BY JESSE HANUS
The endless sea of consumer goods that fill shopping malls each year can leave holiday shoppers gasping for air. There is a more financially and environmentally responsible alternative: shop local. Keep your dollars in the Rochester economy by buying goods from local businesses or vendors. When it comes to buying arts and crafts, you can even cut out the middleman and go straight to the source. However, finding the right artist can be tough, especially if you don't know what you're looking for. And although there are many craft fairs in the area during November and December (see sidebar), they can still be a crapshoot.
Don't fret, because there's an easy way to find locally made items for holiday gifts, and ironically enough, it involves shopping online. Etsy.com is an online store where artists and crafters open their own "shops" and sell handmade or vintage items and craft supplies. Etsy is a huge international site, but its "Shop Local" feature can guide you in the right direction. A quick search for Rochester covers a good chunk of the Western New York region with dozens of artists represented. Listed here are just a few of the Rochester artisans offering unique crafts to add to your virtual shopping list.
So go ahead, support the local economy, promote product diversity, and help build an artful community, all without leaving the comfort of your fireplace and fuzzy slippers (which were hopefully handmade locally).
Michelle Wescott has been quilting for about 10 years, and started to sell her wares with an Etsy shop about a year ago. She quilts mostly small, personal-use items, like wallets, bags, and journal covers, and also housewares, like hot pads and placemats. Her items are bright and colorful, usually featuring bold floral, paisley, or geometric patterns. Prices run from $6 for a keychain to $69 for a large tote bag, with many mid-range items in between.
Wescott (and the other sellers mentioned in this article) also offers free local item pick-up or drop-off to Rochester buyers. Wescott sees it as an opportunity to go green by saving on packaging and fuel, while also saving you on postage. You can find her items at etsy.com/shop/TheQuiltedHouse.
Lisa Barbero Art Prints
"When life gives you lemons... slice those suckers up and find some tequila." That's one of the quirky phrases you'll find on handmade art prints by Lisa Barbero. Another, "Make love... and bake cookies," is a playful way to say happy holidays to your favorite baker. Her prints range from $12 to $18.
Barbero's art is light, cheerful, and fun, and she knows why. Cliché as it may sound, who can argue with a story like hers: "I fell in love and my art became what I wanted it to be," she says.
After being on Etsy only a few weeks, Etsy's blog (etsy.com/storque) featured Barbero's prints. Now she makes a sale nearly every day and has been contacted to illustrate books and web banners. Forget the tequila; sounds like she found herself a glass of lemonade. For more about Barbero and her work visit etsy.com/shop/LisaBarbero.
Second Seed in Stitches
Being the handmade-gift type, Nancy Topolski crafted stuffed rabbits to give to her family for Easter 2009. That summer she started selling the rabbits and other animal toys that she calls "Foundlings" on Etsy.
"They're called Foundlings because they're made out of found materials," Topolski says. She uses sweaters, shirts, and pants from second-hand stores or hand-me-downs to create what she hopes will become family heirlooms. "I don't want to be part of the consumerism that's filling the landfills," she says.
Her owl, dog-eared, and mouse-eared foundlings are pillow-shaped animals crafted of mismatched colors and patterns. Their large, bugged-out eyes give them a mischievous look. Each founding costs about $50.
Topolski also knits fingerless gloves, which she sells in a separate Etsy shop called Secondseed, priced at $38. A sign language interpreter recently told Topolski that these gloves are perfect for her occupation. For more on Topolski's work visit etsy.com/shop/SecondSeedInStitches or etsy.com/shop/SecondSeed.
Jason Tennant's sculptures might be the perfect gift for the nature-inclined person in your life. His masks and motifs of native plants and animals are carved using only domestic woods, which Tennant himself often collects.
Intricately carved wolves, doves, owls, and other birds are currently available for sale through his Etsy store. The animals look wild, yet some, like his coyote mask, have humanistic expressions, grinning ear to ear.
Running $125 for an American chestnut hanging vase to $4,800 for a surveying hawk, these items require you to reach a little further down in your trusty corduroy pockets this winter, but many agree that his work is worth the investment. Tennant said that his past customers include Robert Kalin, the founder and CEO of Etsy, who purchased one of his peace doves.
Tennant sells both ready-made and custom items. Because of the labor each item requires, get your orders in early; if you get caught up in the holidays and wait too long, Tennant can offer item gift certificates, too. Check out his store at etsy.com/shop/JasonTennant.
Rachael Hetzel has been making letterpress cards, calendars, art prints, and invitations since the summer of 2007. She took to letterpress art in grad school and began creating custom items for her friends. Now she has a master's degree in printmaking and sells her work on Etsy to reach a wider audience.
"Without having used Etsy I couldn't have reached the same amount of people," Hetzel says. She usually sells about 200 to 300 wall calendars per year. You can help her reach 301 for $35; her cards range from $4 to $15.
