I've been working diligently with some other area artisans to get a new organization off the ground. I guess I haven't mentioned it much here on this blog, but things are really starting to move. The time is now to get a 'buy local, buy handmade' movement off the ground in Western Mass. Energy for this movement abounds. Our new group, Artisans of Western Mass (AWM), is striving to be the driving force behind this simple message.
Back in February, while I was vending at the Stitches, Needles, 'N' Guns Alternative Craft Fair, I met a nice gal named Heather Vandenengel who was interviewing crafters about their trade for a journalism paper she was writing. She approached my space and asked me some questions about Moon & Sundries. While I was chatting about my business, I mentioned Artisans of Western Mass and our conversation shifted to the group. A few weeks after the event, Heather contacted me again about writing a piece on AWM. I was happy to share the story about our new beginnings and put her in touch with some other members.
Here is the resulting article...
By Heather Vandenengel
Western Massachusetts has been a haven for the locally grown food movement for years, but it is now extending its support to local artists.
A group taking advantage of the support is The Artisans of Western Mass, a collective of about 40 members who are encouraging Western Mass shoppers to stay local for their craft needs.
“Our idea was to piggyback on that idea and to educate people in our community that shopping local doesn’t just mean supporting local farmers but also supporting local artists and turning to them for local decor and accessories as well,” said Karen Ducey, a 28-year-old crafter from Shutesbury who helped form the group.
The collaborative, which formed in October of 2009, materialized from the popular craft shop website, Etsy. The website gives members the chance to join “street teams”, based on geographic location or type of craft, Ducey said.
The Western Massachusetts street team had about 100 members online, but when they had monthly meetings, the majority would not show up, she said. However, there was a core group of five people who consistently did and decided to form the Artisans of Western Mass.
“We wanted to create a physical presence in western Mass and not just an internet based one,” said Ducey, who primarily sells cloth wallets, checkbooks and pressed-leaf jewelry.
From there, the group has expanded to 40 artists from Western Massachusetts counties who work together by sharing skills, helping each other find spots on the craft show circuit and supporting new artists.
“By being part of an artisan collective, an artist is not on their own desert island while navigating the show season,” said a founding member Lou Leelyn, in an e-mail.
Leelyn, 33, makes “upcycled” bags and accessories out of un-recyclable plastic wrappers and packaging, like a small pocketbook made from a Sun Chips bag.
The sustainability also comes full circle within the group. “The trash that I make in my studio, I save and give it to Lou,” said Ducey.
Promoting their products and practices as green is an important selling point for their products, they said.
“I boast about everything that I do to make my shop green on Etsy,” Ducey said.
The collective also provide skill-sharing workshops on how to sell your shop as being very environmentally forward thinking as well as how to take better product photography and how to use credit card machines, she said.
Despite getting a later start, Leeyln says that the local crafting movement can be as successful as the locally grown food movement.
“Just as food is a necessity, so is art. There are baby showers, birthdays, holidays, weddings, and other occasions every day that need a little something to be purchased, she said.
“These items are being purchased at larger chain stores, malls, box stores and online from other states when an artist could be living right down the street who can provide a better product with less environmentally harmful materials.”
Artisans of Western Mass is one of several local artist collectives in Massachusetts, said Leelyn.
The group Berkshire Made, whose tagline is “buy locally, buy handmade”, has existed for about a year longer than Aristans of Western Mass, said Ducey. Unlike Artisans of Western Mass, there is closed enrollment and members have to apply and be voted in, said Ducey.
“There are many many other groups promoting the arts in the area but none are like us in the way we are using art to increase local economies through purchasing power,” said Leelyn.