Monday, May 4, 2009

Baltimore Show Debrief

I just got back from the Baltimore Fine Furnishings and Fine Craft Show after an all night drive (we left at 6:45pm and arrived in Montpelier at 4 am). It was a first year show so it was pretty much a gamble for everyone involved. Unfortunately, although the quality of the art was high, there were some problems in bringing in the people. Saturday was extremely slow; Sunday was better but still not what it needed to be. Most people were disappointed but seemed to realize that it is especially hard to get people to come to first year shows and that future years would probably be better. I didn't hear anybody say they wouldn't be back.

Personally, I didn't make any sales but that wasn't the primary goal anyway. I was looking for exposure and connections. The response to my work was good and I talked to at least three people that were either dealers or friends of dealers who were interested in passing along information about my work. If just one of those conversations leads to something, the show would be worth the time and effort. I'm sure it will take several months to find out if it pays off so I remain hopeful. At the same time, I was surprised there were not more dealers and collectors at the show.

I also had a number of interesting conversations, including talking with James Adajian, co-owner of a fine furniture restoration, conservation, and reproduction firm - Adajian and Nelson. We had a good conversation about french polishing and SDA 3C shellac solvent (it is what the pros use). As I suspected, SDA 3C 200 proof is a much more aggressive solvent and it makes french polishing more difficult. I just need to improve my technique, its still doable, just need to have a softer hand (update: James had recommended using upholstery cotton inside the cloth ball used in french polishing and it does work much better than the old cotton t-shirts I was using. It is much softer so touching down and lifting off the board much gentler). I also learned that french polish was traditionally done on table tops and that they still do it. It does get damaged but so does any other type of finish you could use, but the french polish is much easier to repair. Traditionally, people would just schedule a refinisher to come by the house every few years and renew the polish.

Here are three images of my new 5 x 20 booth. It was quite a lot of work to build and put together but I think it worked well. I'll modify it slightly for the 10 x 10 space at Paradise City in a few weeks. The good thing about not selling anything is that I still have my best work for that show. I find you can't have enough lights. I had 17 for 15 pieces of art and still could have used two more. I also think the paint color worked well. I chose "Anonymous" from Sherwin-Williams. It is about as neutral as you can get, a dark greenish-brown gray. If figured it would help the colors pop and I think it worked.

My favorite work at the show was by Katherine Park. She creates these amazingly complex and original surrealistic sculptural furniture. Although it is museum quality (in design and craft) she is still below the radar. I didn't get a chance to interview her and find out more about her history, but you can see from her resume that she hasn't shown much and that she isn't currently represented by a gallery. It looks like she has taken a break and is just getting back into promoting her work. Amazing stuff though. She has an undergraduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and a masters from the Rochester Institute of Technology School of American Crafts - and it shows.

"As the Deer Pants for Water" and Untitled (clock)
©Katherine Park

"As the Deer Pants for Water" (close-up)
©Katherine Park

"The Kingdom will Come" (writing desk)
©Katherine Park

There were also a few people at the show who were showing off beautiful wood in its almost natural state. Both Jeffrey Oh and David Stine had enormous slabs of walnut. They both also used butterfly key joinery to stabilize cracks -- Jeffrey with contrasting/highlighting bird's-eye maple protuding from the surface, David with flush walnut butterflies. Wood is art and both of them did a great job of highlighting its natural beauty.

Jeffrey's slab is Bastogne Walnut, an extremely rare natural cross between California Claro Walnut and California English Walnut. He got it from Talarico Hardwoods and said he hasn't paid for it yet, the purchaser can pay for the slab directly from the retailer and Jeffrey will add his time into the cost. The purchaser can also decide what he wants to do with the slab - table? counter top? wall sculpture?. He said it sells for $100/board-foot or around $4600. Pricey stuff but truly amazing.

Bastogne Walnut
©Jeffrey Oh
Bastogne Walnut
©Jeffrey Oh (close-up)

David Stine's walnut slab is about 9 feet by 4 feet and comes from somewhere in the 360 acre wood lot he manages sustainably from his family's old dairy farm. He harvests, mills, and kiln dries the lumber himself. This table has a convenient whole in the middle so that you can pass scraps to the dog without sliding your hands under the table. The base is made with knock down pegs so it is easy to move around as long as you are comfortable swinging around 150 lb slabs of lumber. David is a big guy and it is clear that he is using woodworking as a substitute for going to the gym.
Lowder Table
©David Stine

Next to my booth was Corwin Butterworth Custom Furniture. His work wavers through the Asian/Shaker/Mission aesthetic. I particularly like his Asian influenced pieces, like this "Four Post Chair". A really great design. He said it was influenced by the rear seats in the Suburu Brat. Apparently, it had handles for the passengers to hang on to like this chair.

"Four Post Chair"
©Corwin Butterworth

Also at the show as Carl Schlerman's company Crimson Asphalt. I especially like this combination of concrete, ash, and spalted maple. Talk about solid furniture. The whole thing probably weights between 350 and 400 lbs. At the same time the tappered legs and slopping top give it a very elegant and welcoming form.
©Carl Schlerman


  1. the paint color looks great with your work on it, i thought about you this weekend, was hoping it went well. glad you are happy with the outcome...wish there had been more people and sales for everyone.