Shop Local: The North Carolina Crafts Gallery

April 28, 2010 at 4:00 am (Shop Local)

The North Carolina Crafts Gallery

You never forget your first… your first kiss, your first love, and for me (and professionally probably as profound as my first kiss) my first gallery.

Before I started actually selling my work, my friend and mentor Irene Semanchuk Dean advised me to calculate my costs, set my wholesale price first, and then use a multiplier to set my retail price. She advised me that whether I intended to wholesale my work or not, that setting my wholesale price first would prepare me to field wholesale inquiries from galleries. Although the very thought of a gallery carrying my work was the furthest thing from my mind, I took Irene’s advice anyway and followed her pricing formula to a tea.

It’s a good thing I did. At my first show in 2004 (Centerfest), Sara Latta Gress, a young and enthusiastic gallery owner from Carrboro, decided to purchase my Ephemera Collection for The North Carolina Crafts Gallery. Gress had just purchased the gallery months before and was seeking out new North Carolina talent to fill the shelves.

The North Carolina Crafts Gallery was established in 1989 by Sherri Ontjes. An artist herself, and former teacher, Ontjes wanted to bring some of the rich tradition of North Carolina craft to the area. She travelled across the state meeting artists and craftsmen, visiting their studios, and purchasing their wares. After 15 years, Ontjes was ready to retire and Gress, who had began working at the gallery part time, was ready to take the reigns.

“Owning a gallery is something I never thought I’d do, but it is exactly what I should be doing,” says Gress. “I have kept true to selling only handmade items (still made in NC).” [Notes from the Handmade Highway Blog]

Today, The North Carolina Crafts Gallery carries the work of over 500 North Carolinians, including mine and Asheville artist Irene Semanchuk Dean’s. The Gallery features contemporary and traditional pottery, blown glass, turned wood, jewelry, toys, fiber art, metalwork, garden items, folk art, weavings, stained glass, baskets, and some furniture.

In addition, the Gallery hosts two shows a month. Shows begin the first of each month, and customers are often able to meet the featured artists during the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Art Walk, which takes place the second Friday of each month.

It’s true. You never forget your first. The North Carolina Craft Gallery was the first gallery to carry my work and the first gallery to exhibit my Beyond Neverland collection. More importantly, and now twenty galleries later, Gress was the first gallery owner to take a vested interest in me and for that I am in truly grateful.

The North Carolina Crafts Gallery is located at 212 West Main Street in Carrboro, on the corner of West Main and West Weaver Streets. The Gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.


Ron Philbeck, April Featured Artist, The NC Crafts Gallery

Bob Palmatier, April Featured Artist, NC Craft Gallery


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The High Price of Commissions

April 22, 2010 at 2:58 am (Artist Musings)

Francesca’s Cross, Commission Piece

[Note: The commission piece pictured is not either one of the commission pieces discussed in this post. In fact, this piece, Francesca’s Cross, was commissioned by one of my best collectors.]

When someone tells me they hate my work (and they sometimes do), I say, “it’s not for everyone.” When someone tells me they love my work, I ask, “what do you like best about it?” But then there is the customer who says, “I like your work, but…”

Recently, I had a customer who purchased a bracelet for his wife. Within hours of purchasing the bracelet (literally hours), he returned the bracelet. Although I offered to giive him a refund,  he decided to take a credit instead.  A month later, his wife came into the studio to pick out a piece. After seeing what I had in my inventory she said, “I like your work, but…”

What followed was her commissioning a piece that she designed. She specified what color beads she wanted me to make, what color crystals she wanted me to use, what size to make the bracelet, and what color and type of findings would look best on the bracelet. Six days after receiving her commissioned piece, she returned it and asked me to issue her a full credit towards a bracelet that I have had in my inventory since her first visit to my studio in January, and which she had tried on several times.  I in no way, shape, or form received any compensation for the labor I put into her commissioned piece or the materials I had to purchase to create her “one-of-a-kind, custom” look. I did end up graciously giving her a full credit towards the new bracelet, but was quick to write on her reciept, “ALL SALES FINAL. NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES.”

And this isn’t the first time a commission has gone badly. When I first started making jewelry, a customer commissioned a pendant with an image of a crucifix. When it was completed, she didn’t like the crucifix image and ended up not purchasing the piece. Again, I was not compensated for my labor or materials.

I am not the first artist to find myself in this position. In December 2009, Alyson Stanfield posted this “Deep Thought Thursday” scenario to her readers on her ArtBiz Blog:  “You were thrilled to get that commission, but the excitement soon wore off. You can’t make your client happy! You do and re-do and start all over again. How do you handle an unsatisfied client in a professional manner while standing your ground?”

Twenty-three comments later, the general consensus was that the only way to satisfy “an unreasonable client” while standing your ground is to have a commission agreement. Some comments included specific terms of a commission agreement. Blogger Maria Brophy wrote, “When taking on a commission, we make clear, in writing, the following: 50% down at start; up to 3 sketches will be provided; additional changes are charged per sketch (usually $50 – $100 each, depending on the complexity of the piece); once the sketch is approved, the painting is completed; balance due upon completion.”

Artist Giesela Hoelscher wrote, “This is no doubt the hardest thing about doing custom work. You want to make the client happy but you also want to be fairly compensated. I have a policy with my custom work that small changes are done for free but that anything more than that is billed by the hour. This makes the client really look at the piece and consider what they truly would want changed versus nit picking and putting you through the ringer with multiple rounds of changes.”

While many of the comments on the ArtBiz Blog were specific to fine art commissions, one of the best  commission agreements I found online was from Jeweler Tracey Jenkins of Green Spot Studio. Tracey has just a few simple steps to help her clients “create the perfect heirloom”.  She writes, “communicate your ideas, decide on materials, set a price, sign a contract, and arrange payment.” Tracey’s contracts are written to protect her clients and her studio, and include an Initial Design Contract, Commission of Jewelry Contract, and Client-Provided  Jewelry and Materials Agreement, which is a supplemental contract  to be signed “if the client provides materials to be used in the fabrication process.” Tracey’s approach to commission work is both positive and professional, and one I hope to emulate in the future.

So the next time someone tells me, “I like your work, but…” (and now I know that the “but” is code for “…but I can design it better myself”), I say, “I would be happy to work with you, but…”

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Too Hot to be Cool: New Works Show Opens at Artspace

April 16, 2010 at 3:00 am (Art Unravelled)

The First Friday of this month marked the opening of the New Works Exhibition at Artspace.

New Works is an annual juried exhibition for members of the Artspace Artists Association (AAA), of which I am proud to be a part.  New Works represents work created within the past twelve months. This exhibition is an opportunity for Artspace Artists to present their most current and innovative work.

First Friday, awards were presented to the best of the best. Catherine Thornton’s painting Blue Monday received Best in Show.  New AAA member Lisa Stroud received Award of Distinction for her mixed media piece, Departures 1. Susan Parrish received Award of Merit for her mixed media sculpture, Too Hot to be Cool. Honorable mentions were awarded to Scott Hazard and Gretchen Morrissey.

Catherine Thornton, Blue Monday

Lisa Stroud, Departures 1

Susan Parrish, Too Hot to be Cool


I am so proud to have my Luggage Label Necklace  included in the New Works Exhibition, with these fabulous artists. This exhibition was juried by Harriet Green, Visual Arts Director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, and runs through May 1st at Artspace.

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