Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2012




Celebrating the handmade, the thirty-sixth annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show meets November 8-11, 2012 at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

Now in its thirty-sixth year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show has been a long-standing member of the craft show circuit. Created due to the efforts of the Women’s Committee to benefit the Philadelphia Museum of Art with funds raised by sponsorship of the show, and coordinated by veteran show manager Nancy O’Meara, the Craft Show is a lively pageant for four days a year. Continuing to evolve through the years, the show always introduces new elements that expand its diversity. The international guest artists section has now been running for eleven years, and continues to both establish partnerships with other countries as a form of cultural exchange and to present unique viewpoints in craft to the American public. This year Britain and Ireland are the international exhibitors.

Besides its guest artists, the Philadelphia Craft Show was one of the first major shows to have an emerging artist category. Initially started in 2008, this addition has brought another facet to the event’s repertoire. Many craft shows across the United States now incorporate such a section, which is an effective method of bringing new blood into the exhibitor pool. Also, within the last two years, it has begun hosting school booths, first from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 2010, then joined by the University of the Arts in 2011, with both schools returning this year. In addition, for 2012 Kutztown University of Pennsylvania is a particiapant. These group booths feature students’ work and also provides them firsthand experience with customers.


For a better sense of the show, from first-time exhibitors to occasional attendees to long-presiding veterans, it is enlightening to hear from the artists’ perspective. The majority of those contacted for a mini-survey hold the event in high esteem, describing what they consider some of the reasons for its success from their standpoint, calling it as attentive to an artist’s needs; effectively promoting the show through advertising to create public awareness; and well-organized, innovative, consistent, and reliable.

Jewelers Roberta and David Williamson have been exhibiting for many years and extol its virtues: “As the artists move into the exhibition hall and create their booths, they literally create a world of energy and excitement—your adrenaline begins to flow. The Women’s Committee members seem to be everywhere helping orchestrate the massive transformation. Every concern, monumental or minute, is addressed. All year we look forward to presenting our work, and we focus on the planning, the fabrication, the display, the booth, every detail. This is the moment it really comes alive, it’s all pulled together.”

Nancy Nicholson, a stained glass artist now exhibiting for seven years, is also enthusiastic. “This is one of the best shows I have ever participated in. The environment is lively and friendly,” Nicholson says. “Having been to the show for many years, I have a lot of repeat visitors. I have sold work directly at the show, and have gotten some of my most interesting commissioned work from it. I also meet new people every year. It is a great way to educate people about your craft.”

Long attendee Barbara Heinrich, an impeccable goldsmith, feels similarly. “The show feels very special. The work is exquisite and I think it is one of the top shows of handmade crafts in the United States,” Heinrich remarks. “It is invaluable input to hear firsthand what the customers have to say about my work. It propels us forward to directly interact with and sell to an interested audience. I find the Philadelphia customers to be educated and knowledgeable in crafts, and the Philadelphia show has been an important part of this education.” Lilly Fitzgerald is another veteran goldsmith of the show. “I have done Philly, as we all call this show, so many times. Like a lot of us, I basically grew up as an artist at the show. I started back in Memorial Hall, then the Armory, and the two subsequent show locations. In the beginning getting into Philly was such an honor; the show was tiny, the best of the best. It motivated us to strive for excellence and perfection, and was a fertile environment to be creating in. Since the format was small, with many fewer exhibitors and a much smaller venue, there was an excitement and headiness in the air at the show in those days. We all learned together: customers and artists.”


Carol Snyder, a ceramic artist, is a first-time exhibitor. As with Nicholson and Heinrich, she emphasizes the importance of meeting with one’s audience. “I enjoy being able to explain details of my pieces: my process and thesis, and seeing those I talk with become more involved. I’ve learned how best to present my work so that those viewing it have a better understanding of why I do what I do.” Joan McGee, a fiber artist who employs a variety of techniques in making her own cloth for her dresses, including shibori, is also a newcomer. Her first impressions are good. “One thing that I am impressed with is the organization of the committee. They are right on top of all the details and are so thorough in getting out the publicity. One example is an email I received telling that various craft books would be for sale and to give them the names of any books that I am in, so they could have them there. Also, a resumé was requested for publicity purposes. Not all shows go to all of this trouble.”

