A popular fine-craft sale that draws thousands to the Winnipeg Art Gallery each year has turned to the internet for its 2020 version.
CRAFTED, which saw its first incarnation in 2015, normally brings together 50 to 70 artists from Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. This year, the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association is not participating in the online sale. Nevertheless, 50 artists are taking part.
Angela Graham of Mouse River Pottery located in Wawanesa, selected for a second year, said CRAFTED is amazing and unlike any other craft sale because of the quality of crafts and the caliber of the artists.
"Also, the crowd is really wonderful at CRAFTED. The whole environment is celebratory and everyone really appreciates the work that goes into the local crafts and arts," said Graham, a graduate from Brandon University’s fine arts program.
The pandemic is the reason CRAFTED organizers turned to an online version this year, and Graham said it’s important that organizers found a way to make it happen regardless. This year has been tough for this artist, who is also a mother and an insurance underwriter. Finding time to work on her pottery between working from home and homeschooling has been a challenge.
She said her pieces have likely changed as a result of the pandemic.
"I think there’s a little bit less of making things that I don’t want to make. If you only have a certain amount of time to make stuff, you only want to make stuff that brings you joy and makes other people happy," she said.
"Making for people looking for homemade items to bring that little spark of joy and connection through this unconnected time. Then, moving online with CRAFTED, it’s going to be different because we don’t get that face-to-face connection. So, trying to ramp up social media posts and connecting with people that way has been a whole other focus."
Graham also noted that she had to consider the shipping aspect of an online sale, so her focus turned to smaller pieces such as mugs and small plates.
This is the first year of CRAFTED for former Brandonite and textile artist Jan Ashton of Weaveables, though she has attended the show and sale at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
"I really enjoyed that show. It’s just got some sort of a quality to it that other shows don’t have. And you’re sort of guaranteed that everything that is there is hand done, that people put a lot of effort into things," Ashton said.
"This one is quite high quality. It had such a nice atmosphere to it. People are not rushing around. Everybody was really looking at things and chatting with all the vendors."
While arts and crafts lovers won’t be able to touch and feel her hand-woven scarves, Ashton is doing her best to adapt to this year’s circumstances. She’s had to learn to photograph her pieces and navigate technology for online sales.
Manitoba Craft Council director Tammy Sutherland, one of the organizers, said they turned for advice to a similar craft show and sale in Alberta – the Royal Bison Art Fair – that had to make a similar transition earlier this year.
"I think not everyone finds that move on-line to be a super easy thing to do. So I know that we definitely lost a few people who would have wanted to participate," Sutherland said.
"COVID has had an impact in different ways. Some people are struggling a little bit with health. There’s been some disruption to work space for some people. Some of the artists now have had their kids at home a lot more, and there’s just kind of a general feeling of dis-ease."
Sutherland also said some artists prepare for craft sales a year in advance.
"If they’re not sure it’s going to happen, then their production kind of shrinks to take that into account."
CRAFTED announce in August it would go ahead online.
"Some people have really thrived, too, in COVID, with even more time to make and a little bit slower live," Sutherland said. "So, a little bit on both ends."
The sale, which goes live Nov. 6 at noon, features a broad range of arts and crafts – works in leather, fur, glass and wood, including clothing and jewelry.
Sutherland is optimistic about the online show and sale, but mentions a "Manitoba dilemma" – "people really value and support the arts and we’re notoriously cheap."
"I feel like this opportunity to slow down a bit, which is what I’ve done during COVID. I’ve really limited my exposure to malls and that kind of shopping experience. I feel like I just actually really appreciate the small things, and the quality thing, more than maybe I did when I was so overwhelmed with options," she said.
"I’m thinking that probably I’m not the only one feeling that, feeling like I want to be more discerning of how I spend my time and money. I’m the choir when it comes to hand-made items — they just add so much value and beauty to your life. Knowing who you’re buying from, and the care and skill that has gone into making that item is so enriching."
She hopes others will want that as well, even if they can’t touch the work and smell it and meet the artists, in the same way, this year.
"But still, that item is going to come to you and it’s gonna feel great in your life."
The online show and sale take place at craftedsale.ca.
Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun