The Big Crafty returns for its 19th season

SHOP TALK: Asheville-based illustrator Geneva Benton is pictured speaking with customers at The Big Crafty in December. Her vivid, whimsical designs often place women of color in surrealistic scenes. “Allovegator,” for instance, depicts a woman fawning over an alligator as it drools pink slime.
SHOP TALK: Asheville-based illustrator Geneva Benton is pictured speaking with customers at The Big Crafty in December. Her vivid, whimsical designs often place women of color in surrealistic scenes. “Allovegator,” for instance, depicts a woman fawning over an alligator as it drools pink slime. Photo courtesy of The Big Crafty

What makes an indie craft, well, indie? Asheville’s Brandy Bourne, owner of Horse and Hero, says it has something to do with the spirit behind the product.

A decade ago, Bourne watched the indie craft movement develop as an offshoot of 1970s DIY culture. It soon took on a newfangled ethos, representing a reaction to monoculture, exclusivity and passive consumerism. “Social justice became the industry’s core,” says Bourne.

She and her husband, Justin Rabuck, have seen indie crafts evolve firsthand. Nine years ago, they founded The Big Crafty, a biannual art and craft market. With eclectic products and a convivial atmosphere styled after Taiwanese bazaars, The Big Crafty proved to be an instant hit.

The 19th iteration — set for Sunday, July 16, in Pack Square Park — will differ from previous years, chiefly in the diversity of makers. Bourne partly attributes the shift to intentional outreach. An early art opening at Horse and Hero featured the racially charged prints of Frank Dunson (aka Paper Frank) and sent a clear message of acceptance. “It put us on the radar for African-Americans. Now, we’re seeing creative entrepreneurs emerging from minority communities,” says Bourne.

But she can’t take complete credit. “Honestly, the indie craft movement has just had time to come into its fullness,” she says.

Meaning, the industry is gaining ground. According to Bourne, Etsy did a lot for growth. She and Rabuck entered the scene right when e-markets were providing a jolt of energy, allowing artists to make cash with little capital investment. After American finances crashed in 2008, the internet became a truly democratizing force. Anyone could hop online and sell for a nominal fee. But exchanging goods from behind a screen felt too impersonal for Bourne, who wanted to provide crafters with a space to interact with their customers face to face.

“Justin said, ‘We should put on an event,’” Bourne recalls. “So we booked a venue.”

Since 2008, The Big Crafty has jumped around several downtown venues. It outgrew The Grey Eagle in the River Arts District, moved from the Asheville Art Museum and Pack Place because of extensive renovations to that facility and finally settled at U.S. Cellular Center last December.

For summer, the event will be held in Pack Square Park. The outdoor space should give the more than 160 vendors room to breathe, says Bourne.

Some 75 percent of those preregistered makers are local, based in mountain towns like Sylva and Fleetwood. Amy Sreb with Siren’s Holler, for instance, is bringing her geometric jewelry to market. Folks can find softer, more organic designs in Spook and Hook, whose owner, woodcarver Anneliesse Mckee, shapes intricate kitchen utensils from sustainably sourced materials.

The remaining vendors are driving in from Georgia, upstate South Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Take, for example, LaPella Pottery of Unicoi, Tenn. Husband-and-wife team Alex and Lisa LaPella are veteran vendors who sell bright, whimsical kitchenware. Their floral patterns splash against muted glazes. There’s also Atlanta-based ceramicist Masayuki Sasaki, whose more contemporary pieces are heavily influenced by Japanese culture.

Though The Big Crafty began as a local initiative, Bourne considers it healthy for Asheville’s creative community to interact with artists from farther afield. “Those connections bring infusions of fresh energy and often spark collaborative friendships and projects,” she says.

And creative partnerships are big in indie crafts. Besides an uptick in ceramicists and avian motifs (put a bird on it, right?), collaborations are the next big thing. In the past few years, folks have been joining forces, says Bourne. A photographer may pair with a cartoonist; a traditional acrylic painter might team with a graffiti artist.

A similar synergy can be seen in a partnership between the Asheville Area Arts Council and The Big Crafty. Starting this summer, AAAC will offer free workshops on entrepreneurship. The outreach project joins other city initiatives aimed at providing artists with business know-how. It also supplements The Big Crafty’s new Startup Award, which offers free event participation, membership in the AAAC and creative support to an artist embarking on a new creative path.

“Our goal is to show what’s so special about getting to know the person you’re buying from,” says Bourne. “We want to illustrate that connection between putting your money where your heart is.”

WHAT: The Big Crafty, thebigcrafty.com
WHERE: Pack Square Park, 80 Court Plaza
WHEN: Sunday, July 16, noon-6 p.m.

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About Lauren Stepp
Lauren Stepp is an award-winning writer with bylines here in these mountains and out yonder, too.

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