get away with it here because of the clause about the artist does not need to be present.  I don't remember but I believe they have been there before.  Is there some 'sketchy' stuff there...of course!  There and everywhere else I seem to go.  I had a decent show this year with a great large follow up sale a few days later and that is what I am really hoping for every year and most it has happened.  It was mobbed with people again on Sat. & Sunday.  I would love to attend one year (maybe after I win that lottery!) and just buy things like crazy there was so much fun stuff to get.  Bonus for me??  My daughter works on a showroom in the Mart so while I was there I went upstairs to the fashion/decor floor and found a few samples sales to get a few fun things.  Be back next year!!

Comment by Carla Bank on December 17, 2013 at 9:55pm

Connie!!! Don't tell me you were there! Darn! I would love to say hi :-(

This is a show that I love because it makes me grow as an artist and the reason is that you see so much quality work and amazing booths that you have to prepare yourself to be better, be unique and get out of your box. You can't be average because you will sink. My first year I did OK but I always love to study my market, what sells, what doesn't and this show makes me think, think and when stuff is moving I just feel a big gratification thinking..It worked. Sometimes your big sales are not there but artists usually get nice follow up e mails when people make their decisions. I sold small stuff at the show, smaller price points but got my big commissions works after. I saw some friends that did amazing, some that did not so well even having a magnificent work. 

I know it is a big expense for artists but you can always request to be on a payment plan. I start paying my booth on Dec and they charge my CC monthly until around Oct so It doesn't hurt me like hell. And about those Misutra...They are a fungus. Always there, and when you think you got rid of them, they suddenly show up somewhere else where you didn't expect them. In the mean time, let't get to work. One day we will find a cure :-/

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 18, 2013 at 10:43am

I know, I know Carla. On Friday night I remembered that you were there and I had forgotten to look you up and decided I'd do it on Sunday -- so much for that idea.

What really happened is that I was trying to enjoy myself and not make a "job" of attending. Usually when I go to a show I talk to everyone, introduce myself, chat folks up, take photos, video and get blog material so that when I get home there are photos to edit, videos to produce and blog posts to write and I am exhausted and think I never want to go to another show. (A classic case of a woman who does too much). So this weekend I'd only planned to attend 4 events while I was in Chicago and take it easy ... so much for that! 

I really appreciate the input from Amy, Mary and you Carla, and do stand corrected on my earlier statement. It is such a relief to be in a good show where you can build an audience because you know you can come back next year, so I can see that attraction here and why some of the work makes you scratch your head. This show flies in the face of a lot of rules that other shows have -- if you make the jury you can keep coming as long as you want, you can have more than one media in your booth as long as it is your work, you can collaborate (am I right on that?) and not be penalized. There are a lot of good "business" principles in play that really help an artist grow, design a new booth, meet other great folks because you are shut up in there for so many days, I'd say like taking a college level seminar in earning a living an artist.

Comment by geri a. wegner on December 18, 2013 at 11:56pm

You got me Connie!!!  

I am in Illinois usually the first weekend in December for both  of our families Christmas parties.  We usually go to Vegas before so I have never been there to go to OOAK on Friday.  

After reading your review and seeing your pictures my cousin said she can't wait for next year's show.  

I love what Carla wrote.  I am lucky enough to get to see Carla at several art shows every summer and she could write a book on how to grow a business.  In addition to her fabulous work, it is really fun to see what new ideas she has come up with.  Her work passes the emotion test--you react positively when you look at it.  And isn't that the fun of collecting art.

Comment by Shireen Cline on December 19, 2013 at 1:33pm

I arrived at 10:30 a.m. and didn't leave until 8 p.m. I was able to meet a lot of great artists and talk with them. I was glad to see so many familiar faces and see get the opportunity to meet artist who will be participating in my "For the Love of Art" event in Elkhart, IN February 9, 2014.

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 19, 2013 at 9:25pm

Oh, Shireen, I missed meeting you also. Yesterday went to get my hair "fixed" and found out that my hairdresser was there also. It's not like either one of us lives anywhere near Chicago. And Beth Hoffman, who used to run the Milwaukee Lakefront show was shopping too and I didn't see her. Who did I see?

Comment by Shireen Cline on December 19, 2013 at 10:29pm

Connie, I attended the show on Thursday. I have a ticket reserved for you at my show. I would love for you to come out and rate it. People are going to be very impressed with the stellar talent and variety of mediums "For the Love of Art" will offer. Plus the event center is a first-class facility.

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