On the third Friday of the month, from June through September, the town of Bath, Maine hosts an Art Walk. The town of Bath is a tourist destination, as is the whole state of Maine. The Bath Art Walk is a very popular event and brings lots of folks into town for music, entertainment and shopping.
Markings Gallery, where my work is represented is a semi-cooperative, high end, art/craft gallery in Bath. As a member of the gallery I always make a point of being there for the Art Walks and other public occasions. I enjoy talking with folks who come in and I’m often asked what work I have in the gallery. This past month I was there, as usual, talking with an aquaintence of mine from town. She asked about my work so I showed her some pieces and within minutes she had chosen something to purchase saying “I would not have noticed the piece if you hadn’t shown me.” It pays to be present.
This is my second season with the gallery and the first time I have sold a piece during an Art Walk because I was there. If you have work in a gallery that has art walks, openings or any kind of occasion where the public is invited, I suggest you go and be willing to talk with people. If you are shy and find it difficult to talk with strangers, just say “Hello, welcome to the gallery.” That lets folks know you are with the gallery. They may ask you questions and you are in a conversation. Encourage the gallery to have name tags for the artists so people know who you are. Many people are more likely to buy the work of an artist they have met. They like to have a personal interaction with the artist and then they have a story to tell when people admire the work in their collection, and we do hope they have a collection. Your presense also shows the gallery you are serious about your relationship with them and that you don’t take them for granted. The days of galleries doing all the work are in the past. We as artists need to be more pro-active when it comes to selling our work. As tapestry artists we still need to educate our audience. let them know the value of our work and how it stands against other mediums, fine art in particular. If people see that we are serious about our work, they will be more willing to see us in that light as well.
Welsh artist Ros Hornbuckle has been weaving for over 20 years. She has much experience with sales and commission work having supplied shops and galleries in London, Stratford upon Avon, and Llangollen among other places. Presently, Ros is regularly exhibiting in galleries around Shropshire, where she lives, on the border with Wales, and in Wales itself. She also takes part in an annual Open Studios event in Oswestry. In this article, Ros shares with us how she has found success exhibiting, independently and with other medias as well as the hanging system she has come up with.
In the first part of my tapestry weaving life, in the 1970s and 80s, selling was easy. There were quite a few places to hang work: shops, galleries and craft centres. I had a studio in a craft centre for some years, where I was very visible. My work then was much simpler, more decorative, cost less, and I wove rugs as well. No internet either!
After a long period of weaving abstinence due to children and a full time job, the lure of the loom brought me back. My weaving now became more complex and I committed myself to creating the yarn entirely from local fleece. Not only is this more sustainable, but it enables me to experiment with colour and texture mixing during carding and spinning. The result is very different in appearance to weaving with mass produced yarn, and is far more expressive for me.
My experience of selling is very different now. There seem to be far more people creating art and the demand for wall space is great, while there are fewer places willing to take a risk with a medium that is unfamiliar such as tapestry, in the UK that is. I sense that some galleries don’t like mixing textiles with paintings and prints, and I agree that it can be difficult to display them together. I tried to solve this problem by forming a group with two painters, whose work is sympathetic to mine, called Earthscape. This succeeded in creating attractive exhibitions, but it required a lot of organisation and a large gallery. I think though, that this is a fruitful experiment to try if you can find the right artists, since your work looks better next to art that has some connection to yours.
Although I do take part in mixed art exhibitions, where I only display one or two pieces, I don’t think it’s very favourable to tapestry. Most people here have no knowledge of tapestry weaving or of what the process is. Because of this unfamiliarity I think it takes a substantial amount of work on display to begin that understanding, and interest in the viewer, and to induce them to consider buying one. The impact of colour and texture of a wall of tapestries is considerable- seeing a large exhibition is what drew me to it in the first place. That great blast of brilliant colour! So I have in the past few years tried to get a more substantial amount of my work on display in one place. But it is not easy. Many small galleries don’t have the space and the larger ones have their own agenda, which
doesn’t seem to include my kind of art. Private galleries with good mailing lists often only want paintings and prints, and nothing too big. Even big craft galleries want to stick to very well known artists or makers from their immediate vicinity. When I have had a reasonable amount of work exhibited I have sold, either during or afterwards. I do think that some people need time to let their desire to possess the tapestry grow. It can take years sometimes! Or to feel that they can afford it.
I am now producing work for a very big exhibition next year, in a gallery that is situated in an area that has provided me with much of my inspiration, in Wales. I need around 40 tapestries of varying size, and have almost finished weaving them! It is a debatable privilege though as it has meant I’ve had to weave more small work than I want to. Usually I sell more large tapestries, so it will be interesting to see the outcome. It feels like a big responsibility to make enough items of the right size for the space, which is a very very long corridor next to a big exhibition area.
When you are trying to hang work in a variety of very different spaces, the hanging system can be a challenge. I know that Velcro and a batten is preferable, but many places here can’t have their walls drilled. My compromise is to sew a fabric sleeve top and bottom. On the bottom I sew the title and my signature and I put a batten inside the top, to which I can fix d-rings and mirror plates if needed.
