When Sherry Masters first heard about American Craft Week, which launched in 2010, she saw it as an opportunity. “In our field, crafts, people don’t have to go buy that. It’s not groceries,” she said. During the recession, she saw craftspeople and crafts gallery owners retiring early or closing their businesses. Masters heard people saying, “It would be great if we could compete a little more with the big-box stores.” Out of those conversations came the idea to pool everybody’s small advertising budgets to create a big impact.
Though Masters was busy with her own job — she’s a former buyer for the Grovewood Gallery — she thought it would be sad if nobody from Asheville participated in the inaugural American Craft Week. So she reached out to 30 gallery owners and managers and suggested that together they do something to attract craft-enthusiast tourists to the area. “I realized if Grovewood Gallery participates, it wouldn’t be noticed, but if the whole region participated together, it would be. So that’s what we did,” she says.
American Craft Week actually spans 10 days — from Friday, Oct. 2, to Sunday, Oct. 11 — with participating organizations in every state. Many states, however, only have an event or two. North Carolina boasts 40 entries on the American Craft Week website. So many of those (34) are based in Western North Carolina that the region is just one of three with its own Web page. In an American Craft Week-led poll to determine the top 10 towns in the U.S. for craft lovers, Asheville came in No. 5.
“It brought all of us together [though we] used to sometimes be competitors in the different craft stores,” Masters says of Craft Week. “It’s one event we all work on together [and this] became a great networking group. We all realized we each had something to contribute, and we could all help out while doing our own businesses.” After her success spearheading the group of WNC-based participants, Masters was asked to be on the board of American Craft Week. And though she’s never been a craftsperson herself, Masters, who is from Mars Hill, has long worked on the business end of the craft industry. She currently runs Art Connections Tours, which connects art lovers with art makers.
The WNC participants in American Craft Week have come up with another way to bring the region’s craft heritage to collectors and admirers. Through a partnership with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the group is producing three short videos. “We’ll be sharing some of our craft history in one video, giving viewers an insight as to why Western N.C. has so many artists, craft schools, galleries and supporting organizations,” says the WNC page of the American Craft Week website. “Another video will show you what is happening in the area currently that you can experience when you visit. Finally, we will video our participation in the American Craft Week celebration.” The project received a grant through the Asheville Area Arts Council and began talks with videographer Jared Kay of Amplified Media in January. The videos are available on exploreasheville.com.
Another addition to this year’s celebration: a theme. Actually, it’s more of a fill in the blank — “Craft creates…” The WNC group thought of lots of ways to finish that sentence but decided the ultimate statement was “Craft creates community.” To illustrate that point, members of the group are working on a large banner with nine organizations (Local Cloth, Village Potters, Mountain Made, John C. Campbell Folk School, Haywood Community College, the Folk Art Center, Asheville Art in the Park, Yummy Mud Puddle and the Madison County Arts Council) with each making one of the letters in the word community.
The crafting of the banner takes place, appropriately, during American Craft Week. After that, it will be displayed at the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands and may travel the region. Another Craft Week extension is the online exhibit, Masterpiece, for which one artist from each state was invited to participate. The display, at acwgalleryshop.com, runs for a month, ending Sunday, Oct. 11. It includes potter Cynthia Bringle from Penland.
“That should be an impressive opportunity to see the whole country,” says Masters. But starting closer to home is just fine, too. Plan a driving tour to area craft galleries, or just take in exhibits, demos and events in downtown Asheville — where American Craft Week comes just once a year, but every day is craft day.