Early this morning, six small business owners met with Seattle Wave Radio host Lori Ness for coffee and a chat about art, work, and making a life as an artisan craftsperson at the Pike Place Market.
Meet the Pike Place Market artists on today’s show:
More from the Perfect Strangers project by Pike Place Producer, photographer Rosetta Greek, aka Betsie, where she documents an often purposely overlooked segment of the Market community. Perfect Strangers started as a Facebook page and will shortly be expanding to a stand-alone blog.
“I wish for a community of light that shatters darkness…”
If you’ve been to the Pike Place Market in the last 17 years chances are you’ve heard this man sing. He’s the frontman for the acapella group ‘A Moment in Time’. They sings spirituals that move people so much they dance in the streets, raise their hands and shout ‘Amen!’.
Johnny, 53, originally from New Orleans has been in Seattle for 25 years, “I’m the fourth of thirteen children and the eldest male of the family.” I marveled at this. “I learned how to share because that’s what we did… that’s how we survived. The older children would help our mama when she needed assistance, whether it be with the smaller children, cooking food, or setting the table. We helped our mama.”
Coming from such a close knit family, Johnny learned the value of love sharing and faith. “We did everything as a family. Church was such a large part of our lives. I’m a Southern Baptist and the Spirit lives in me and the only way I can share this goodness is to sing. When I sing I am singing from the inside out. I have to be connected to the text. What’s the point of singing about something that you don’t believe in or care about. When you sing it’s prayer. I know everyone has gifts and sometimes people don’t know what their gift is. My gift is singing and I’m grateful for it and I’m happy to share it. It’s my obligation to share my gift.”
“Not everyone agrees with me and our message.” I asked if he meant the members of the group or the people that are listening. “Both,” he said. “It’s challenging when people disagree about anything really but in my case there must be harmony within the singing group in order for a true delivery. When performing (busking) we all have to be in harmony, musically and spiritually and when there is disagreement it shatters the unity. I suppose it’s like anything, without harmony there is no unity.”
“My moral code is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love everyone first and treat everyone with respect and dignity. Putting yourself aside is not easy but with Grace you can do that.”
Johnny looked at me sincerely and said, “Can you imagine a chain reaction of peace, love and harmony among nations? Really, think about it.” I did and I said, “It seems like the only time you see others lending a hand is when there’s been some sort of catastrophe: a blizzard, a tornado, an earthquake… some act of God. It’s the only time where you see strangers stepping out of their routine to help someone in need.” Johnny responded, “Right. So imagine life where people help one another without an agenda. Imagine all the nations living in peace, love and harmony. Our world would be such a more beautiful place.”
“I’m a free-spirit who loves the Lord. I try and exhibit love in all that I do and with everyone I meet. I’m not afraid to die because I continually try to be a better person and a good example of love. I want to make a difference in our world through singing. I want to help create a community of love and light that shatters darkness.”
He spoke of love, peace and community with complete and utter belief. When speaking with Johnny the ‘fire’ in him was clearly marked in his eyes. He’s a believer who’s gift and charisma moves the people to dance and sing. A gift indeed!
A short video of Johnny and A Moment in Time performing at the Market:
A Perfect Stranger
Guest Post by Market Master David Dickinson
I consider myself a pretty fortunate fellow. As the current head Market Master at Pike Place Market, I have the privilege of working closely with the most interesting/engaging/independently spirited/creative/resilient/daring group of people EVER, in this world-class awesome historic setting. During my daily rounds, I interact with the artisans, farmers and performers that help make Pike Place Market the richly compelling, multi-layered experience that it is.
That experience has given me full appreciation of an event that took place recently in the little known upper floors of the Market’s Economy Atrium. I like to think of the Economy Atrium as the Market’s own little ivory tower, a place to get above the bustling energy of the market tables and reflect on important things (while gazing at an enormous copper squid). A few weeks back, on May 22nd, more than a dozen artisanal entrepreneurs from the Market daystalls were among the graduates of a truly unique professional business training.
