Sunday, May 23, 2010

What I learned by showing my work in an "Art Show"

(above image by Katie Balas)

I have done a number of trade shows in the furniture industry, and even the Architectural Digest Home Show in New York City, where the public was invited in for three days, but I just completed my first all to the public "Art Show" in my home town of Canton, Ohio. The Canton National Art Show was just completed.

So what did I learn from two and a half days of direct to the public interaction? First of all that you never can tell who is going to show up in your booth. Secondly, that you should never overestimate the educational level of the visitors but that doesn't mean that they don't have something valuable to say and learn. Lastly, that being in front of a public which expects in general to be buying "a little something" at least is a great market test experience.

1) At the end of the first full day, a young woman came into the booth and was looking quietly at my items and asked if she could take several cards for her husband who is an architect. In my little city of Canton, one doesn't have high expectations for visitors, but there are pleasant surprises. I once had a conversation in the airport here with Macy Gray's mother who was picking up her children. Ms. Gray is from this town originally. Well, the visitor I encountered, told me after chatting for a little while that she is from New York City and is a classical singer. I looked her up on Google later and learned that she seems to be quite well established with several recordings and her architect husband is successful enough to be recognized by Forbes for his business on several continents. She was visiting family here apparently.

2) At the other end of the experience spectrum I talked with a young couple who were admiring one of my nightstands and asked if I could open the drawers for them to see the inside. They were so impressed with the quality of the work. The male partner blurted out to his companion's embarrassment that he now understood the difference in quality between well made domestic things and what you get from Value City Furniture. But I was not offended and I did not want her to be embarrassed, because that is an important lesson, and how else can you appreciate the distinction without seeing the two versions with your own eyes. I think they both learned that there is a range of quality and craftsmanship and that there aren't just subtle variations in that spectrum.

3) I needed to bring some additional items to the Museum in order to "beef up" my display and to have some options in price for people who were browsing. One piece that I was reluctant to bring because I was not sure about its design success and color was my "Quarter Round" table. . It is also called the Circular Modular Coffee Table on my website. I sold the piece during the show to a visiting couple and had another customer who wanted to have me put it on hold. It looked much better in the Museum than it did in my shop and people responded to its playfulness and its versatility. I have a new found respect for learning from the public.


  1. Public shows are an interesting animal. When I was at the Fine Furnishings show in Baltimore earlier this month - as a guest - I had no idea how to act. Do you talk to the craftsmen? Can you touch the pieces? Will they be upset if I take pictues? I'm sure I'll be a lot more comfortable next time I'm at a show - and I imagine that same comfort comes to teh craftsman after each show displaying.

  2. How much do these quality 'well made domestic' nightstands cost?

  3. Rebekah - Please email me for more info. I would be happy to help you.

    I am used to doing trade shows in places like Las Vegas and High Point where everyone is there to scout out new furniture lines. This was a really new experience for me unless you count selling my pottery in the town I grew up in when I was 17. In terms of how to act, or whether it is permissable to take photos, etc. I would simply talk to the artist and ask them. Some shows have police present to enforce the no photo rule, but it is ultimately up to the artist.