by Sophia Jactel
“We are in a period of Atlanta expressing its style. Atlantans are all in.” That’s local interior designer Smith Hanes. You may recognize his work in some of the city’s most renowned restaurants like The Optimist, JCT Kitchen and Bar, and the Watershed on Peachtree, as well as in private residences and the Serenbe community. He’s talking about the American Craft Council’s Craft Show, coming to town in March. Each year, the council hosts shows in Baltimore, St. Paul, San Francisco and Atlanta. The Atlanta show is the Southeast’s largest juried indoor craft event featuring over 225 of the country’s top contemporary craft artists presenting their latest creations in art, jewelry, clothing, furniture and home décor.
As a participant, Hanes is one of many artists contributing to its annual growth. Now in its 27th year, the 3-day event draws nearly 10,000 visitors. This year, it will be held at the Cobb Galleria Center on March 11-13. A few other featured Atlanta names include jeweler Kathleen Plate, metalsmith Theresa St. Romain, and textile maker Anne Vincent. All of these artists display an impressively extensive range of products, luring visitors to admire glass blown lamps, suede handbags, hand-dyed pottery, hand-stitched shawls and most anything else that falls within the realm of craft.
American craft is a coveted tradition. Ever since its marketplace boom in the 1970s, artists from all around the country have been coming together in the name of craftsmanship to propagate a thriving movement. The American Craft Council, founded in 1943, is a national nonprofit organization whose focus is to champion craft by promoting a deeper understanding and appreciation of it. Through the organization, artists are given a vehicle to express their aesthetic viewpoint and the mission of their work, whether it be sustainability, storytelling, cultural enrichment, social awareness or any other meaningful motivation. The council is focused on harnessing creative ideas to make their accomplishment a possibility by providing networking opportunities for artists who can then present original works to the masses. With this exposure comes an embracing of authentic art for its contributions not only to the local and national community and economy, but to basic human creative fulfillment.
Pamela Diamond, director of marketing and communications, explains the draw of the show: “People love it as a multidimensional experience.” Stroll by booths, witness live demonstrations, ask questions, gather business cards and even make friends. Very unlike a static art exhibit, the event is a hands on, interactive experience where the creators are physically present to represent their work. Designer Hanes describes it as “a place to meet the maker and talk about how they do what they do. At this show, you can walk up to the artist, hear their process and learn the how and why of their craft.”
But this synergy isn’t exclusively reserved for an elite group of artists. “We see more and more families with children coming to our shows,” adds Diamond. “Our audience is expanding significantly each year.” Aside from its multidisciplinary nature and growing outreach, the show’s history and longevity is a key aspect in its success. “The heart and soul of the craft artists that was there when we started is still there today. With our community, there’s a heritage that you can’t make up,” says Diamond.
Yet despite its old-fashioned roots, it doesn’t insist on sticking in the 20th century. To maintain its significance in the modern arts society and maintain a consistent parallel between the makers and buyers, the council and its show are always in a state of evolution: “We concern ourselves with staying relevant in our universe that’s starting to expand,” Diamond says. “We aim to build bridges to connect with it.” Education is another integral aspect of their motive, especially with the rapid decline in arts education systems around the country due to lack of funding. “We’re always educating people, first and foremost.”
Hosting a range of different projects within the show each year is one way they diversify their methods of educating the public. This year, for the “Make Room: Modern Design Meets Craft” project at the show, interior designers will be transforming a blank 10-by-10 space into a designed room by drawing inspiration from a craft piece made by a participating show artist. These spaces, when finished, are meant to reflect the combined character of the each craft piece and each designer’s vision of the stylistic theme. The theme is 4 Directions - North, South, East and West. As one of the participating designers, Smith Hanes insists on how important the craft show is to the city’s identity. He emphasizes the fact that it acts as a vessel to foster connections from artist to artist and from artist to community: “Atlantans want their city and the creatives within in to have a voice now. I’m one of those voices.” Through participating in this project, he aims to talk about the relevance of his own craft, interior design, as an art form. “The spaces we create are intended to evoke a reaction from the viewer. I believe when all the components of a room come together, there is an ineffable sense about the place that affects the people experiencing it. The way the light dances across the room, the shadows, how color interjects excitement or quiet.” We can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with.