The class was a program of Washington CASH, a local non-profit that provides education, in-depth support, and access to capital needed to launch and grow successful small enterprises. The class took place in Pike Place Market with a special focus on artisanal businesses, in collaboration with the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority.
As Market Master, I witness the daily ritual of these businesses setting up their micro-shops in varying locations, varying extremes of weather conditions, and varying levels of shopper traffic, from sardine-packed crowds to tumble-weed-rolling-through “slow” days. But I also have the fascinating and inspiring experience of visiting the Daystall vendors’ studios and farms to see how they spend the majority of their time: in the actual production of the wares that fill our historic tables. This is the foundation of that big “Meet the Producer” sign high overhead, just North of the iconic clock sign.
So with this knowledge of those long hours spent between selling at Market and production away from Market, I was further amazed to see that so many of our artisans had the resolve to up their games further and make the eight week commitment to take the class.
“Why”, I have asked many of the graduates. The answer that I received the most often was basically, “Because the instructors are amazing!” Several members of our Daystall community had taken previous versions of the CASH class before the recent Market-centric one. And what struck me was that there were no lukewarm reviews, but all rave reviews.
Leo Schmidt , who repurposes used bike parts into stylish decorative clocks, was one of those past graduates who came back to serve as a peer coach for his fellow artisans. He told me, “This program is a great opportunity to get how simple and how important good businesses practices are. It helps bridge the gap between being and artisan and an artisan business person.” Not to stereotype, as there are notable exceptions, but creative artists and artisans do not always have the most natural feel for business practices.
Dionea Nadir is an artist who works in soldered glass who is also a generative fountain of creativity. She said, “The class created a very straightforward framework for how to manage what I am selling, to manage an actual business and not just sell stuff I make.”
The class’s lead instructor, James Dunn, who elicits the enthusiasm of a renowned and charismatic guru from his students, is also known for his eye-blazing colorful outfits that most assuredly help keep students awake through the driest of business concepts. Other team instructors include Betsy Earl, the ever cheery marketing specialist of the group, and Tammy James, co-owner of the landmark Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, whose commitment to the success of the surrounding neighborhood is palpable.
Instructor James Dunn explained to me, “What I enjoy most about teaching these classes is that I was a struggling artist myself, and I was never able to appreciate the creativity that goes into running a great small business. Now I work with lots of artists and artisans, and I get to watch them embrace the artistry of business. At Washington CASH, we just don’t see business and creativity as opposing forces, but rather see how useful business knowledge is to anyone who is trying to start or grow their art or craft business.”
A walk through the Market on any day will reveal amazing sights and occurrences, but some amazing things, such as the Washington CASH program, are hidden from view in the virtual rafters of these historic buildings! The CASH team plans to present another Pike Place Market class in the Fall.
As a Pike Place Market artist, I really hope you don’t notice my display. Wait, what? Let me clarify: I hope you notice my ART, my meticulously handcrafted work, but I hope that the actual display items I use to showcase it just fade nicely into the background in support of the desirable items I have for sale.
A surprisingly large part of most Market carts is devoted to storage for shelves, grid walls, pegboards, foam risers, baskets, print racks, hat stands, mannequin parts of all kinds, jewelry busts, ring display cases, shirt hangers, clips, clamps, hooks, chains, bungees short and long, signs, banners, card holders, clip lamps, desk lamps, hockey puck lights, table cloths, cover cloths, thick foam standing mats, camp chairs, directors chairs, folding stools and about a hundred other specialized bits of gear that can be folded up, taken apart, flattened down and generally packed as tightly as possible into the limited amount of display and storage space granted to each of us in the North Arcade. And, as I’ve often said when asked by Market visitors, yup, it goes up every early morning and comes down every late afternoon that I’m there.
