A local biannual art fair turns 10

IN GOOD HANDS: Stefani Threet, left, of Threet Ceramics, works on her hand-built one-of-a-kind clay pieces. “My design concepts began years and years ago as doodles on napkins and scraps of paper, then later made their way onto fabric” before evolving into ceramics, she says in her bio. Threet will have a booth at this summer’s Big Crafty. Photos courtesy of Threet

Pack Square Park will be transformed into a handmade hotspot on Sunday, July 15, as The Big Crafty celebrates a decade of independent art and artists.

Founders (and Asheville business owners) Brandy Bourne and Justin Rabuck first produced The Big Crafty in 2008. Since then, they’ve seen their brainchild grow into a juried, twice-yearly art happening that features a range of creative offerings, from fine to downright funky.

But make no mistake, this is no slapdash production. From the beginning, the show has remained fiercely devoted to showcasing independent artists, while growing into a legitimate and respected economic driver for its participants.

Let’s run some of the numbers that have carried the event into into double-digit territory.

Four venues

After their initial event outgrew The Grey Eagle concert venue, Bourne and Rabuck had an agreement with the Asheville Art Museum that allowed them to alternate between Pack Place for their July event, and the museum’s interior space for their December event. The current renovation project at the museum meant another change was in order for the show. Since 2016, the Big Crafty has enjoyed the relative stability of Pack Square Park for its summer show and the spacious digs of the U.S. Cellular Center for its winter event.

Artists: From a couple dozen to more than 100

A hallmark of the show’s success is its continued popularity among artists. “There were roughly 30 artists at the first event, and we had almost 1,000 applications for our second.” says Rabuck.

The space limitations imposed by venues, alongside a desire to create balance between artists and mediums, motivated organizers to implement a modest application fee and adopt a juried selection process for prospective participants.

For the upcoming show, roughly one-in-four applicants who applied were accepted, with around 150 participating artists showcasing their goods.

And since we’re talking numbers, the Big Crafty regularly includes artists who travel from other regions to participate. Stefani Threet (Threet Ceramics) is making the 10-hour drive to Asheville with a carload of planters, jewelry, mugs and other hand-built pottery from her Philadelphia-based studio.

More mediums than a New Age convention

The collective energy of creation runs hot inside the artists’ spaces — and not just because it’s midsummer. The treasures housed within each 10-by-10-foot space embody a spirit of exploration, reflecting a range of materials and approaches.

The organizers always include a sui generis category for applicants who might find themselves between, or well outside, the confines of a single material or artistic process.

Metal artists bring some interesting diversions from the traditional this year. Twisted wire taxidermy from Charleston, S.C., artist Alison Brynn Ross offers a cheeky, cruelty-free version of a hunter’s wall trophy. Jeweler Amy Sreb, who creates under her Siren’s Holler moniker, goes big on geometry for her handcrafted earrings and necklaces. And, hop into Pizza Ships’ time machine for original enamel pins and other rad tchotchkes crafted by Asheville-based tattoo artist Chris Evans.

At first glance, you might mistake newcomer Ben Grant’s vessels for clay objects. But despite some similarities in process (both turning and handtools are involved), Grant’s chosen medium is wood. There’s a surprising amount of fluidity in his work, which the Waynesville artist coaxes out with a combination of textural details and gentle lines.

Given the worldwide clapback of marginalized folks of late, you might have to wait in line to grab a handcrafted vulva plushie or your very own screen-printed empowerment patch from Durham-based fabric artist River Takada-Capel (her business is called Rivtak). Bonus points for the artist’s purposeful use of remnant and salvaged materials in all of her products.

$2.8 million earned

This is the estimated cumulative earnings among participating artists over a decade. Any working artist will tell you: Art doesn’t sell itself. To truly devote themselves to their chosen passion, artists need a paying audience.

Asheville-based company Seed & Sky (owned by Kelcey and Alex Loomer) crafts one-of-a-kind jewelry featuring detailed illustrations from the natural world. The Loomers shared this testimonial on the Big Crafty’s website: “The Big Crafty draws an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd. This sort of attentiveness makes earning a living selling handcrafted items so much more enjoyable.”

A throng of thousands

Estimated attendance at Big Crafty shows regularly ranges from 6,000 to 10,000 art lovers. So, if you are planning to help celebrate the show’s “Big 1-0,” arrive early for the best parking. Most importantly, clear a space on your favorite shelf or wall beforehand, because this is one party you don’t want to leave empty-handed.

WHAT: The Big Crafty, thebigcrafty.com
WHERE: Pack Square Park, 80 Court Plaza
WHEN: Sunday, July 15, noon-7:30 p.m. Rain or shine. Free

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