Rachel Bone on Pile of Craft, Baltimore’s Favorite Local Hand-Made Shopping Experience

There are certain artists whose studios come across as grounds for a photoshoot, and not a real live/workspace. They are pristine, perfect and organized just so. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon, Tony Oliver of Dylan Designs is proving to me his own studio needs no such orderliness to produce the beautiful things he makes. Surrounded by piles of dust, metal and locally sourced wood, Oliver is in the middle of building brass lamps for Charm City Craft Mafia’s Pile of Craft juried craft fair. It is one of a handful of annual craft shows that subsidize his income as a custom furniture maker with the offering of smaller handmade items like lamps, wooden cutting boards, and handsome turned-wood pendant lights. (The things you just pump out on the side, in your free time, right?)

Specks+Keepings / Dylan Design

Pile of Craft will feature a careful selection of artisans who, like Oliver, have ditched former desk jobs or inflexible schedules to embrace traditional skills and hands-on labor. They come from all over the country, and work in a range of mediums from hand quilting and recycled ceramic jewelry, to letterpress printing and leather tooling. Most aim to create artwork accessible to a broader audience, and more utilitarian than a gallery show, while giving craft a modern twist. All have been chosen for their ability to combine all three while fitting into a certain aesthetic that jurors deem most sellable.

Say what you will about Baltimore’s lack of fine art collectors, but this city can only boast about the enormous support for independent craft businesses. Baltimore is so belligerently, and infectiously, supportive of locally made products that vendors at Craft Mafia events have been known to end the day with completely empty tables.

Strangers regularly encourage each other to buy clothing from my own hand printed apparel line. The women behind Kinderhook Snacks, a favorite at Pile Of Craft as well as in countless stores all over the city, can barely keep their snacks in stock and had to move from home kitchen to commercial operation almost overnight. Jennifer Strunge, of Cotton Monster, started her business the day she graduated MICA, when a local couple discovered and bought the majority of her thesis show, a mock child’s bedroom full of hand-sewn creepy monster toys emerging from under a bed. MICA has taken note of Baltimore’s interest in the craft community, in fact, and started an art and business program in collaboration with Etsy.com.

Cotton Monster

Cotton Monster / Quilt by Namoo

The day I visit Oliver, he proudly introduces me to his first part time employee, who has been bending brass pipes into table legs on a handmade jig, and sanding down some of the custom pieces Oliver has painstakingly designed and built. They can’t seem to keep legs in stock, because – inspired by the movement of DIY as a whole, or countless skill share classes popping up all over town – people have started purchasing them to build their own tables. The more this city defines itself as a community that values where and how its products are made, the more talented folks, like Oliver, who moved here from the mid-west to begin his business, seeing affordable living and a wide open market in his craft, take interest in this supportive place, get to making things, and maybe – just maybe – feel inspired to stay past art school graduation.

If community spirit alone is not reason enough to drag yourself to a craft fair this Saturday… you should know that Kinderhook snacks really are F*&%ing delicious.

Pile of Craft happens Saturday, June 7 at 2640 St. Paul Street from 10 – 5 pm.

* Author Rachel Bone is an artist and business owner based in Baltimore. Her gouache paintings have been exhibited and collected internationally and prints are available locally at Trohv in Hampden. Her hand printed apparel company, Red Prairie Press, designs and sells its hand-printed, earth-conscious clothing at craft fairs across the country and wholesale to 45 stores worldwide.

** Featured Image: Kinderhook Snacks / Yummy & Co