I have a website and Facebook Page, but I haven’t found them very useful for sales, except for a few occasions. I know that I buy art only when I experience it in reality, but I think the websites are useful for potential buyers to get an idea of all your work and to remind them of the images they saw in an exhibition.
It will be a relief to finish weaving for my future show, so I can return to my favourite subject, which is Rock Faces. And in any size I fancy! I already have created quite a number and have in mind some future gallery applications when I have a few more to present.
Most of the works of Ros Hornbuckle involve “Landscape,” exploring its textures and colours in an emotional context. She has two series “Rocks” and “Water.” The coastal landscape of Wales, with mountains, rocks, sea, birds, and the ever changing weather and light form the focus of much of her work. Occasionally Ros is inspired by stories or photographs of “People”
The first time I ever shipped a tapestry overseas was in 2006. I have to tell you it was with a bit of trepidation. I didn’t know if I would ever see my work again. I thought it was going to be expensive and was concerned about it getting through customs and back again. All these years later I have shipped work almost a dozen times to seven different countries on three continents. I’ve learned a few things that I can share.
One of my greatest and most expensive lessons relates to insurance. I shipped a tapestry to Serbia. I made the mistake of insuring it for the retail price. When I heard the cost of the shipping I almost fell over, but I paid it. Aside from the obvious issue of cost, I should have done one of two things:
1. Insure for the wholesale cost.
2. Go with the minimum insurance that comes with the shipping price.
You would only get the wholesale price if you sold the work, so why insure for retail? (See Methods Of Pricing). The second option: Go with the minimum insurance is what I now do. I have been told that when you insure for a large sum of money it is like a red flag to customs. I have had venues specifically say not to insure. They believe that this helps work move more smoothly through customs. I know it is a risk and I am willing to take it. If you are not, use option #1 or insure for what you are willing to take if your work is lost.
Pay attention to holidays. I recently shipped a tapestry to the Ukraine around Easter time. I paid for 3-5 day shipping, but because of a long Easter holiday in the Ukraine it wasn’t received for two weeks. I should have either shipped sooner or not wasted my money on the faster arrival. I would have known about the holiday delay if I had thought to ask the venue how it affected them before I shipped my work or looked it up online. You can actually find a holiday calendar for most countries.
I store my work in muslin bags that I make for each piece. On the bag, written in indelible marker, is the title of the piece and my name. When I ship work I place the piece, which is in the muslin bag, into a plastic bag that is then sealed. I use paper packing to stuff in the box and keep work from moving around. I also place packing paper top and bottom to pad the work on the ends. I make sure the box is larger than the tapestry so I can pad on all sides. Don’t use peanuts! Everyone hates them and customs may not put them back which leaves your work unprotected.
I use heavy cardboard boxes since work is shipped two times, there and back. I don’t recommend tubes. I once used a tube for a piece that was shipped to the UK. When it was returned the tube had obviously been opened, in customs I imagine. The plastic cap ends were missing and in their place was cellophane tape. I know that a small item I should have received was missing. At least with a box, the ends are integral with the rest of the package, so no lost caps. FedEx has a triangular box that is good for rolled tapestries.
Often the venue you are shipping to will send you detailed instructions regarding shipping and labeling. Sometimes they specify the carrier you should or should not use. One thing I have seen a few times is to write: “RETURNING TO ORIGINATOR” or something similar on the outside of the package. This is for customs. Some countries will try to charge a VAT tax. The happened to me once when I didn’t write: “RETURNING TO ORIGINATOR” on my box. The UK wanted to charge me VAT tax. Fortunately I shipped with FedEx and they handled the problem for me.
I have seen this go two ways. I shipped a piece to the Ukraine from the US. The venue specified using the US post office to ship. They gave me the pricing for different weights and I just had to weigh my box and buy the return label. Then, by the instructions of the venue I wired them the money for the return shipping. Unfortunately, this is an expensive way to go. My bank charged $40 US for the wire.
If you can use FedEx or your local postal service you just pay the return shipping up front and put the label in the box. If you have an account with them, it is even easier. Again, the venue will tell you what you should do. Always follow their instructions to the letter.
Make sure you have a tracking number and keep it safe until you have confirmation from the venue that the package arrived.
You do occasionally hear about someone who has lost work but I believe this is quite rare.
For more detailed information the website Art Business Info For Artists is an excellent resource put together by an artist.
Rebecca A.T. Stevens, Research Associate, Contemporary Textiles at The Textile Museum, was kind enough to be interviewed about her experience as a juror. Rebecca shares her thoughts on being a juror. She explains some of the pitfalls entrants may slip into, and talks about the jurying decision process, giving clarification to why artwork may not be accepted into a show.
As a juror what is the decision process like? Is it different when you are the only juror, as opposed to working with others on a group jury?
Like all jurors I draw heavily on my background in the field, and carefully look at each piece. Thereafter the decision process of jurying is straightforward. It involves a careful assessment of whether each piece meets the criteria of the call for entry and then a determination of which pieces are the best.
When I am the only juror I feel more responsible for making the best choices because I am the sole decider. When I am just one of the jury I engage in conversations with other jurors during the decision making process and the outcome is a collective decision. This enables me to draw on greater looking experience and the opportunity to be reminded of aspects of the works that I might have over looked.
