This past weekend saw the arrival of the annual Art Fairs in Downtown Bellevue. Although there are a lot of things I like about living in Downtown Bellevue, this particular weekend is one of the times I really enjoy living here, as it’s always interesting to go wander around the three different art fairs and see all the cool stuff people are making that I can’t afford. To be honest, I’m not really sure why they need to have three separate art fairs put on by three separate groups when it seems like it would be easier to just have one big one, but that’s beside the point. Either way, it doesn’t take much looking to see that there are people with (usually) a lot more more creativity than myself who have managed to come up with some really interesting stuff. And in a lot of cases, it is things that are well beyond my skill level. For example, I seriously doubt you’ll see me making fabric-like sheets of woven glass anytime soon, and I think the last time I tried to paint anything was somewhere around fourth grade. On the other hand, as I wander around the various booths and see the various things people have made, every once in a while, something jumps out at me when I’m browsing around. Not necessarily because it’s an expertly crafted piece of art (with a price tag that I can’t afford, no less), but because it’s something that, if I put my mind to it, I could most likely make myself.
To illustrate this point, let me show off a couple of somewhat recent acquisitions in what passes for my art collection these days. The box you see above was purchased from a craftsman on the island of Dominica during the Caribbean cruise I went on with a friend last December. If I recall correctly, I paid about $50 for it. On one hand, you have to be somewhat wary when purchasing souvenirs when cruising because there’s a good chance that 75% of the stuff you see in the various flea markets on the islands pretty clearly comes from China (if you’re lucky the sellers will at least have the courtesy to take the “Made in China” stickers off before they sell the stuff to you,) but in this particular case it was clear that this one was hand crafted, as the person selling it was busy working on another piece when I paid a visit to his stand near the cruise dock in Rouseau. As far as Caribbean islands go, Dominica isn’t exactly the most touristy place you’ll find (I’m pretty sure that particular competition is neck-and-neck between St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Aruba) but in a way that makes it a more interesting place to shop for things like this, because you’re a lot less likely to be overwhelmed by shockingly large quantities of overpriced jewelry stores and Prada bags, fake or otherwise, and more likely to find someone making a modest yet honest living turning out surprisingly beautiful pieces like this one. In particular, the detail of the bird carved onto the top of the piece shows someone who knows his way around a scroll saw. The fit and finish of this piece is also very well done, and indicates that a fair bit of effort must have gone into making it. If someone was selling something like this at one of the Bellevue Art Fairs, I suspect the price would be far higher than the $50 I paid for it.
And yet, with a bit of effort, I think I could try to make something quite similar on my own. Granted, I have a lot more tools at my disposal than would be available to a craftsman living on a tiny island on the Windward side of the West Indies, but I suspect that even with all that I’d have a hard time matching the quality, and given the most likely approach I would take to this (using a laser cutter, something I have a bit of experience with) my own version would get far more expensive in a hurry, and would also come with the added drawbacks of leaving scorch marks from where the laser makes its cuts. I would probably also need to work at a smaller scale, as the laser cutters I have worked with tend to not handle thicker pieces all that well, and even if I do laser cut all the pieces I’d still need a router to do all the edges anyway. Even if I doubt I’d be able to match the original piece nearly as well as I’d like here, I would still like to try this one out, if for no other reason than to see if I can actually come close to matching this one.
This piece, on the other hand, was purchased at the Bellevue Art Museum Fair last year, from an artist by the name of Christine Hausserman. Although I don’t necessarily want to disclose how much I paid for this particular piece, I will say that it cost considerably more than the wooden box discussed above. And yet this was one of the rare pieces at the art fair that stood out and came with a not completely shocking price tag. When it comes down to it, this is ultimately just sheet metal and Dichroic glass (confession time: I might be something of a sucker for Dichroic glass) and yet the end result is something I enjoy being able to look at whenever I want. This too seems like something I could make myself if I was sufficiently motivated to do so, but I get the sneaking suspicion that the management in my apartment building might have some issues if I started messing with a plasma cutter in my apartment (that plus the fact that setting the place on fire seems to be a good way to lose your deposit.)
That seems to be the big limiting factor in all this: Lack of proper tools. Sure, there are places I could probably go out and find a lot of this stuff if I needed it for some reason (that’s what hackerspaces like Metrix Create:Space in Seattle are good for) but ultimately I’d love to have some of this stuff to mess with on my own. To be honest, I’m nowhere near as mechanically inclined as either my Dad or my two brothers, but even so when I get to the point where I buy a house of my own I’d love to build some sort of a workshop so I have somewhere to mess with this stuff. If I’m ever going to make something of myself, doesn’t that mean that at some point I actually have to make something?