HandMade Arcade: Cool Crafts or Conspicuous Creation?

Ledcat and I rolled into Point Breeze today for the Handmade Arcade which is giant fair of handmade stuff held at Construction Junction.

Last year, I enjoyed the event with a few reservations, most notably about my number one bitch — gigunda baby strollers.  This year, the event was spread over two days and we intentionally waited until Sunday afternoon which was a major good decision on our part.  We caught a decent parking space, nimbly side stepped the rude folks chit chatting at the front entrance and hit the tables. 

I have to admit there was a ton of cool shit.  Purses, wallets, headbands, tee shirts, belts, lotions, potions and more.  We had a nice time just browsing the tables and chatting with the vendors. 

We found a couple of gifts and I bought some soap for myself.  Ledcat's mom told us to stop buying bottles of shower gel because of the plastic.  So I'm going to try and go back to a bar of soap.  I hate soap slime so this will be a real test for me.  I bought soap that smells like cedar so it will sort of be like showering in my closet.  Whatever. 

Great improvements include expanding to two days (see above).  Bringing in the Franktuary to provide sustenance was stellaer.  There's something about a fair that demands a hotdog so I was glad to get one from a cool place.  With chips.  Something to think for next year — a few tables so we could stand and put our stuff down and chow down quickly.  Instead, we improvised with a recycling bins and the unusually large pockets in my sweatshirt. Think tables. Also, CoCos Cupcakes from Shadyside was there.  Delish-us.  I bought one to eat and a half dozen to take to my parents house for dinner. The map was helpful. 

I was a little disappointed that so many of the crafts were duplicative and rather frou frou. I wrote this last year:

Here's a question I have.  The article in the PG ran the following quote from an event organizer and I must be on slow-mo because I just don't get it:

“Its genesis was in alternative culture, and wanting to produce something just for the act of producing it, and to bring an artistic sensibility to that act of producing it,” said another Arcade organizer, Elizabeth Prince, 31.

If we produce for the sake of production, then aren't we contributing to a consumption culture?  Or is the assumption that things are produced NOT for consumption necessarily?  But how could you afford to do it? 

Event organizer, Gloria Forouzan responded in the comments section:

I believe that what my co-organizer, Elizabeth was saying in her quote, (“…wanting to produce something just for the act of producing it…”), is that indie crafters make crafts for the sheer joy of creating beautiful/funny/odd things with their hands.

I'm still not convinced.  I understand that it is fun to create (or recreate) something, but I'm still wondering about the utility factor.  Ledcat pointed out that you can't exactly make useful items such as kitchen utensils.  But, I pointed out, you can make pot holders and placemats and napkins and dish towels.  Something we use on a regular are throws for our sofa.  Imagine a throw constructed from blue jeans with cool patches or stencils.  We would buy something like that and use it.  It just seems that making cool pretty useful things would be higher on the chain of socially conscious actions than cool pretty stuff you can really only look at. 

Is there such a thing as conspicuous creation?

However, it was fine to attend and pick up some soap and a certain item that just might be a gift for Ledcat.  We bumped into some gals about town.  We had some amusing experiences with the dumpster divers when we dropped off our recycling.  I don't think someone diving into a dumpster to go through discards should push aside someone bringing more discard offerings.  Kind of like biting the hand that feeds you.  Apparently, there was a run on nursing school handbooks from the University of Pittsburgh.

One of the vendors told me that only 10 or so of the vendors were local.  What?  Can that be true?  She told me about another fun sounding event coming up — I Made It! which seems to be this floating semi-regular event featuring all local DIYers.  It is coming up on Saturday December 8 in Homestead.  That is the worst possible week of the year for me, but the event goes until 8 PM so it might be doable. 

Still, only ten local vendors?  That just doesn't seem balanced.  Someone fill me in. 

If I'm going to do soap, it would be nice for it to be yinzer soap.  🙂

I would say go to Handmade Arcade next year.  Support your local crafters who are doing their part to reuse and spread a little beauty in the world.  Have a hot dog and a cupcake (or two). 


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  • I was truly disappointed in the Handmade Arcade this year – I may not attend again.
    It just seemed like it was a lot of expensive, useless items. It really didn't even have the feel of a “craft” show.
    I too bought some bath goods – that seems to be one area of DIY I haven't yet mastered, so I was glad to be able to do that. And of course, my yearly Franktuary dog.
    But overall, I felt a lot of disappointment. I noticed a lot of the vendors from past years were missing – the focus did seem to be on the out-of-towners. Which to me, seems beside the point.
    Also, I have participated in an I Made It as a vendor and it was great. It seems like their idea of an out-of-towner is Acme, Westmoreland County (still metro area, right?) Carrie Nardini, the force behind I Made It! is great to work with – understanding, helpful, and talented in her own right. I suggest anyone who can should stop by her shows.

  • My highlight of this year's Handmade Arcade was that there were two days, so the foot traffic was spread out a little more and you could actually walk and look at stuff without being knocked over/knocking someone over.
    My lowlights were that there was no ATM (and there isn't one anywhere close to there), there seemed to be less diversity with the vendors, fewer locals, it was freezing.
    But, that said, I don't believe in “conspicuous consumption” as a negative! Art doesn't necessarily need to be useful, just beautiful/interesting/compelling. That *is* it's purpose! I bought several items that were more utilitarian (and also cool) and some art that is simply for enjoying.
    Meet you at the recycling bins for a Franktuary veggie dog next year?

  • First of all, thanks for coming back to Handmade Arcade this year and for spreading the word about HA! I am one of the organizers, and I wanted to respond to a couple of points that you made.
    Here is the geographic breakdown of vendors this year:
    Pittsburgh, PA: 62
    Morgantown, WV: 1
    Other places in PA: 7
    Canada: 2
    Out of State: 35 (this includes local OH)
    While one of our aims has been and will continue to be supporting local crafters, we have always also included some out-of-area vendors as a way to ensure that Handmade Arcade gives Pittsburghers the opportunity to buy a wide variety of items that they may not be able to get all the time. (For the record, there were two yinzer soap vendors this year – Disquieting Designs and Sunstone Soaps – in addition to the two out-of-state vendors.)
    There are some other upcoming shows featuring all local artists and crafters, including the aforementioned I Made It!, as well as the Edgewood Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair on Dec. 1 and the Sweetwater Holiday Mart in Sewickley, which runs from November 25 – December 2. Also, UnWrapped at the Union Project from December 1 – January 4. Your desire to support locals is great!

  • Thanks for writing. Big difference between 10 and 62. Glad that I asked for clarification. And thanks for the heads up about the local soap vendors … if my cedar soaping experience is as sudsy as I hope, I'll follow up with them.
    Hopefully, the vendor who thought there were only 10 or so local vendors gets the accurate information. Maybe that would be something valuable to print in the program — location?
    Thanks for working on a valuable event and for being open to feedback. I'm going to be looking for some funky placemats …

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