by Carolyn Edlund
Many artists had humble beginnings when they just started out. I can now look back humorously at my own first attempt to sell my work at a show.
Back in the early 1980’s, I applied and was accepted to my very first retail fair, the Long’s Park Art & Craft Festival in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It is currently a highly respected show and at that time was considered a great venue for artists, so I was very pleased to have had my slides accepted by the jury.
The show takes place in early September. I was expecting my first child at the time, so I would wake up, throw up, and go to the show. The thrill of being an exhibitor at my first show overshadowed my nausea however, and I brought my husband with me to experience all the wonderful sales I would be making of my work.
As a recent graduate, I was trying to reconcile my interest in both ceramics and fiber. Therefore, I created mixed media work which combined both. Problem was, ceramic vessels with wrapped fibers on them can’t be washed very easily, and wall pieces in fiber with ceramic elements didn’t work very well either. Undaunted, I made enough work for the show and pressed on.
Since I’d never before had an exhibit booth (and I’m not sure that EZ Up tents had yet been invented), we put together an impossibly awkward and heavy booth of hard panels that bolted together. They were covered with a felt-like fabric that was a nice neutral gray – but became extremely waterlogged and heavy when rained on (as we discovered on day two of the show).
We ran shelves along the booth panels and placed inventory there on display. It looked great until the walls were bumped, and ceramic pieces started falling. The worst part was that they tended to land on the asphalt below, which was quite unfortunate.
My husband had strung one cord from an outside panel to a stake in the ground to stabilize the whole booth. As shoppers walked out of the booth next door, though, they tended to trip over the cord, narrowly avoiding breaking their necks and causing more crashes and lost inventory in my booth.
Oh, and that booth next door – occupied by an older artist named Al with a sunny disposition who loved cigars and did a lot of demonstrations. He painted barns, barns and more barns. Out in fields and in the snow. Al was really fast at his work, churning out one piece after another during the show. He kept up a steady stream of conversation and encouragement as the days progressed.
My sales were slow. They dragged. Shoppers looked, and didn’t understand what to do with what I made. It was hard to explain, because I wasn’t so sure myself. Despite the stress and the worry, eventually some work did sell. I ended up at the end of the weekend with about $500 total.
I tried to rationalize that for my very first show, I hadn’t done all that badly. After all, I had earned $500 from my sales.
Until I found out that my husband had spent every dime of that $500 on a painting from our neighbor Al. Of a barn. In the snow.
Al shook his hand and packed his own booth up to leave. We struggled to get our heavy, soggy booth in the car and drove home in silence.
Afterwards, to my great dismay, I found that my husband had hung Al’s painting of the barn over our bed. There it remained, a bittersweet reminder of my very first – and disastrous – art show.