Most people’s displays evolve over time, just like their art. Finding that perfect easily packable but attractive, affordable and sturdy display item that perfectly supports your uniquely shaped, one-of-a-kind product is like hunting for buried treasure: often it takes a lot of looking and a lot of luck. Great display items can be found at shops that specialize in store fixtures, through catalogs, by doing a lot of searching online and through dedicated second-hand shopping and thrifting. Market displays also bring out an additional creative side to their artists: suddenly the most unlikely objects get entirely new uses. A plate rack becomes a purse rack. A letter sorter transforms into a print rack. Foam wig stands get a coat of decoupaged rice paper and become stylish hat displays. Insulating foam gets cut and taped into a tiered shelving system for handmade soaps, complete with a duct tape strap for ease of carrying from the locker to the inside slabs. Truly, we all become the MacGuyvers of the Market when it comes to making our displays effective and portable.
Though all the daystall displays at the Market are just as incredibly unique and diverse as the wares that they showcase, they often contain many of the same basic props and objects. I’ve broken these down into the categories below.
1. Lights! Product! Action!
Good lighting is very important to showing your product off to its best advantage. Whether you’ve got flat photos or paintings to hang on the walls or three-dimensional pottery, clothing or jewelry, it’s absolutely necessary to light it well so that the beauty of its color or texture pops out at the viewer. Most vendors have at least one or two clip-on lights hanging above their booth, angled to shine down on their products below. Additionally, small desk lamps or hockey puck lights can be used on the tabletop to hit that sparkly silver pendant or brilliantly colored block print at just the right angle to make it really stand out.
2. I’ve got you covered!
Nearly everyone uses a tablecloth of some kind to cover the rough concrete or dented metal surfaces of the daystalls. A lot of care needs to be paid to select the most complementary but neutral color for your given product. Additionally, most vendors steer clear of too much super bright color or large, loud pattern in their table coverings to ensure that viewers are looking at the artwork and not the cloth. The cloth also ideally is resistant to wrinkling and, most importantly, is machine washable. I have had coffee, tea, soda, flower bouquet water, chocolate, candy, condiments, berry juice, honey and a host of other unidentifiable liquids, gels and solids stain my cloths over the years. It’s a public place and it happens – no big deal. I’d rather my valiant tablecloth take the hit than my hats or paintings. It always comes out in the wash. Additionally, many vendors also keep a cover cloth in their cart to throw over their wares when they step away for a moment for a lunch or bathroom break.
3. Such great heights (and levels)
Heights and levels are another very important thing to consider when crafting a nice display. Think carefully about where the viewer’s eye is likely to fall when they walk past your table. Most people initially look down at the table surface and then up to about eye-level. Ideally, you want to allow their eyes to pass over and take in your full display but also catch on some of the real stand-out pieces. Many vendors use grid wall or pegboard or other methods to take advantage of the space above their tabletop and then put the bulk of their wares on the front of the table to make it easy to pick up and examine the work more closely. Folding shelves and racks are also very common to allow the items in the front of the table to not block the view of the items just behind them. Additionally, there are specific rules at the Pike Place Market regarding height and depth of displays to ensure that one booth does not block their neighbor’s booth from being equally seen by passersby. Most vendors will check with the people on either side of them as they are setting up to make sure that nobody feels encroached on in our little 4′ space. Having happy neighbors makes the day much better and improves everyone’s morale (and, hopefully, sales!)
4. Props to you!
Finally, once you’ve got your lighting, table covering and shelves or grid wall set up, you can put the actual props like hat stands, print racks, mini-easels, bins and baskets out on your table. This is really where things get truly unique as everyone needs something a little different to best showcase their work. For those who carry clothing, mannequin torsos for shirts, legs for socks, or wig stands for hats; for jewelers, a myriad of busts, wrists and hands, ring stands, jewelry cases and necklace racks; for artists with photos, paintings, prints or tiles, all manner of small foldable easels and print racks for ease of flipping through options; for potters, sturdy shelves to organize mugs, platters, spoon rests, bowls and vases. And that’s just scratching the surface of what gets used for display.
The next time you visit Pike Place Market, or any other art or craft show, take a moment to appreciate what it takes to showcase all the lovely handmade offerings in front of you. Then, please, by all means, let it fade into the background and really enjoy the art!
