No idea what to get dad for Father’s Day? Try one-of-a-kind cufflinks made from antique china. Need a unique gift for a spring bride? Maybe she’d like some pastry-inspired bath soaps that look good enough to eat. Heading to college? You might want to liven up those dorm room walls with some original poster art.
At Handmade Arcade 2011, Pittsburgh’s original and largest independent craft fair, savvy shoppers can find thousands of offbeat, original and handcrafted items.
Handmade Arcade was founded in 2004 by what co-coordinator and Dormont resident Jennifer Baron described as a “collective of creative Pittsburghers” in response to the need for a cohesive local craft community.
The local indie art scene has blossomed in recent years, said Baron, and a growing interest in do-it-yourself projects has brought crafting into its own.
“Local indie artists and alternative crafters have started to get in touch with each other, have started to sell their work online,” said Baron, who sells her wares at www.freshpopcorn.etsy.com. “We wanted to create a physical space where they could sell those goods locally, and also to establish a network that would shape and bolster Pittsburgh’s arts and crafts scene.”
Having participated in progressive indie art fairs like Chicago-based Renegade Craft Fair and Washington, D.C.’s Crafty Bastards Arts and Crafts Fair, Baron saw an opportunity to unite Pittsburgh’s crafting community by starting a similar event here.
Seven years later, Handmade Arcade is the premier arts and crafts event in the area, having received The People’s Choice Award for Best Arts Event from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council in both 2007 and 2009.
Attendance has risen from 1,000 shoppers in 2004 to 9,000 last year. Thirty-two vendors participated in the first Handmade Arcade and this year there will be 90. More than 16 states and Canada will be represented.
Baron believes Pittsburghers have responded to Handmade Arcade because of its unique sensibility and eclectic mix of vendors. As a juried event, Baron and other local artisans select vendors from hundreds of applicants.
This year’s event will feature something for everyone, from custom toys and house wares to original art prints and “upcycled” fashions.
By choosing to showcase unconventional underground art, recycled and eco-friendly products and handmade, locally produced goods, Handmade Arcade has distinguished itself as something of a Pittsburgh counterculture phenomenon.
“We wanted to start an event outside of the mainstream fine arts sector,” Baron said. “We’re creating a new aesthetic.”
Brookline’s Sapling Press is part of that aesthetic. An eco-conscious letterpress print and design shop, Sapling Press makes chic, clever stationary products from recycled clothing. This will be the company’s fourth year participating in Handmade Arcade.
Owner/artist Lisa Krowinski started Sapling Press while working as a graphic designer, but said her participation in Handmade Arcade has been integral in making the letterpress a full-time career by increasing its visibility.
“You’ve got people coming from all over Pittsburgh,” said Krowinski. “They may not even be shopping for what you’re selling, but they’re seeing your work and it can get you some good leads. Any exposure is good exposure.”
Krowinski, like Baron, also appreciates the networking opportunities Handmade Arcade provides for vendors and shoppers alike.
“I love the human element,” Krowinski said. “You really feel like you’ve made a connection, both with the customers and the other artists.”
“As a shopper, Handmade Arcade is a creative experience,” she said. “You get to interact with the artists. I love learning the stories of the journeys of the goods,” she said.
In the same spirit of customer participation, several local artists will lead hands-on demonstrations and live music will be featured throughout the event.
“People can support local performers while they take a break from shopping,” Baron said.
For those who want to beat the crowds, Handmade Arcade is offering $15 “Early Birdie” passes. The $15 passes allow shoppers into the event an hour before the doors officially open.
“It’s a great chance to be the first person to see our one-of-a-kind items,” said Baron. Passes can be purchased on the Handmade Arcade website or at Wildcard, 4209 Butler St. in Lawrenceville.
Handmade Arcade will be held April 16 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free.