Because of school booths in recent years, several former students are now exhibitors in the emerging artist category. Hsiang-Ting Yen graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from SCAD this year, and was an assistant at the school booth for years 2010 and 2011. “I enjoyed the positive energy of these past two years; the location is in downtown Philly which is very easy to navigate,” she says. “I love the variety of the exhibitors: it’s very dynamic that every exhibitor has their own unique characteristic in their artwork. The floor plan is organized and clear, it helps the visitors to enjoy the whole show without feeling lost.” Her ability to meet face to face with collectors and art enthusiasts who could comment on her work was part of the reason she gained confidence as an artist. “The support from the customers and visitors is such a great encouragement to motivate myself to keep creating good art. Especially since I started as a student artist with SCAD, I didn’t have any retail experience. Indeed, the main reason why I decided to start my craft show career is because I had such positive feedback from the public and customers, they helped me to build my confidence. Not only just their financial support, but to have them adore my work is the most wonderful experience. It feels like all the hard work I’ve been through, and all the struggles I had to put up with when I was developing new designs or a new process for my works are all worth it now. Also, it was a great opportunity to educate the public in the value of the handmade by sharing my making process one-on-one to the customer or visitor.”


Fellow SCAD MFA candidate Bongsang Cho has already had an introduction to exhibiting at craft shows, being accepted to the Smithsonian Craft Show this year, as well as the American Craft Exposition. Having also been to Philadelphia in past years as a student representative, Cho has enough personal experience to give a well-informed opinion. “The Philadelphia show always creates lively, passionate and colorful feeling. All the people who visited were the art-loving young people. They were all good listeners for the story of my jewelry and I could see it from their eyes that they love and appreciate art,” Cho recalls. “Selling my work is very enjoyable. It may be a similar feeling like having a fan club. People remember me and come back to my booth to say hello again. Sometimes they support you and it’s not only just to support you but also to keep alive the culture of art. Thus, I should devote my best efforts to make better work. I don’t want them to be disappointed. They are my resources, producing a lot of energy which is converted into my art.”

The Women’s Committee is repeatedly praised for the warmth and caring it provides artists. Longtime exhibitor Cliff Lee says the Philadelphia show is his favorite, and cites the Women’s Committee as a big reason. “After you’re accepted, the communication is wonderful. They let you know what’s going on. They give you a special time to drive in right to your booth. The volunteers show you where to go, use walkie talkies. They are very courteous, and if you have any problems, they will try to solve them for you right away. I’ve done the show for twenty-one years. They are always, always very professional. The volunteers come over to ask if you want to take a break and will boothsit for you so that you can.”

Nicholson also appreciates their efforts. “They are very devoted and supportive and make you feel loved,” she approves. Heinrich is another supporter remarking: “The Women’s Committee is an outstanding group, hard-working and knowledgeable. The women are dedicated to making each year’s show better than the last.”

Many artists also give recognition to O’Meara’s efforts. As the show manager, O’Meara is responsible for overall coordination of the event, handling invariable hiccups, and in planning the show. Jeweler Devta Doolan has been exhibiting since 2000, and praises her, saying, “Nancy O’Meara is involved in every aspect of the show’s production and layout and does an incredible job of keeping it running smoothly and looking great. Her plan of featuring a small number of artists from a different country each year gives a truly global feel while still keeping the focus on excellence in American craft.” Debora Muhl, a basketmaker who has also exhibited for years, voices her respect for O’Meara as well. “Nancy O’Meara and the entire Women’s Committee work very hard to make the show happen. It’s very organized, the communication is excellent. And the advertising is very good. This show has a great reputation for fine work.”


Ken Loeber and Dona Look are a jeweler couple who have been attending the show for decades. “We have a long history since we first showed in the 1980s. Obviously, much has changed since then economically. It is still the best in terms of quality and quantity of work put together by a most experienced Women’s Committee. Artists anticipate educated and enthusiastic customers,” Look says. “The public is generally knowledgeable about art and that creates interesting conversation. We’ve always been encouraged by sales and the positive responses received from the public.”

The Williamsons go into further detail about the importance of the Philadelphia audience. “Each year at the Craft Show we learn from the interaction and dialogue with our customers, Committee members, curators and writers. We see what people respond to and enjoy,” the metalsmithing couple say. “Philadelphia draws a sophisticated crowd that has been presented wonderful art jewelry at the show for over thirty years. They arrive wearing their newest find or a vintage piece from years ago, dressed with care and great taste. It is so much fun and we look forward to the people watching.”

There are also suggestions, particularly among young artists Bongsang Cho and Hsiang-Ting Yen. “Perhaps they can have different ticket prices for adult and students, so they can attract younger crowds. And maybe create some activities to showcase the works to the public before or on the actual show date,” Yen says enthusiastically. “For example, I think some runway show to expose artists’ works would be a great collaboration to benefit all the artists as well. You never know when fabric artist A’s work plus jewelry artist B’s work may create such a visual feast, and it creates sales too!” Cho wishes to emphasize his approval of the school booth program. “Finally, I wish to support the ‘school to market’ program. Students should have the experience of an actual show rather than depending on theoretical education at school. For example like my case, the program makes students clearer about what they should prepare for in the real world.

