POCATELLO, ID – When I’m not expounding “deeply” on useless topics, I weave and spin. No, I don’t oscillate back and forth (necessarily) nor do I ride a stationary bicycle. I sit at one of my three looms and throw a shuttle back and forth, or I am twisting fibers into yarn with my classic Ashford spinning wheel I bought directly from New Zealand back in the 1970s thanks to the listing in the Whole Earth Catalog, a valuable precursor to the Internet.
I attend two craft fairs a year, our own Sagebrush Art Fest, sponsored by the Pocatello Art Center, and the Idaho State University Women’s Holiday Fair. A percentage of the proceeds at the Holiday Fair helps fund student scholarships.
Many don’t realize what is involved in preparing to show one’s handmade goods at a fair. First off, fees must be paid. Depending upon the venue, entrance fees can run from $50 to $300 or more. Some venues demand a percentage of the total sales, the ISU fair is one that takes 20% of gross sales, but I don’t mind because student scholarships are a good cause.
When entering into such a contract, the craftsman/artist is gambling his/her time and money on the promotional abilities of the sponsors.
Pricing items to take the fees into account can be complicated. The craftsman/artist needs to pay for materials plus make some semblance of profit, yet if prices are set high for the market arena, sales will be low. Rarely, is the artist paid for his/her time.
Customers often ask “How long does it take you to make . . .?” After stumbling over several inadequate answers, I finally just say my age. This year it will have taken me 68 years to weave my tea towels, tablecloths, shawls and scarves. Developing an aesthetic evolves over time and is reflected in every piece in my booth.
I suppose customers ask such questions to see if they’re getting their money’s worth and silently calculate an hourly wage. But consider this, a simple line drawing by Picasso may have taken him less than a minute to draw, but a lifetime of practice, of observing, etc.
Individual artists at most craft/art fairs are responsible for collecting Idaho sales tax. Both permanent and temporary permits are available from the Idaho Tax Commission. Tax permits must be present at the sales booths.
Luckily, I only attend local fairs. But if I should go out of town, my expenses would greatly increase. I would have to pay for gas/transportation, hotel or camping fees, food, etc. A few years ago, I attended one out of town fair and didn’t sell a thing. Promotion for the event was poor, it turns out, and there was very little traffic. It made me wonder if the promoters collected the entry fees and absconded.
Setting up and taking down one’s booth can be a strenuous event. Items are packed into boxes and loaded into one’s car. Some artists carry their own collapsible booths with them which require setting up early or the evening before the event. Cars are unloaded, items unpacked and displayed. Tables and chairs are necessary and useful, and in my case, I bring a full-length mirror so customers can try on shawls, vests, scarves, etc. I also bring along a mannequin or two, and/or hanging torsos for display. I also require a pair of helping hands these days.
I try to load my car so that only one trip is necessary from my house to the site, and sometimes loading becomes quite a challenge, fitting all the odd-shaped pieces together like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle.
Manning one’s booth can be great fun. I enjoy chatting with customers I only see once a year as a kind of annual reunion. People try on clothing items and check themselves out in the mirror, ask advice from their friends and family members, and take delight in seeing what’s new in my weaving world this year.
Friends offer to maintain the booth while I take a break; others sit in the extra chair and chat. I also enjoy reacquainting myself with other artists/craftsmen. We exchange ideas, gather insights about other venues, laugh and enjoy these pleasant annual events in my private Pocatello.