Feature image photo credit: Joey Kennedy.
For most artists and independent businesses, publicity is always a struggle. That’s why craft shows, fairs and other conventions are a great opportunities for artists to showcase what they do and expand their customer base. Pittsburgh’s biggest craft fair, Handmade Arcade, just celebrated its 11th rendition Saturday, December 6, and like an old wine, it just keeps on getting better. The first ever show, in November 2004, saw 1,000 attendees, while last week more than 7,000 people showed up to the event, where 150 vendors set up shop at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on that drizzly and cold Saturday morning.
At 10, shoppers who purchased Early Birdie passes got the first look at artists and their work, as well as a promotional bag full of coupons and other goodies. The small crowd had already covered ground, working its way through the winding pathways between vendor after artist after booth. They have one hour to shop and chat with their favorite folks before the regular crowd begins to stream in. Spread out among the many booths are five Mt. Lebanon artists, each with a very different style. Karen Krieger, owner of Paper Julep , sells paper jewelry in funky, geometric shapes among other things. It’s her first year at the Handmade Arcade and she has no expectations, but hopes things go well today. For the next 30 minutes, her table is crowded with browsing and shopping attendees—it’s a good start.
Samantha Bower of designs-by-samantha  is a four-year veteran of the Handmade Arcade and has had a lot of success at the show. “It’s the Super Bowl of craft shows,” she exclaims. “It’s the best day of the year.” Her table is covered in bowls, stands and other displays for a wide variety of rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Her work, also at Koolkat Designs in Mt. Lebanon, is immaculately labeled, making it simple for attendees to shop and less likely that they’ll be standing behind that attendee who won’t stop talking, waiting for their turn to ask, “How much does this cost?”
Worker Bird , owned by artist Kim Fox, is the face of the show at Handmade Arcade—she designed this year’s logo. Her quilted metal artwork covers the table, including a popular map of the United States set in wood. Each state is a different color of patterned tin.
Two other Mt. Lebanon artists, Pink Bathtub Designs ‘ Noelle Griskey and David Klug  of Klügworld  both show off their art. Griskey sells hand-stamped stationery and more recently, napkins. She’s put her Christmas designs on display; this is her fourth show and she knows seasonal items can be a big sell in December. Klug has several batches of note cards and stationery and recently began woodcarving similar images. His art features cartoon-like renditions of animals and their smiling faces. For his first Handmade Arcade show, his table looks well done and clearly labels the note cards and their prices.
Within two hours, the room is packed with shoppers. It stays that way for several more hours, and the buzz of vendors doing business can be heard even from outside the doors. Holiday shopping has started out on a great foot for the attendees, and the vendors meet and chat with new customers steadily. They’ll be at their stations until 6 tonight, when they can tally up the scores and see how the day was. Shoppers trickle out of the room with their hands full and shopping complete as even more people pass them on their way into the Handmade Arcade, beginning their own rounds and discoveries.
As for the artists, they stand behind their booths, heedless of weary feet, and make their sales, often with a smile, one at a time. As Krieger puts it, “It’s no way to make a living, but it’s a fantastic way to live a life.”