Art Fair Insiders

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Saint Louis Art Fair, Clayton, Missouri—A Biggie

This happened on September 6-7-8 on the streets of Clayton. This is where the government center buildings are for St. Louis.  It is a three day show—and is very difficult to get into.

I got in this year and previous to that back in 2013.  Besides that, I have only gotten in three other times in 26 years.

This is a biggie, I put it right up there with KC Plaza, Des Moines, Artisphere and Main Street Fort Worth.

Notice I did not include Winter Park in that list.

Also I do not want to drive that far to do Cherry Creek or Sausalito.

People who get into these biggies can routinely do between $6-$20 K in sales.

The quality of the people attending make it that way.

SLAF is surrounded by very rich communities and many come and decorate their homes with exclusively art from this show.

There are about 180 booths which include the previous year winners. They get mucho applications.

That said, it is not easy to jury into.

You are up against the best of the best on the circuit.  There are no slouches here. No buy-sell.

Each booth looks like an art gallery.

The patrons dress to the nines.  They are world-travelled, they look For uniqueness as well as quality.

Back in April I was eating breakfest at the Vinoy Hotel right before the start of the Mainsail Show in St. Petersburg.

I knew they were notifying that morn.

So I opened up my Zapp with trepidation, preparing to get blown off for the sixth year in a row.

But then I got sidelined and went to my emails.

Lo and behold I saw the most precious words you could ever want to see.


I was floored and exhuberent at the same time.

So here I was in Clayton.

The Show arranges for artists to stay at the Sheraton Plaza Hotel for a great rate of $99 per.  The hotel is about three blocks away from the show.

It has a great bar and a sucky dining room.

I remember the first time I stayed there in the late nineties, I saw Serena and Venus both strutting their stuff down the hallway.  They were like regal lionesses working their way thru the Savannah.

Now let me tell you about this year’s show.

The weather forecast looked good with fairly mild humidity on the days of the show.

Mother Nature had other plans.

We register at the hotel on Thursday nite and then do setup starting at ten on Friday.

The Show opens at five and runs til ten.  The last hour is a big waste for most.

The Show supplies electricity, you bring your lites and fans.

Friday setup was in horrible heat reaching into the nineties, it took a lot out of me, almost a five hour setup which I usually do in three and one half.

I staggered back to the hotel and got a great shower and two hours of rest.

The booths are laid out on city streets back to back.  They give you about two feet of storage.

Booth sides give everybody room to hang, walk thru or store.  They are generous.

You are on hilly roads so be prepared to shim. It is also very tight getting vehicles in and parked.  Lots of dosey-doing.

Everone is a pro so we all work it out without any acrimony.  We are here to make serious moola.

Well dressed patrons were out early.  Thank God The evening got a little cooler.

I started off with very slow, small sales but by night end I was up to almost $2K.

I did not notice a lot of big things go by.  It was more precious little pieces of paper.

Those with a mailing list do alright.  The patrons want to see the fresh new work.

This is an originals only show which hampers a lot of 2-D artists.  No prints or repros.

It is hard to make and sell an original for under $150 unless you are a photographer, which I am.

That said, I heard a lot of grumbling from my neighbors about it was mostly Lowend sales.

Frankly, That has been the trend for many of us this year.  The Middle Class feels uncertainty about the future and they are holding back on purchases.

My sales are off by 30-40% this year, and I am not alone.

That said, we all had high hopes for big sales on Saturday.

Saturday show hours were 10am-10pm. Long day.

Weather was much better, there was a pleasant coolness in the air.

People slowly drifted in.  

I had a big flurry of sales around eleven and did a quick $2K.

My sales were steady all day but the high end was la king.  I only sold five pieces over $300 and the largest was $500.

It was a long exhausting day but when you have mucho dinero going into your bank account it feels worth it.

I saw some of the best well dressed women in the world at this show.  I complimented them and they complimented me.

I closed up right at 10pm and scooted across to Ruth Chris’s in time to get a great steak and a bottle of Cabernet.

