Monday, December 5, 2011

Pittsburgh's handmade craft scene

Joni Ondra was taking advantage of Handmade Arcade to buy one-of-a-kind stocking stuffers for the holidays for her nieces, nephews, godchild, and her husband.
Pati Medina and Kathy Smith-Dowd were also scouring the various handmade goods for t-shirts and earrings in hopes of finding gifts for friends as well as themselves.
“I like the idea that it’s something that not everyone’s going to have and it’s going to have an artistic flair,” said Ondra.
Just like these shoppers, more people are turning to buying handmade, especially for the holidays. And with Pittsburgh’s vibrant, continually growing handmade craft scene, it’s easier than ever, especially since handmade is often affordable.
On November 12, Handmade Arcade took place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which brought out crowds hoping to find handmade goodies for the holidays. The large craft fair featured over 150 vendors, many of them local, who set up their own tables to sell their goods. Jewelry, t-shirts, scarves, plush animals, bags, pottery, house wares and greeting cards were just a few of the handmade items available for purchase.

Customers check out some of the unique jewelry pieces at Handmade Arcade on November 12, 2011.
What’s unique about handmade is how much different items can vary.
Jewelry was made from a variety of different components including glass beads, enameled pieces, brass, or even old buttons. 19 Moons’ Gothic, Steampunk, and Victorian style necklaces, bracelets, brooches and earrings use old watches that are taken apart to show the intricate gears and mechanisms. The intricate, unique pieces can cost anywhere from $20 to $80.
Green Bubble Gorgeous sold all-natural, organic soap, bath salts, lip butters and lotion bars. A bar of soap shaped and decorated like a bundt cake cost just $5.50 and a Mango Green Tea lip butter was $3.50.
Exit343Design had silkscreen prints and greeting cards with designs ranging from deer to an anatomical heart. Prints ranged from $10 to $40.
Ondra, of Friendship, liked the fact that she was supporting the artist and the items she bought were “unique things that you can’t find at a mall, certainly.”
Smith-Dowd, of Penn Hills, was happy to support “business for people trying to make a living” and said she will continue to buy handmade in the future.
Another similar craft fair opportunity in Pittsburgh is through I Made It! Market. The nomadic craft fair not only holds events, but also has a dedication to helping local artists.
Carrie Nardini, organizer of I Made It!, said the craft fairs give local artists the opportunity to sell their wares in many different places.
“We want local artists to get in front of a lot of different kinds of customers to be able to expand their market,” she said in a phone interview.
The fairs are juried and often have a theme such as holiday, children or weddings and take place in various locations in the Pittsburgh area. Previous locations include Southside Works, Bakery Square, Mount Lebanon Park, Hartwood Acres and Schenley Plaza. Crafters are selected based on the quality of their work and the type of goods they create, whether it’s jewelry, clothing, art prints or anything else that works with the theme.
Recent events include I Made It! for the Holidays at Bakery Square on December 2 and 3 and another I Made It! will take place on December 7 on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.
I Made It! for the Holidays at Bakery Square included over 80 local artists. Vendors included Nina Ramone (knit scarves and hats), Textilegifts (purses, scarves and bowls made out of fabric and jeans), and Rachel’s Cure by Design (glass, beaded bracelets).
“Why I Made It! is kind of cool is that people can try things out and talk directly with customers that they’ll meet on multiple occasions,” Nardini said.
She also added that people can create a relationship with the artist and many times, people will follow that artist outside of the craft fair setting, whether it is through an online shop or other fairs.
The markets provide great opportunities for the artists, but I Made It! also helps them expand their handmade business.
They offer small business workshops for crafters who are selling online as well as social events so crafters can network with each other. Nardini can also help with marketing and social media aspects of selling handmade.
Although market-like events are occurring more often, there are a few stores that offer handmade items as well, making for convenient holiday or year-round shopping.
Wildcard in Lawrenceville is the most popular with a huge selection of handmade goodies such from mostly local artists. Items in the shop include greeting cards, t-shirts, stationary, original art, bags, jewelry and more. Prices vary depending on the goods, but greeting cards are only a few dollars and t-shirts often run for just under $20. Wildcard is located at 4209 Butler Street.
Another store also located in Lawrenceville (3613 Butler Street) is Pageboy Salon & Boutique. In the boutique, independent and local designers are featured and a variety of handmade accessories and house wares are available. Items include vintage button magnets, feather and leather earrings, quirky clothing pieces (such as a tan jacket with plaid sleeves), and button bobby pins with vintage portraits on them.
So Me in Glenshaw also has handmade items from local crafters and a jeweler’s studio. Colorful ceramic plates, beaded necklaces, and soy wax candles are some of the goodies available at the store located on 3394 Saxonburg Boulevard.
Two other unique things one might find around town are the traveling Craft-O-Tron and the Upcycla-Tron.
The Craft-O-Tron is a craft vending machine made from a recycled cigarette machine bought on eBay. The goal of the machine is to spread the word about the local craft scene by selling handmade items for $5 each. The machine, which can hold over 200 items, travels all around Pittsburgh and can be found in museums, cafes, bars, food stores and more, depending on the month.
Previous items available in the machine include beaded wrap bracelets, fish-shaped catnip, small pottery bowls, soap in the shape of an owl, and magnets with a painting reprinted on them.
Lynne Kropinak, who does all the stocking, boxing, and maintenance on the machine, loves going to craft shows to pick items for the machine.
“It’s a labor of love and it’s really fun to go into places and say, ‘I’m with the machine.’” she said in a phone interview.
Kropinak also runs the Upcycla-Tron which is a similar machine but instead it features crafts made out of recycled materials.
The Craft-O-Tron is currently at the Square Cade (1137 South Braddock Avenue) and the Upcycla-Tron is at Creative Reuse Pittsburgh (214 N. Lexington Street).
Through things like the Craft-O-Tron, Handmade Arcade, I Made It! Market, and other events promoting handmade goods, it’s easy to buy handmade and support local artists for the holidays.
Nardini, who has also been a crafter for years, believes handmade items given as gifts mean a lot more “versus something that kind of met their needs from the store.”
Kropinak has been a crafter specializing in jewelry for over 25 years and gets joy out of both making crafts and giving them.
“There’s really nothing that can touch you more than something that someone’s made with their hands,” she said.
Buying handmade not only insures a unique gift, but it also has other benefits, such as supporting small, local businesses.
“You’re not only supporting a person who is trying to make a living on their craft but you’re also helping to put more money directly into our local economy by purchasing handmade,” Nardini said.
Pittsburgh already had a very present handmade craft scene, but it appears to be growing and continually gaining followers.
“Pittsburghers attach a lot of value to neighborhoods and communities,” said Nardini. “[With handmade] it’s that community aspect but there’s also the aspect that you’re contributing to the cycle that is helping the individual person in your community versus a mass produced item.”

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