Not Just For Dinner Anymore

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

    This holiday season, Kevin Barry will be sitting inside the Brooklyn Historical Society, surrounded by fellow artists from New York Creates and his eclectic collection of deconstructed, handmade clothing.

    He’s been proclaimed the edgiest artist from the bunch by his peers. And he’s 82 years old. Before deciding to tear up fabrics from Salvation Army’s and 99-cent stores on a near-full-time basis, he was traveling across Africa with the World Bank developing villages throughout the continent.

    But, despite his impressive background and artistic flair, he was told years ago by a designer in Paris, “’People are either going to love it [your clothing] or going to vomit.’”

    Barry is just one of over 35 juried craft and folk artists from the New York City area that will participate in the fourth annual New York Creates Holiday Crafts Festival—which runs until Dec. 23.

    “I have one of [Barry’s] coats, actually, and people are always stopping me and asking me where I got it. He definitely has a following,” says Judith Hooper, a fellow artist and on-site manager of the festival.

    The festival is sponsored by New York Creates, a non-profit organization created in 2003 with the goal of enriching both New York City communities as well as the lives of the artists who live in them.

    “The whole idea behind it is to create a positive situation for artisans and crafts people that live and work here [in New York City],” says Marsha Trattner, a blacksmith who will be selling her work at the festival. “You know, there are lots of fairs all over that have people coming in from other places. But, often, it’s [the pieces] not handmade or it’s imported. With this, you’re really supporting the local economy.”

    In addition to helping out these (usually starving) artists, chances are you’ll probably save a few pennies yourself, as many artists plan on having items priced anywhere from under $100 to as much as $500.

    “Everything we have there is unique, one-of-a-kind pieces,” Trattner says. “Plus, I love the idea of giving [support] to someone right in the area. I think that has a certain amount of meaning to it.”

    Trattner, a Cleveland-transplant, has been living in New York City for over 20 years and working as a blacksmith for over ten. In addition to teaching metal working at the School of Visual Arts, she also has her own studio in Red Hook. At the festival, Trattner will be selling her custom-made, steel house wares—including candlesticks, bowls and trivets—and even some handmade jewelry.

    In addition to Barry and Trattner, the festival features a diverse assortment of artists ranging from weavers to glassmakers to jewelers who were handpicked to participate in the event and market their exclusive pieces.

    “It’s absurdly expensive for most New York City artists to find marketing opportunities here. And there’s a high concentration of artists living and working here,” says Ted Berger, executive director of New York Creates. “It’s a niche economy [in New York City] that most people don’t really see. So, hopefully this helps people make more a living.”

    Hooper, a ceramic artist, praises the practical function of the festival. “It’s really all about the vendor being able to make money. And New York Creates doesn’t take any of the proceeds, since it’s a non-profit.”

    Hooper, aside from her artistic collaboration with Def Dance Jam Workshop, a creative outlet for deaf and hearing-disabled teens, will have an array of her one-of-a-kind, ceramic works on sale for visitors of the festival.

    “With New York Creates, my work is very textual. I like that the pieces are tactile and that people can touch my stuff,” Hooper says. “I also love that the festival is so personal and that you can buy directly from the artist something that can’t be found anywhere else.”

    And while you could go to Union Square and battle college students and tourists in an attempt to finish your holiday shopping, hopping on the train to head down to Brooklyn might be worth the trip.

    “In this present climate, the more we can do to help New York City artists stay here and make a living here and be creative here,” says Berger. “Then there’s more of a mutual benefit for everybody."