Chicago’s Renegade Craft Fair

Yesterday (Sunday) saw two firsts:

one, Chicago had its first day of snow this season – the kind of overcast, subtly slushy city day that feels like a call to snowy adventure. I felt a bit like Peter in Ezra Jack Keats’ beautiful The Snowy Day.

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Two, I attended my very first indie craft show (!), the annual Renegade Craft Fair held in Chicago’s Bridgeport Art Center. This historic 1911 building is an industrial work space in wood beams, skylights, exposed brick, and 3,ooo lb-bearing freight elevators which shake and hum mechanically as they take you to the Skyline Loft on the 5th floor. The building oozes with the energy of creative labour, making the perfect meeting place for lovers of handmade and artisanal wares. Despite still coming off of the tail end of my head cold (this thing is really hanging on), I was determined to go to the Fair. Having first read about it in Handmade Nation, I was very curious about what kinds of things Midwestern crafters were working on.

When we arrived Sunday, the venue was packed to the hilt – really a bustling marketplace. Apparently, Chicagoans love their crafts.

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With roughly 250 vendors, wares included handmade knits, prints, candles, cards, soaps, ceramics, stationary, jewelry, housewares, handwoven textiles (even macramé plant hangers!). I was able to meet and chat with a few folks in the Chicago and regional arts/crafts community and was really inspired by their examples – people who combined hard work and creativity to produce original and magnificent (and useful) things. The ethos of the event, I felt, explored the unity of form and function – the view that art and artistry can be present in, and celebrate, ordinary life and the everyday. Finding and making beauty in the ordinary is something that I deeply value. [Aside: There happen to be no craft-persons or artists in my immediate family that I know of, so I’ve always wondered where this strong impulse came from. The only genealogical ‘art link’ I was able to find was my Great Uncle Andrew. According to the story, he studied with the Philippine portraitist Fernando Amorsolo and was a very talented painter who lived a mostly impoverished life. He’s been described as a kind spirit, perpetually fretful, and worrying.]

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Left: The Loopy Mango yarn booth and its hand-knit super-duper chunky merino sweaters.

I digress. With all the craft and design energy abuzz, I couldn’t help but have an inkling of what it might be like to participate in a fair one day. I started to think of what kinds of things I might be able to produce, and what steps I might take to begin to share my work. Would I choose one medium? Explore several? Or combine them all into a single, new, art-craft megabundle? What would my goals be? Until I decide, I’m happy to continue doodling, subway-knitting, avidly reading blogs, and being an all-around craft enabler and enthusiast.

At the end of the day, I was thrilled to bring home a new tote bag designed by Mustard Beetle Handmade. The tote features artist Elizabeth Jean’s gorgeous brush and ink work. We had a lovely conversation about ink and brushwork – a challenging medium which I also love – and I spent the ride home looking  (marveling) at the detail and beauty of the design (for more info and a link to the Mustard Beetle Etsy shop, see #2 in my list of Memorable Makes below).

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Brush and ink design by Mustard Beetle Handmade

If you are interested in some Renegade craft vendor highlights, read on, friend. And if you have participated in fairs or sold your wares, I would love to hear a bit of your story – how and when did you decide to get started crafting on a larger scale? What brought you to make that transition?

Wishing you a week of very merry making.  

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