“In addition, by showing students’ work, I think it can change the atmosphere and keep it fresh; new ideas make a good impression on people. It is not only good for audiences, but also students inspire artists to create synergy for the show and this will help each other to create an interesting venue.” Fitzgerald has her own suggestions. “I would like to see the Museum have a purchase prize each year from the show, so something would be bought from an exhibitor and placed in its collection.”

Of course, the raison d’etre of the show is the artists themselves. While the Philadelphia Craft Show’s goal is to raise money for the Museum, the performers on the stage are the craftspeople. It is the artists who produce the smorgasboard of craft, the array of visual delight that attracts viewers and collectors year after year. In this way, the show and the artists form a complementary whole.


Judith Kinghorn, for example, brings an attractive booth focusing on black and copper-toned hues to echo her jewelry’s colors. A veritable secret garden awaits. Using fused gold and silver to draw spectacular contrasts, Kinghorn’s flower brooches and branch-like necklaces are eye-popping. The silver is oxidized to obtain a deep, shimmering black, and depending on Kinghorn’s ministrations can assume a steel-blue color that is mesmerizing, as seen in her beautiful Poppy brooch. She also creates brooches which focus on a large semiprecious stone as the centerpiece. Here, the fused gold and silver are accents to luminous agates or tourmalines. Kinghorn’s rendition of the natural world through precious metal and stone elevates it to the realm of magic and enchantment.

Debora Muhl’s contribution is sweetgrass basketry. Those unfamiliar with the material will be surprised by the enticing sweet scent Muhl’s baskets produce. Because Muhl weaves tightly, with a lot of sweetgrass in each bunch, the whole booth can be filled with the fragrance. Her baskets journey far beyond the traditional, being bound into spiraling shapes with stitching. An advantage of Muhl’s basketry is that it is not only aesthetically pleasing, but provides a wonderful atmosphere with the smell of the sweetgrass, making for a true environment changer.

Kinghorn and Muhl are two facets of a lifestyle of the handmade. The show’s categories cover most of the home decór and personal adornment possible. Jewelry decorates the human form, while basketry could be seen as serving a similar function for one’s home. Joan McGee makes clothing which clads the body, and her interest in creating her own dyed silk cloths leads to beautifully rich patterns in her jackets and shirts. One of her shibori vests, called Norwegian Woods, is as evocative as its title. Using a pole-wrapping technique with her own adjustments, McGee’s arashi dyeing process looks almost exactly like wood grain. The whorls and lines set into an amber-caramel is a vibrant display.

The intent of these descriptions is to communicate the vision of a handmade world. It is the artists who are the creators, and the Craft Show which is the platform for bringing their work to the public. What we as collectors and inquisitive public do is complete the circle. By purchasing craft, we are filling our personal world with elements of the handmade. Imagine if your home was all mass-produced. In that case, buying one handcrafted object, whether functional or decorative, brings to your house something which could not simply be stamped out by machines. It is an item which required time to produce, the knowledge to do so, and the creative spirit to bring beauty to it. If one thinks that is important in life, then consider that when you visit a craft show. The reasons why we purchase something from Target or an Ikea is that it is cheap, easily available and does what we need, but we are not doing much besides sending some money towards a major corporation whose products are often not even made in our country. By deciding to purchase the work of an artisan, the important values of knowledge and skill are being supported and promulgated.


Then there is the vital component of human exchange. The Williamsons are ardent about the importance of this facet of one’s life. “We have found that people truly value the interaction, conversations and time with us and the other artists. As you connect with people you can learn so much—stories about books, travels, experiences, restaurants, websites, health! Many conversations carry over from year-to-year. We see children grow up, get married and start their own families. It is the art that brings us together to share our experiences—for us, the jewelry becomes the connector.”

The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show is like a play that takes many actors to be complete: show producers, craftspeople and the public. It is the pursuit of a lifestyle where we involve ourselves with the human connection, from production to purchase. Having listened to some of the artists’ voices, we hope to hear from the experiences of others while attending this major event held in November.








Keep rich and engaging content in your life, click here to subscribe today.

Our upcoming issue 37.4 contains


Nubian Jewelry

Kate Mensah

Philadelphia Craft Show


  Follow Ornament on...