Sunday, December 6, 2015

Reflections and Thoughts

This post was to have been done last week, but since I had been away at the show a week before, I was behind on my job, and had to work last Sunday in order to try to catch up a bit, and keep the client happy.

The show I was at was called the York Folk and Fine Art Show, in York Pennsylvania. If I went there to make any money, it was pretty much a waste of time. However, since I went there mostly in hopes of "getting my name 'out there'", more, perhaps I had some impact. Mostly, though, it is my intention in this post, to pass on some observations that I made regarding crafts and the people who do them, whilst attending the show.

Let the show begin...

The first thing, which I have been noting more and more in the last four years that I have again tried to get into some sort of show circuit, is the average age of those involved. At 48 years of age, I was the 'kid on the block', as in, out of some 80+ exhibitors, there were only two, who were younger than myself. (both furniture makers also.) There was a wide range to the variety of arts and crafts at the show, but the common thread throughout, was that the artists were almost all in their mid 50's to 80's. (This fact helped me to realise I still have a lot of mileage left in me; since I began this career about 20 years ago, I guess I am just getting warmed up actually.)

Doing a little bit of demonstration to pass the time

I do not like to sit and do nothing at a show; I prefer to work at something, which demonstrates what it is that I do, for anyone interested in seeing the work in action. This also allows me to get some work done on whatever project I happen to be working on at the time. In this case, it was more of my moulding project; I finished two more sections whilst attending this show. I also got a bit more carved on my 9th century box.

I was able to finish a couple more sections of my
rococo moulding project

Back to the topic of my musings, the second thing that I noticed, was how few young people were in the crowd who attended. At the Waterford Show that I do, there were more kids, but even there, the vast majority of the visitors to the show were over 45. This makes me wonder who is going to pick up the mantle when those of my generation are no longer able to continue. Perhaps by then, there will not be anyone left alive who even cares?

This past week, a client sent me a picture of a console table with the subject line of "what do you think?"

What am I supposed to think. What I think is that it is no wonder the craft shows keep getting smaller and less people attend them, either as exhibitors or customers. Think about the implications of this table. If an artist were really on top of his game, working quickly and efficiently, it would still take most of a week to produce this table (based on an 8 hour work day) That would come out to 48.60$ per day, or 7.32$ per hour, but that is not even the amount one would get, because he would still have to buy the wood. Assuming one made it out of the cheapest wood available, here in America, (poplar) which sells for about 2.50$ per 'board foot' (the way timber is sold in the country) it would cost a bit north of 50$ for the timber, then there would be hardware, stain, and varnish on top of that, the final material cost for this table would be close to 100$. When one considers this, the real question should be, why would anyone deliberately sell something so cheaply? I understand that it is produced in China, and labour costs are much cheaper there, but a lot of the timber for pieces like this is actually sent from here to there to be worked and then returned. Even if it does cost little to produce, what does one gain from selling it so cheaply?

This table is for sale on Wayfair for 293$ I hope readers can recognise the
difference between it and my work

In order to make money selling a product this low, a company would have to sell thousands, if not millions of them, to make any money. To make it worse, the company which is selling this table, is a publicly traded company, whose stock is currently worth more than 45$ per share. I am sure the President and CEO are making a bit more than 7.32$ per hour.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing particular against capitalism and people finding a need and filling it, or even getting rich in the process, but by selling cheaply made products at such ridiculous prices, it ruins the game for most everyone else. It is a race to the bottom, and the consumer, not knowing any better, wonders why he should buy a table for 5 or 6 thousand dollars when he can get one for less than 300$. In the end, however, all the companies competing with each other for business keep slashing the prices further, trying to "capture market share" and wind up not making any profit and going bust.

I know of at least 4 large retail stores which sold this type of furniture in the area where I live, which have gone out of business in the past two years. It seems that even at 293$ not enough people are interested in a table to keep the business going. What happened to the notion of communities supplying the majority of the labour needed to support their own economies? In those days, there were lots of young people who were eager to learn trades, crafts and skills, because they could provide for their families by doing so. Now it seems that nearly everyone still doing this type of work is retired and doing it "for fun".

I attended a class with Peter Follansbee about a month ago at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking; there were three other classes going on at the school at the same time, and nearly everyone in attendance was either retired or past retirement age. Back in January, I attended a workshop at Colonial Williamsburg, same thing there as well, I was again the lone "kid" in the crowd.

I hope it is not all doom and gloom for artists like myself who have a passion for creating things by hand, but somehow, we have to get more people interested in understanding what we do, and why it is valuable, or we will all be gone the way of the Dodo Bird; and the kids will not even know that it happened, because they are all bent over some electronic gizmo doing who-knows-what, (certainly not creating anything).

A collection of my work, representing thousands of hours, as well as a
big part of my heart and soul; from a Chinese import store the lot would
probably sell for a couple grand.