Take Home a Piece of Laughing Orange

Today I feel inspired to go to work because I attended the Artisan Center of Virginia’s Conference this past weekend and have to say that I have so many things on my list of things to do and add to Laughing Orange that I am certainly having to prioritize them all.

First though, I want to give a shout out to the ACV because I am thoroughly convinced that they have their act together better than any organization that I have been involved with for a long time. Sherri Smith, the executive director of the ACV is a “fireball” of energy. She and her board seem to have so many great things going that I am overwhelmed by their excitement about artists and helping artists in our state. I really enjoyed that they take a twofold approach to an artist. First, they seem to understand that an artist can be a different animal and at the same time they understand how politics work and that they need to use the approach with legislature that artists are small businesses that have a serious place at the economic table of our economic situation. Bringing these two things together involves a lot of discussion about how to bring the artisans out of their shells to participate and to also get the funding or support needed from local governments to see them as a viable resource for communities.

When I attended Berea College 30 years ago, Phyllis George, former first lady of KY helped to revive the craft movement and wrote several books to help promote craft in KY and across the US. I know that she saw the need for handmade items to be appreciated, but I also think she saw this as a way for the state of KY to bring in revenue and to help that state’s economy.

I’ve written about this before, but handmade items are not being sought after due to so many of our products being imported in from China and sold here so inexpensively. As a country, we need to put more value on handmade items, if for no other reason than to help bring back the jobs that have been shipped overseas. But more importantly, we need to recognize that mass produced items have no meaning to us. Vanessa Bertozzi, the Director of Community at Etsy was the speaker for our lunch on Saturday at the ACV conference and her talk was about the importance of handmade. She started her talk by asking, “if your house were to catch on fire, what would be the one item that you would take”, (other than other family members). My first thought was my laptop, but as she went around the room and I heard others say things like their old photos, their quilts, their grandmother’s doilies, I realized that I have all my beloved quilts hanging on the stair railings and I don’t know what I would do if something happened to those.  They are irreplaceable. They are extremely special to me. They are handmade!!!

When Sherri Smith came to our county several months ago to give a talk about our county possibly getting an artisan trail, she brought up that we have forgotten how we once had to craft a bucket to carry water, forge our own tools to work in the garden, grow our own foods and put them up for winter, quilt our bed coverings and build our items from our own hands. Even myself, the queen of “I could make that”, heard this and it took me back to a time when these things were commonplace and not mass produced. Today, we go into a Michael’s if we want to make something and they have basically, put all the parts in a package for us and we are assemblers as opposed to artists or craftspeople. We have built a society that assembles kits and thinks of ourselves as being creative. To me, Michaels is a “cheater store” where people can feel a sense of creating.

This brings me to another point that I thought about and was discussed this weekend, which is, the amount of hours that an artist or craftsman will spend on an item only to have to not really be compensated for that quality item in the end. I do this all the time. I will spend countless hours on an item and get really frustrated when the Walmarts of the world take the value of my handmade item down in the eyes of my customers. If our economy is going to improve, if the jobs are going to come back to the US, we need to value our local artists and craftspeople and understand that they may need to ask a higher price than Walmart in order to survive in this new economy.

So, with all my new sources that I have been introduced to this past weekend and with my items sitting downstairs calling my name I really need to stop here and spend some hours at my craft. If you have any topics that you would like to discuss or have me discuss by way of my new adventures, please send me your comments and suggestions. I want to do more of the blogging and sometimes am hung up on what to write about. If you know that I make something that you are interested in knowing more about, let me know. I won’t promise you a kit from Michael’s but I will certainly help you with steps and processes.