Friday, December 6, 2013

Art and madness at One of a Kind Show

Posted By on 12.06.13 at 12:31 PM

Doesnt that just say crafty to you?
Yesterday was the last day of Hanukkah. It was also the beginning of Holiday Craft Fair Season. It can be argued that since the advent of Etsy, Holiday Craft Fair Season has never really ended, and also that it's much more pleasant to shop for adorable one-of-a-kind handcrafted gifts for your loved ones in the quiet and privacy of your own home, where you don't get shoved and jostled and where you don't even have to put on pants.

But there is nothing like a holiday craft fair to bring on the true spirit of Christmas: good intentions quickly squashed by the urge to spend all your money as quickly as possible in order to get the fuck away from your fellow human beings. And also smelly candles.

The One of a Kind Show opened in the Merchandise Mart yesterday morning. It will be there all weekend. It was also on my way from the train to the office, so I stopped by to check it out.

According to Lisa Simonian, who's in charge of marketing for the show, the 13-year-old One of a Kind Show is immune to the alleged retail malaise that plagued our nation's retailers over Thanksgiving weekend. "It's recession-proof," she says. "The economy doesn't impact us. People come to the show to feel good about buying original, handmade work direct from the artists and artisans." Last year 55,000 shoppers and 600 sellers showed up. This year, Simonian expects between 55,000 and 60,000 shoppers, all paying $12 apiece just to get in.

A few of them were creeping in before the 11 AM opening, some dragging empty suitcases that were not carry-on size. One cynical crafter were overheard to complain that rich people could wangle anything. Some artists were still rushing to finish setting up their booths. But most were ready. About two-thirds of the sellers had been through the show before.

"Last year every day I'd have to go home and make more [bags]," says Bijal Hemani, owner of Botene Designs, a Lincoln Park-based producer of customized purses and diaper bags. "And then I'd sell out and have to go back and make more."

"I heard Saturday is the busiest," says Stu Waters with some trepidation. This is his first trip to One of a Kind. He's selling Bloody Mary mix. He hauled in bottles and boxes from Logan Square. "Nah, these aren't for sale," he says. "Just kidding."

Waters is prepared.

At the One of a Kind Show, you can buy just about anything. You can buy scarves (silk or woven or knit) or handbags (cloth or leather or synthetic material magically created from recycled plastic). You can buy a sweater made of wool or chain mail, though it's advised to wear something under the chain mail. You can buy jewelry made from precious metals or from industrial wire or old watch parts. You can buy $30 pairs of mohair socks and $50 mittens (from Michigan) and extremely fancy Christmas stockings to put them in. You can outfit yourself (or a loved one!) in the style of Mad Men or Doctor Who or The Hunger Games. And yes, there are bows and arrows.

The sheet metal chair
There is furniture, made of wood, both ordinary and from the estate of James Madison, custom-hewn from a sawmill in Virginia, and of reclaimed sheet metal. "I'm near Cleveland," explains Doug Meyer, maker of the sheet metal shelves and chairs (which are surprisingly comfortable, considering). "There's a lot of scrap metal there. It's the land where manufacturing died." The metal comes from old school desks and industrial shelves and even furnace housings. Meyer's biggest problem is finding colored metal. "A lot of it is green-grey institutional," he explains. "Everything was made to go with that kind of decor, that washed-out greige color."

Now that you've got furniture, you'll need appropriate decor. Photographs of Chicago abound. There's the skyline! An el train! The marquee of the Chicago Theatre! The stairs inside the Rookery Building! Do photographers ever leave the Loop? Oh, wait, there's one clever seller who has set up a large-scale of the view from inside the Merchandise Mart, looking south across the river, exactly the same view you'd see if you bothered to get yourself to a window!

Then there's Clifton Henri, whose photos depict daily life in the south-side neighborhood where he grew up and straddle the line between decoration and art.

Pencil-enhanced coffee table
There's also Sue Lowenberg, the Pencil Lady, who decided one day to cover her own furniture with pencils so it would match the outsider art she'd collected. She was a graphic artist, so she had a lot of extra pencils lying around. These days, though, she has to look harder. "I get them on eBay, flea markets, Target." Her niece, who is a teacher, saves pencils with used-up erasers. Lowenberg has branched out from furniture to jewelry and neckties made from vintage pencils, mostly the kind that used to be given out to advertise businesses. She promises that, for a certain kind of man, her neckties are "chick magnets."

There is an Etsy corner, full of bright colors and happiness and redolent of the smell of popcorn. You can buy child- or pet-sized superhero capes there, though, as it turns out, there is at least one other booth on the main floor that also sells them.

Of course you can't live without food. Why you would want dehydrated soup, or powder to dip your cheese in, is a mystery, but it's easy to gift wrap. Because One of a Kind is a market in Chicago, there is fried cheese. Under the name Jo Snow, Melissa Yen sells cane-sugar-based syrups that can be mixed with seltzer water to make soda or with booze to make cocktails, though she also eats it mixed with oatmeal and drizzled over Brussels sprouts. (She says the fig-vanilla-black pepper syrup is particularly good for this. It actually doesn't sound like such a bad idea.) Yen works out of a shared kitchen in Humboldt Park. Her sassafras root beer is particularly delicious, mellow and gingery and not overly sweet.

Melissa Yen and Jo Snow Syrups

Is golf a necessity? Ember Luxury Wood Putters sells putters that are, as their slogan puts it, "smokin' hot and beautiful" and look almost too beautiful to be wasted on golf. "If you keep your head cover on, you'll be fine," promises proprietor Barbara Keith. "We guarantee the finish." She shows off her own personal putter, which bears the image of Mickey Mouse. (Ember will create customized putters for between $299 and $400 a pop. They appear to do a lot of college logos.) It's only slightly worn on the edge. "See that?" The finishing process appears to involve three layers of the same sort of varnish used on boats.

One thing that is definitely a necessity is deodorant. The Duggan sisters, Annie and Mary, swear that their Lifestinks-brand deodorant, which they have manufactured in the basement of their home in Beverly since 2003, can improve your life, in more significant ways than making sure your armpits don't stink. Their deodorant is a powder made from all-natural ingredients that don't clog up the lymphatic system the way conventional deodorants do. In their booth, they keep diagrams on hand that show the proximity of lymphatic system to the breasts and they argue that a healthy lymphatic system can help prevent breast cancer. Have you been using regular deodorant since the onset of puberty? Fear not! The sisters also manufacture a Smartsoak that will drain those toxins right out.

The Duggans did not offer suggestions about the most tactful way to deliver a gift basket of their products—because wouldn't that be like telling someone they smell?—but Annie Duggan did note that everything is environmentally friendly. So at least you can feel good about that. And isn't that what the holidays are all about?

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