Hetzel has a minimalist aesthetic, which results in more design-based and less traditional items. She offers a holiday card with letterpressed snowflakes and the simple text of "season's greetings." For a holiday chuckle, purchase the "carrot envy" card, which features two snowmen comparing lengths of their carrot noses.
Everything Hetzel creates is hand pulled on the press, one color at a time. She explains, "If there's something that's three colors, that piece of paper runs through the press three times." Find Hetzel's items at etsy.com/shop/PistachioPress.
Like many kids, Karen Duncan's children grew up having fun with plastic play food. When Duncan wanted something softer for her kids to throw around, she took matters - or yarn, rather - into her own hands. Now she crochets unique and even gourmet play food for kids, including falafel-filled pitas, chocolate silk pie, and sushi. Duncan also crafts children's hats that make the wearer look like an owl, monkey, or about 20 years older with a full beard and mustache.
Most food items are under $10, with combos priced upwards of $20. Hats run from $12 for the baby to $42 for adult or more detailed hats.
For Duncan, Etsy is more convenient than craft fairs. "It's easier to fit into my schedule," she says. She also reaches people who have never stepped foot in Rochester. "My first 10 orders were out of the United States," Duncan says. To check out her work visit etsy.com/shop/KarenSwimmer.
John Ballou became involved in letterboxing in 2003. Letterboxing is similar to geocaching, but does not use GPS devices, and requires each participant to keep a book, like a passport, filled with stamps from the various spaces they explore. In addition, each letterboxer then marks the log at each location with his or her own stamp.
Some letterboxers begin with commercial stamps, but after time original works are expected. When Ballou couldn't find a bear-paw stamp, he bought an eraser and carved his own. Soon, other letterboxers were requesting stamps from Ballou, which he continues to make and sell through Etsy.
Ballou enjoys the dual purpose of his chosen art form. "Stamps are artistic and utilitarian," he says. His stamps are usually made with a foam mount, which results in a cleaner print. His stamps range from $3 for many of his nature- or holiday-themed items, to $35 for custom orders. See his work at etsy.com/shop/Jackbear and let his stamp be the first in your holiday passport.
Rochester area craft fairs
If the local arts and crafts on Etsy don't fulfill your holiday shopping needs, check out some of the area craft fairs. Some highlights of the seasonal schedule are below:
40th Annual Holiday Bazaar Friday-Sunday, November 19-21. Rochester Museum and Science Center, 657 East Ave. Fri 5-9 p.m., Sat 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $5-$7, children 12 and under free. More than 175 exhibitors of original art and fine, hand-made crafts. rmsc.org.
More Fire Glass Holiday Sale Friday-Saturday, November 26-27 & Saturday-Sunday, Dec 4-5. More Fire Glass Studio, 80 Rockwood Place. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Free admission. A variety of glass and ceramic objects including ornaments, votive holders, vases, bowls, jewelry, loose beads, and sculptural objects. morefireglass.com.
Rochester Folk Art Guild Holiday Festival of Crafts Friday-Sunday, November 26-28. The Harley School, 1981 Clover St. Fri-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-5 p.m. $2. Wooden furniture and turnings, pottery, art glass jewelry, folk toys, natural fiber clothing, rugs and textiles, note cards, and books. rfag.org.
Second Storie Indie Market Saturday-Sunday, November 27-28. Visual Studies Workshop Auditorium, 31 Prince St. Sat 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free Admission. Forty independent vendors. secondstorie.net.
Holiday Gala Seasonal Open Studios Friday-Saturday, December 3-4. Anderson Alley Artists Studios, 250 N. Goodman St. Fri 5-9 p.m., Sat 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free admission. Visit artists in their studios, guest artists, and enjoy wine, coffee, and live music. andersonalleyartists.com.
Metro Justice Alternative Fair Friday-Saturday, December 3-4. First Unitarian Church, 220 S. Winton Rd. Fri 5-9:30 p.m., Sun 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. $3 suggested donation for ages 12+. Hundreds of fair-trade, earth-friendly, and/or locally produced holiday gifts. Food, music, information tables by local progressive organizations. 325-2560, metrojustice.org.
Winter Craft Annual Holiday Show December 3-31. Firehouse Gallery at Genesee Pottery, 713 Monroe Ave. Free admission. Ceramics, letterpress cards, posters, art books, and more. geneseearts.org.
Holiday Festival of Crafts & Gifts Saturday-Sunday, December 4-5. Minett Hall-South Entrance, 2695 E. Henrietta Road. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. $3. Huge exhibition of arts and crafts. fairandexpocenter.org.
Holidays at the Market Sundays, December 5, 12, & 19. Rochester Public Market, 280 N. Union St. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Free. Art, crafts, decorations, holiday food delicacies, gifts, stocking stuffers.cityofrochester.gov.