At the hotel bar I stopped in for a nightcap and it was jammed with fellow artists—they mostly seemed to be in a happy mood.  Big shows have a way of making it all seem the sacrifice and hard work has finally paid off.

I slept very well that night and woke up Sunday to the sounds of pouring rain and crashing thunder.

The weatherman had correctly predicted this, he also promised us it would be over by 11am when the show was to open.

He got that one wrong. Gusty winds, some 60 mph, bucketfuls of rain, and several downed artist booths later, the rain finally quit before noon.

People were out buying pronto.

I did another flurry of sales, selling ten different 16x20 framed images in an hour.  Each one, $150 apiece.

Sales were mostly Lowend, under $150, the rest of the day til show close at 5pm.

I made more at this show then the previous five shows I had done and this included Uptown.

Most People were happy but they mainly were getting Lowend sales.

A couple of painters, one was my neighbor, zeroed at the show.  They were pissed.  I cannot blame them.

But a show like Saint Louis gives the artist a unique opportunity to really excell.

I would heartily encourage any beginning artist to apply to this show if you think you got the right stuff.  New and different art always has a chance of getting in.

I am off for two weeks, gonna play a lot of golf.

In  fact today, Sept. 20, I  am playing for the Clearbrook Club Member-Member Championship title.

Mark Hanks and me won it in 2017.  Hope to do it again.

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Comment by Nels johnson on September 25, 2019 at 12:18pm

Of course it is a biggie

Comment by Connie Mettler on September 24, 2019 at 5:57pm

Sorry to say, Nels, I've been busy and just now seeing your post here. Also, sorry to say we never got into St. Louis except the first year and Norm turned it down to do a show closer to home. So, lucky you.  

(I did visit the show a few years ago and have to agree with you, a beauty. Also saw artists i never saw before and haven't seen again (and I do know lots of them). It is kind of like Cherry Creek that you'll see artists from the far West who don't come any farther East. 

Here's a photo I took that year. Left to right: Me, Laura Miller (SLAF staff), ____ can't remember her name right now, a painter, Joe DeCamillis (painter), Cindy Lerick (SLAF E. Director), Marian Steen (painter), unknown, Sarah Rishel (printmaker). 


and the usual suspects:I also posted this blog of yours on our FB page at this link. Like it and share it!

The big question is: Would you go back??

Comment by C.C. Barton on September 24, 2019 at 10:47am

Ha ha...right Nels, sorry.  Agree completely.  It was the best show of my career the first time I did it. At the end of the show I ordered a big fat steak and a bottle of Cab room service (I had no friends to go out to celebrate with...aww) and ate it sitting naked in a big pile of cash on the bed.

It was like no show I'd ever experienced.  At the end (and they didn't fool around about shutting it down - they made the patrons leave, waving bills around in the air or not), a client who had an in with one of the security guards with an ATV whistled him over to come load up her last minute haul from my booth of too much framed work to possibly carry otherwise.  Unforgettable.

The entire show was an endless parade of cash and credit cards...couldn't keep up.  Still the best show I've done in 24 years.

Comment by Nels johnson on September 24, 2019 at 8:08am

Gee any thoughts about one of the best shows in the nation?

Comment by C.C. Barton on September 23, 2019 at 10:42pm

Yes, Bernard, I agree.  "Copies."  Clear. Succinct. Truthful. Unambiguous.  

And it will never catch on.

Comment by Bernard Zalon on September 23, 2019 at 4:41pm

"Copies" is a good name.

Comment by C.C. Barton on September 23, 2019 at 1:57pm

Bernard,  "prints" will always be a confusing term as it applies both to works such as original, hand-pulled etchings and mechanically reproduced copies of an original work, generally worth only the paper it is printed on, but many times signed by the artist of the original work to make it seem more precious.  It's unfortunate the latter wasn't given a different name to distinguish them from traditional printmaking which has used the term for centuries.

Comment by Nels johnson on September 23, 2019 at 12:26pm

Yes, but there were not many there.

Painters have it tough.

Comment by Bernard Zalon on September 23, 2019 at 8:41am

Isn't printmaking a category?  Etchings?  Prints aren't repros.

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