29 June 2007

This was first posted on “Wholesalecrafts.com discussion board”
From: M.R. Daniels

I don’t know of one single gallery that cares a rat’s patootie if the work
is made by one person or a stduio with employees. Interested, maybe, as
bio information, but never basing purchases on it. For that reason I don’t
think it needs to be categorized. Buyers shop by media… “I need more
glass artists” or “I have to find a potter that fits our style”… not by
staff of the artist. Yes, many galleries insist on all-American made, but
that can be told in bio info and some will lie anyway. I have never heard
of a gallery that would pass on good work because the artist had
The whole controversy over studio size and staff has me baffled. As most
people know, I ran a studio with several employees. Maybe because I come
from a theater background (where collaboration is the norm) I never saw it
as any big deal, or maybe because my husband and I were partners—he
built, I painted, and we still considered our work handmade—and yes,
even with hired help doing sanding, base painting, even some more creative
stuff on some things. Without us there directing every step the work would
not be ours.
There are studios out there who use a number of employees and are doing
fantastic HANDMADE artisan work. Milon Townsend glass, Sticks or
Shoestring furniture, Lotton glass, Buggy Whip are a few who come to mind.
All the work has the distinctive mark of quality brought to it by the
artist, and even if the artist-owner didn’t touch the piece it still
carries the vision and care that a one person studio may achieve.
If such a studio were categorized, what happens when a potter suddenly has
a burst of orders and needs to hire someone to stack the kiln or dip pots
in glaze or attach handles? Does the artist lose his One Man status?
Suppose an artist starts as a one person operation (most of us did) and
thru continued success builds (say, over a year or two or five) to a five
or seven person staff, or even twenty. Does that mean they jump
categories, or that buyers will have to discontinue them, maybe not find
them again? Once the work achieves collector interest, the gallery will
not carry them?
Historically, most successful craft studios became big. Tiffany, Morris,
Faberge, Lalique, and hundreds of others. Yet the work produced by those
studios are unmistakably the vision of the founding artist and add
distinction to the world of craft. There are even primitive folk art
studios that have a team of stitchers or builders working for them.
This is not always a bad thing!
True, defining “handmade” gets sticky because you could easily say any
factory produces handmade work… and many artists use lots of machines,
even if they are a one person studio. By the same token, there are a lot
of one person studios that produce crap.
So why not base it on quality and design? As a past juror I don’t believe
I was ever fooled by work that was being passed off as handmade in America
when it was actually imported or mass produced. That has to do with a
selective eye, not with knowing the categorical makeup of the producer.
Yes, there are shows that get scammed. So throw out the artist, and be
more careful jurying after that. Tighten up the application
standards—more pictures, more production descriptions, lists of
suppliers, references (I don’t think I ever saw any show ask for
references) whatever. But mainly, be sure your jurors know the field.
One more point: These debates will eventually bring up the fact that good
design can then be mass produced and sold at Walmart. (Can’t think of the
name of the guy who designs kitchen appliances for Target). Well, gosh,
folks, in this business isn’t there someone watching, people who know the
field? My daughter is a wardrobe stylist and knows the label on any piece
of clothing from fifty feet away. So the designer may have started out in
fine craft shows, hit it huge and now designs for Target…that doesn’t
make the work any less—just means he no longer belongs in certain types
of shows. MOMA might have his work, but Paradise City wouldn’t.
As the industry expands and more people buy fine craft (and isn’t that
what we want???) there is bound to be that sort of change in marketing.
Yes, it gets harder to circle the horses when we aren’t sure who belongs
inside the circle. But categorizing work by artificial standards is not
going to insure anything but artificiality. It all comes down to how much
you like the work, which depends on how educated you are in looking at it.

This discussion was very active in ’95-’00, started by potters as the Small Studio Alliance and then open to every one. It is now defunct but was the first inkling of todays problems–|

The Small Studio Alliance (TSSA) Expands Membership
Starting in January 1998, The Small Studio Alliance (TSSA) will be making
its membership available to artisans in all of the fine crafts that make
up the contemporary American craft arena. In addition to expanding
membership, a website is being developed, increased information activity
is planned, a new logo has been introduced and a reorganization of the
dues structure will provide financial stability.
The Small Studio Alliance was initiated in February 1995 to help clarify,
to the retail trade and to consumers, the differences between ceramic
studios which produce work primarily by hand methods and studios which
use mechanical and manufacturing processes. We were responding to
frequently heard complaints that the identity of the small one or two
person hand-crafted studio was being confused with the work of much
larger production operations, says Ron Larsen who with Angela Fina, a
Massachusetts potter, is one of the founders.
During Its first two years, TSSA received coverage in the craft press,
ran several informational ads and held a number of organizational
meetings. Frequently people working in crafts other than clay attended
these meetings and encouraged the organization to broaden its memberships
beyond just ceramics. During 1997, I helped at meetings at 2 major
wholesale shows, said member Michael Jones. At each one, jewelers,
glass workers, weavers, woodworkers and others said that such an
organization was long overdue in their fields and that the objectives of
TSSA fit them like a glove.
In the fall of 1997, a steering committee decided that starting in
January 1998, membership would be open to small studios in all of the
crafts media. Criteria for membership includes:
-The studio shall have, at most, two principals.
-The making of all work shall involve, at every stage, the
direct, hands-on participation of the studio s
-The work by the studio shall be by traditional hand methods. If
industrial/manufacturing techniques are
used, they shall be employed only to accomplish aesthetic
Special thanks to Glennis for commenting and finding this and securing permission to publish it here. Sure would like to hear from more of you!


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