Do you believe there are basic mistakes that artists make when submitting their entries? Could you describe a few that you’ve encountered?
In my recent experience basic mistakes are fewer than in the past. Artists now realize the importance of good photography. Poor photography was the main problem when I first began to jury. Unfortunately, another critical mistake continues to occur. An artist sometimes submits more than one artwork and the works are greatly dissimilar in concept and aesthetic thereby indicating that the artist has not developed his or her own voice.
What kind of guidelines would help you make selections in an international (or regional?) juried show? Does an international show present a different set of challenges for a juror?
Guidelines in the call for entry should be clearly stated. All images should be properly labeled with size, and top and bottom indicated in order for the juror to fairly evaluate the artwork. Remember that all images appear the same size whether they are projected on a screen or viewed on a computer monitor. The challenge for a juror is to take all aspects of a work into consideration in selecting the best artworks for an exhibition. This is the same whether for a local, national, or international show.
Have you juried a show that you felt was exceptional? Can you describe what factors enabled you to accomplish that?
Two exhibitions that stand out in my mind are Karpit I and Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora. These were exceptional exhibitions for quite different reasons, but the common thread was the care and attention the organizers gave to each exhibition.
Karpit I was an international tapestry exhibition hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary. It was an exciting opportunity for the artists and the Museum. I was honored to be on the international jury panel. There were a large number of excellent entries because there had not been an international tapestry show at this museum before and because artists were especially keen to exhibit in this prestigious Museum where tapestry was being treated as an art form on the same level as fine paintings and sculptures. Both the Association of Hungarian Tapestry Artists and the Museum staff worked diligently to conceive of this exhibition and to bring it to fruition. The artists were not identified during the selection process to insure that there would be no bias in favor of artists known to the jury. This blind selection process was a relatively new concept in Hungary.
Stories of Migration was exceptional because it was an extremely timely subject presented from a variety of points of view. This exhibition was a successful collaboration between the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum and the Studio Art Quilt Associates, an international organization. The selection was limited to members of the Association and six invited artists. However, it was possible to join the Association in order to qualify for entry if the artist was not already a member. The call for entry was issued one year before the jurying began, thereby allowing artists to create new pieces addressing the migration theme, if they so wished. Entries could be two or three dimensional pieces or even be multi component installation works. This broad scope resulted in a rich and diverse variety of art work.
Have you juried a show where you regret having agreed to the job of making selections? Could you give an example?
I have never regretted jurying an exhibition, although some exhibitions have been more interesting because the quality of the work submitted was especially high. Each exhibition has always been an opportunity to see new work and existing work in a new context.
In some cases there must be pieces that you see as excellent in many ways and you cannot accept into the show being organized. Can you shed any light on what happens behind the scenes? Do you argue for inclusion based on its qualities or do you question the parameters set for the show?
The first task of a juror is to include in the exhibition only the pieces that come within the parameters of the call for entry. It is neither fair nor appropriate to change the terms of the call for entry after the fact to fit in a really good piece that is not responsive to the call. If a juror questions the parameters of the exhibition then that juror should not have agreed to be a juror for that exhibition. This is a threshold decision each prospective juror must make.
Should “outlier” or little known artists be included in a juried exhibition?
Each artwork should be judged on its own merits regardless of who created it. There is no “outlier” if the works are submitted to the jury anonymously.
Are juried shows a good option for emerging artists?
Juried shows are generally a good option for artists who want to establish a career. Acceptance into an exhibition allows the public to see the artist’s work judged on its merits against other art works. Artists should carefully choose the exhibitions to which they submit work. They should look for shows organized by established groups and/or institutions. Prestigious juried shows are always advantageous, e.g., juried shows at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum or the ATA Biennials.
Is the jury process the best way to organize a show?
There are two major types of art exhibitions, juried exhibitions and curated exhibitions. In a juried show the jurors need to follow the parameters of the call for entry and be fully independent of the sponsoring organizations. Even if one of the organizers’ favorite artists is not selected the, jury’s choices should nevertheless be cheerfully accepted. Juried shows allow the jurors to see the work of a broad range of artists, some of whom will probably be unknown to the jury prior to that exhibition. In a curated exhibition the curator has control over the theme and the artworks. The theme can then be focused on one artist , a group of artists, a technique or an historical or timely topic. There is a place for both types of exhibitions. Each has something different to add to the art world conversation.
Rebecca Stevens has an undergraduate degree in art history/studio art (B.A.) and a graduate degree in studio art (M.F.A.). Stevens’ art focus changed from painting and print making in 1969 when she saw a traveling version of the Lausanne Biennial. Rebecca was fascinated by this “new” art form – fiber art – and has devoted her professional life to that subject. She became a juror because she was invited to serve.
Priscilla Alden is a tapestry weaver in Boothbay, Maine, USA. I had the pleasure to interview Cilla in her beautiful studio last spring. She spoke about her experience as a long time member of a cooperative gallery in Boothbay, Maine, USA. You can listen to Priscilla and see her colorful tapestries in this video.