Text and photos by Lynn Rosskamp
Here is a lovely short video by Note Suwanchote, a Seattle area filmmaker, about his parents’ Market business where they make magic with simple wire. This short won the Critics Choice award from the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) “History Is…” film competition. It was also featured in a block of Seattle-made short films at the Seattle International Film Festival. Apparently creativity and fine craftsmanship runs in this family.
I am no stranger to markets. I have grown up in them. Starting in Spain, where I was born, my parents sold paintings in the markets along the coast. When they were leaving Spain they set their eyes on Seattle because it had a world famous market. They came to this city with the hope of remaining independent artists. They started in 1979 by making and selling handmade wooden puzzles in Pike Place Market. I have now followed in their footsteps and have opened my own shop in Post Alley.
The experience of being in markets influenced my childhood games. I would invite my friends to our house at age eight and we would play “Market.” Each of us would run a table. We had a large piece of cardboard with tables drawn on it. We spent hours cutting out little T-shirts, bags, necklaces and making drawings out of construction paper. Monopoly money and construction paper check books were our currency. Each check was individually drawn with lines for filling them out, our names in the top corner. Once we had prepared all of our wares we set them in piles on our designated tables and proceeded to buy things from each other. The true creativity was in our selling abilities. For example, an orange cut out in the shape of a T became a hand woven silk screened shirt.
It wasn’t a game of who made the most money or who made the best product, it was a game of commerce. Our rules were simple: No bargaining for a better price, each person had to respect the artistic abilities of the other, once we were out of monopoly money we could write a check for any amount. Checks were far more fun to write anyway.
In high school and college I worked at my parents shop now in the Atrium of the Market, Studio Solstone. There I experienced the excitement of meeting different people from around the world, the pride of representing my family, and being a part of real commerce. Now that I have opened my own shop I understand all of the challenges running an owner operated business can present. I think that the same rules from my childhood game still apply: Do not bargain for a better price. The work you are seeing has taken someone tremendous time, energy and creativity. Have respect for the artistic abilities of others. Even if it is not to your taste. And when you run out of a cash, we most likely accept credit.
I can be found just under my parents shop in Lower Post Alley next to the gum wall. I sell espresso, retail items and conduct tours in the area at night. - Mercedes Carrabba
Who, what, where, when and why?? These questions come naturally to visitors at the market. At my table in particular, the Who? comes up often as we have art tiles deeply etched with complex and beautiful Arabic calligraphy. “Who does this work?” While we work on the art together, “my husband does all of the calligraphy. It is all hand copied, as is the tradition, and he has been doing it for 20 years” is my answer. “Do you know what they say?” is a natural second question. “Yes, I do. We put a label on the back with that information.” I love speaking my not-so-perfect Arabic aloud as it always seems to delight the person asking the question. Each one of our art tiles has an explanation on the back. It is the added value that we offer ourselves and to our customers. The added personal interest to our process.
“What is this design?” Whether it is an Arabic sura, a Sanskrit mantra or the Greek word ICHTHUS, a Lamb or an IHS on a Christian piece – the What? question is another that I am always happy to answer. The first “What?” though, is quite often directed to the art itself. “What are they?” They – are art. To put on your wall. On a stand. To simply enjoy. Our designs are inspired by the ancients. Spiritual. Deeply personal. Each line and space between the lines, thoughtfully considered. But in the end – just art.
“Where?” In Maple Valley. Just over an hour south east of Seattle. Within 25 minutes of leaving the market I am on my tree lined country road homeward bound. Our studio is part of our home and while private we do also meet up at the local QFC or Starbucks with our “close to home” customers. Nothing like sitting down for a cup of coffee, transacting a sale, then doing my errands. Making the best of our chosen life style.
“When?” Is often asked as “when did you start doing this?” About 20 years ago.
“Why?” as in “How did you come to do this art?” There is a long story that could be inserted here. Let’s just say that “We lived the corporate life. Now this one. We like this one better”
So…What have you discovered?
Who? My husband Jeff and I. What? Handcraft decorative, display art tiles of inspiration and awareness. Where? In Maple Valley. When? We started nearly 20 years ago. (While we do have a website that you may access at any time, we are at the market 4-5 days a week). Why? Because we love what we do.
Symbols in Art