Set up Time at the show

A man stood studying our jewelry and displays. "Does the show provide you with all this?"

set up DM 2009 Nope, each artist brings their own full 10' x 10' retail store to each show. And what they bring is as individual as their art. Some fly in and ship their booth and inventory ahead. Their booths tend towards the minimalist. Others come in large sprinter vans, trucks, vans pulling trailers. What is unloaded from those would put many circuses to shame. I always think this is the most fascinating time of a show, watching the various booths be put together tinker-toy style, until VOILA! a retail spot.

The Des Moines Art Festival has a leisurely set-up day. This is good. It was in the 90's with lots of humidity. It was brutal work. Everyone moved at half speed with lots of stops for brow wiping, drinking, and dirty glances at the sun. I got a little cranky, unloading the van,  putting up the canopy, setting up the display. The ever-cheerful and nothing-bothers-him hubby, kept at it saying it was fine, good for the soul and other such nonsense. Only after I threatened to kill him did he slow up his happy chatter. When one is miserable, one does not need happiness. We set-up the big stuff before I finally said "uncle" as we retreated to a cool hotel room. We went back to work some more after the sun had gone down & finished up the next morning.

The mother of invention being a weekend of intolerable heat, I came up with an idea for a swamp cooler in our booth. My brilliant idea?

So clever, so cool, but does it work.....?

A pan of ice sitting in front of a fan. Ignoring the fact that humidity renders a swamp cooler moot, it was sorta like spitting in the wind. But it made me feel like I had some control of my environment. Dave, the hubby, played along, "Yes, dear it DOES feel cooler in the tent."


The transition between being a solitary studio artist to a meet-and-greet retail sales person, is always a little rocky for me. I've had my head down nose to the file in the studio making pieces.....now its time to show them. It usually takes 1/2 day for me to get my talker going. Some of the most amazing non-sequiturs come out of me in the early stages of each show. Its as if I have forgotten how to talk while working in the studio. Our daughter calls them my "spoonerisms." I have told customers, "If I can ask any questions, let me know and I will ankwer them." Huh?

I like doing shows, I like seeing peoples reaction to my work. I just wish I could be more suave about it. The Des Moinians were patient with my first attempts. And as the weekend proceeded the weather cooled (sorta) and my talker came on line.

Remind me again, why am I here?

Art Shows/Festivals are the inevitable end to months of production for art show artists. Some artists love 'em, some hate 'em. I love doing shows. I can't help myself. Hubby Dave has accused me of thinking each show is my personal block party, put on just for me to have fun with people.

Dave working, me gone visiting.....

I routinely disappear during set-up to greet friends, catch-up, laugh. While he is relatively tolerant of me waltzing off to visit instead of helping, he does ask I touch back in periodically to help.

But what's to love about shows?

Art shows are hard work, usually following weeks of long days in our studios. Shows are a strenuous 3 days of standing in all sorts of weather from blazing heat, to winter snow (it happened in Scottsdale, AZ), high winds-that can lift one's canopy and send it flying, torrential rains, bugs, dust, fumes, loud music, kettle corn smoke, etc are all to be endured.

Artists must pack up their precious work to get it safely to the show + they must also bring with them all the display apparatus, canopy, weights, stakes, credit card machines, packing materials, ground cover, nice clothes, food, and more. This gets stuffed into small vans, large vans, vans with trailers, trucks, trucks with trailers.

Time to set up.

Upon arrival at a show artists spend hours setting up their 10' x 10' retail space, setting out their art, arranging it. This requires schlepping all this from a van or truck, lifting, reaching, tugging, pulling, pounding, screwing, and sometimes painting....

Set-up in rain & wind at Des Moines 2008.

And then after long hours in the studio, a long drive, a long set-up we artists retire to a motel room to rest and get ready for day 1. We're exhausted.

But on show days we dress up in our clean clothes, slick our hair into shape, and try to remember how to be a salesperson, instead of a solitary artist.

We endure silly questions & comments, "Did you make this yourself?" "My niece does work just like this" "Its awful expensive, could you tell me where you get your supplies?," "What is it?" and try to smile and remember why we're here.

We get hungry, eat too much festival food, must use endless porta potties, our feet hurt, our backs hurt, we're tired, and often grouchy. This is no way to sell art, we think.

Then someone walks into our booth and starts talking about our work. Our head's rise and we realize this person "gets it." They understand what we are doing with our art, they love it, and they want to buy it.

A connection is made. I never know my end buyer when I create a new pair of earrings, but they are ever on my mind as I work. I consider how the earrings will hang in their ears, the comfort of a ring, how a bracelet will fit. And finally at the show, I get to meet these people, who I have had a silent dialog with as I create my jewelry.

It's a golden moment.

All the hard work, bad weather, funny food, lost sleep, is forgotten in the joy of connecting with people. Be it customers or fellow artists, I find art shows feed my soul as much as making my art.

Where'd she go this time?