Monday, 8 November 2010

Fair enough..........

It's blowing a gale this morning, with driving horizontal rain.

Two of our gutters are leaking and there is an ominous drip, drip, DRIP sound coming from the loft.

And just to show solidarity with the generally wet/damp theme, our shower has sprung a leak and there water is dripping from two places in the porch roof too.


My mood today complements the weather perfectly......

Yesterday was a washout, but not in the meteorological sense.  We don't exhibit at many fairs these days, and yesterday was a reminder of why we don't.

Extensively advertised as a "95% British Handmade" fair, sadly it didn't live up to its billing.  I estimate that perhaps 20% British Handmade was nearer the mark, and even then I'm being generous.  If, as a collector, I had travelled some distance on the basis of the advertising, I would have been sorely disappointed.

Yes there were some wonderful quality artisans exhibiting, but there was also an awful lot of imported Taiwanese tat.   Compared to last year, standards were definitely well down.  I didn't speak to one other artisan who had had a good day.  Some didn't even cover their expenses.

Thankfully we did cover our costs, plus a bit more, but we were more than 50% down on the same fair last year.

On the plus side, the organisation was excellent.  Setting up was easy and quick, exhibitor parking was plentiful and close to the unloading bays.  There were no hitches during the set up period, and a room had been set aside with complimentary tea and coffee for exhibitors, all day, which was very welcome.  Information and help for exhibitors was on hand throughout the day, and queries were quickly dealt with.

We were also pleased to see several of our former students and catch up on all their news, miniature and otherwise.

It's just a shame that the fair didn't live up to its quality billing, and the remorseless march of imported, mass produced miniatures won the day.

Don't get me wrong.  There is, of course, a place for these.  For enthusiasts just starting out in the hobby they are a quick and relatively cheap way of furnishing and fitting out a doll's house.  However the budget 'pocket money' enthusiasts of today, are tomorrow's discerning collectors and it doesn't take long for the appeal of mass market miniatures to pall, and the individuality of artisan pieces to appeal.

I have been a collector for over 25 years, and my dalliance with imported stuff was mercifully brief.  Within a very short period of time I moved from returning from a fair with bags and bags of bits and pieces and change from £50, to perhaps buying only one or two special pieces from talented miniature artisans and no change at all from £100.  

I'm proud to say that my last doll's house, the Gothic Baronial Mansion didn't contain a single piece of tat.  I knew the maker of every single piece, from the delicate glass airtwist stem wine glasses, to the beautifully hand-carved linenfold panel wardrobe.  I learned to appreciate the skill and craftsmanship lavished on these tiny marvels, and assiduously sought out my favourite makers to admire their latest work.

A final few bastions of artisan fairs remain.  My personal favourite is the Thame Fair held in February (and not to be confused with the other Thame Fair later in the year)  where collectors can view the work of artisans not normally seen outside the portals of Miniatura or Kensington.  

Obviously both Miniatura and Kensington retain their reputation for top quality miniatures. They champion British artisans, showcasing new work and promoting the very best of miniature endeavour.

However, I have to say that at most other fairs these days, the vast majority of wares on show will have been mass-produced in the Far East, sometimes to not very exacting standards.  The exception to this is Bespaq, which thanks to the rigourous quality control of the owner, Pit Ginsberg, still maintains high standards.  However despite its quality, I wouldn't want to see stand after stand of the same Bespaq at fairs, no matter how wonderfully customised they might be.

Sadly, many well-known artisans are 'retiring' from miniatures.  Only this week, Sue Newstead of PastMastery announced that she intends to give up making her wonderful dummy boards, and her equally marvellous blog, which has a wealth of information on these enigmatic artifacts.

Miniature artisans spend endless amounts of time honing and polishing their skills, creating more and more accomplished pieces.  If we claimed even the minimum wage for all the hours we put into our work, it would be unaffordable.  No wonder then that increasing numbers of talented artisans are bowing out, unable to compete with the rising tide of imports.

The inevitable conclusion of this talent drain is that in time there will be no miniature artisans.  Why spend hours creating a tiny work of art when you can buy stuff in wholesale from China or Taiwan and sell it at 100% mark-up with no effort at all.

For those of us whose sole income stream is our miniature work, the writing is most definitely on the wall.  I think I have perfectly realistic expectations. I don't expect to be able to retire the Bahamas, but I do expect to be able to make a living, as I have done for the past 10 years, doing what I do best.  A job I (mostly) love.

Anyway, I'm going to give it till after the two fairs we have already booked, then take an informed decision on whether or not to continue making miniatures.



Tabitha Corsica said...

I feel your pain.... But I hold on to hope that this is a cyclical thing.

My very first few pieces of miniaturia were inexpensive, though, I thought, fairly well made for things so tiny. But quickly I began to see that I craved things made by a real person I could speak to. My preference was always (and still is) to buy directly from the artisan if possible. I enjoyed chatting and telling them how wonderful their things were..are.

I'd buy from a dealer if I loved the piece and had no other choice but long ago stopped buying the junk. Even if a handmade Item isn't perfect, I much prefer it to a mass produced import. I think the internet has made it easier for artisans, at least known artisans, to sell without the time and trouble of traveling to a show.

Still, I love a good show where I can see and touch and examine before I decide. The problem, I believe, is a "chicken and egg" thing. If shows are less well attended, fewer artisans will make the trip to exhibit and sell. If the artisans don't come and only the dealers of imports and junk are there, fewer people will attend.

I hope you decide to continue your work. It would be a shame to lose yet another miniature artist.

Robin said...

Hi Sandra - having attended a different fair as a standholder yesterday - I could so easily have written this piece................too many talented artisans are leaving, for very sensible, economic reasons. Sad - how very sad.

KT Miniatures said...

I fully sympathise Sandra with everything you say here......
but hey....there is always Thame in February! It's going to be brilliant for everyone!!!! Celia

Anonymous said...

Et tu Brute....?

THIS news makes me VERY VERY sad indeed.

and DD is mortified....

HOW will she communicate with Sd?

We shall have to set them up a blog of their own....

Sandra Morris said...

Thanks for all the comments ladies.

Like I said, I shall reserve judgement till next March then make an informed decision then.

In any case, I am planning major changes workwise in the New Year and need the impetus to implement them.

I won't be ditching the blog, no matter what else I do.
SD would never forgive me if I deprived her of her fan base.

Christine said...

It is fascinating reading all this. I've never been to a dollshouse fair and am unlikely to but I can appreciate so many of your points. You can buy so much imported stuff online and in dollshouse shops (I am guessing - I haven't had the joy of a real life dollshouse shop either!)that I imagined the fairs would be for those looking for artisan pieces. Even as a fledgling amateur mini maker, I feel discouraged at times when I think of the hours I have put into making something that could have been mass produced in China. Of course the thrill of having done it myself carries me past that but it must be totally demoralising when handmade artisan pieces are lumped together with cheap imports by the fair organisers.