Made by hand and sold for a charitable cause, the Craft2Wear festival gave arts and crafts a whole new meaning.
The National Building Museum played host to a slew of homespun artists over the weekend, all selling their personal artwork to benefit education and research at the Smithsonian.
Resembling an indoor bazaar and set against lofty, intricate architecture, towering Grecian columns and a bubbling water fountain, the Smithsonian’s Craft2Wear show took over the historical space. Forty American artists displayed clothes, jewelry, bags and other hand-made accessories, for a wide range of prices.
Many of the artists have been in the crafts business for well over a decade and consider their work to be full-time jobs, rather than just hobbies.
Melissa Schmidt, from St. Louis, Mo., has made glass jewelry for 17 years. Four years ago, she stumbled upon century-old buttons made of glass bubbles at an antique store in Ithaca, N.Y. Inspired by the uniqueness of the buttons, she began to experiment with her own take on bubble glass jewelry.
“I use a torch and glass tubing, and I melt [the glass]. Then, I use tweezers and some other tools to blow in the tube and fabricate the bubbles. I use a kiln and fire them at 1200 degrees,” Schmidt said.
Fellow craft connoisseur Wendy Stevens, a self-described “sheet metal fabricator,” creates functional yet playful handbags out of stainless steel and leather. Stevens explained that she creates the pieces while keeping in mind the necessity of fitting in the everyday essentials. Her handbags start at $400 and can be found at craft shows and on her website. In addition, four of her pieces are also part of the permanent collection at the Tassen Museum in Amsterdam.
Kathleen Nowak Tucci, an environmentally conscious artist, creates eco-friendly recycled rubber jewelry that drew a large group of people to her booth. Working for 25 years as an artist, Tucci spent a quarter century turning rubber into art.
“My original idea didn’t work, and I had this box of inner tubes in my studio for months…so I just started to play with inner tubes. It’s lightweight, it’s malleable, it’s flexible and it’s been fun working with it,” Tucci said.
Tucci was also one of the first eco-designers to have her work grace the cover of Vogue Italia, in the August 2010 issue. Her pieces can be found locally in D.C. at Art and Soul in Capitol Hill, starting at $50.
Making the trip up north, the duo behind North Carolina-based Kane Sells Studio, made up of Michael Kane and Steven Sells, has specialized in the textile business for over 22 years.
“We were originally actual painters, two-dimensional painters, and we dabbled in dyes and we started tie-dyeing T-shirts and selling them in farmers’ markets…that’s how we really started,” said Kane.
When they began using the Japanese “shibori” technique, a complex method of dyeing requiring multiple, tedious steps, the process made the shirts too expensive to actually find enough customers, so they switched to silk. Currently their work is sold in craft shows around the country, ranging in price from $75 to $295.
Patricia Palson, a hand weaver from New Hampshire, has a passion for making “art to wear.” Palson explained her clothes, made of silk, merino wool and rayon chenille, are each unique piece because she weaves all of her own fabrics. One of her pieces, a dress with several tiers of wavy fabric in an origami-like style, was inspired by the waves of the ocean.
Her work is sold exclusively at craft shows, connecting her directly to those buying her products.
“There’s a big movement going on for things made in America, but at a show like this, it’s not only made in America, but you’re also buying it from the person who actually made it,” Palson said.
Twenty percent of the sales from the Craft2Wear show, created by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, will go toward supporting education and research at the Smithsonian Institute.