Wayne's Booth

Wayne's Booth
57th St. Art Fair, Chicago

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Obama's Stomping Grounds: The 57th St. Art Fair in the aptly named Windy City

Selecting accommodations for the 57th St. Fair in Chicago was a real challenge. We decided to go with the fair’s recommended option of staying at the International House, right on the University’s campus. After a relatively boring ride across lower Michigan and a brief jaunt through the tip of Indiana, we made it to Chicago’s “Skyway”. It is elevated in places, but this supposedly preferred route to access the downtown – though expensive in tolls – was as bad as some of the worst streets in Ypsilanti. We had to slow down frequently so that the trailer would not bump wildly behind us. No matter, our trusty Mapquest directions took us to the correct exit. As usual, it was downhill from there.

Although we pretty much stayed on the task of determining what was a “slight right” and what was an outright turn, by the time we got close to our destination we were pretty confused. Failing to turn where we were supposed to according to Mapquest, we were off on an adventure of our own. This part of Chicago is full of one-ways and narrow streets. Luckily, I had the trusty University of Chicago parking map. We located the street upon which the International House was supposedly located and promptly passed right by it. Damn! The street was practically completely blocked off by parked cars idling in the southbound lane. I figured it must be a one-way, and told Wayne to just go around them all in the left lane. He said, “No way!” but I prevailed because we were both pretty anxious to stop and park somewhere, ANYWHERE. As it turns out, he was right and we could have created a head-on incident except for the happy circumstance of coming to a stop sign at a street that would allow us to turn right. After circling the neighborhood several times behind the I. House, we elected to park the whole 9 yards in a very long, open space in a nebulous public/University parking lot and get out on foot to find our place. This turned out to be a great idea, as the line of cars blocking the street (54th) consisted of various parents and grandparents waiting to pick up their little darlings from the University’s experimental school. We found the house, checked in, and lugged what we had up to the room.

These were not luxury accommodations. For the same price, we could have probably scored a 3-star on Priceline. But, it was very close to the venue and neither of us being very proficient at driving in huge cities like Chicago, it was worth it. There was a queen-sized bed which took up most of the room, a TV, and an overhead fan. No climate control other than old-fashioned. The bathrooms were “down the hall”. The ladies room had one pee/poop stall and one shower stall. Ditto the men’s. Old school, but what the heck. Didn’t really want to spend that much time in the bathroom anyway.

We went back to recover the car/trailer combo which we learned we had parked illegally, but there was no ticket on it and TL2OW was in good flow (The Legendary Luck Of Wayne). Now that there were no longer anxious parents and bored, silver-haired, elegant grannies leaning out to smoke cigs while waiting for the little darlings, there was plenty of on-street parking for our car and trailer. Sweet! Being that it was a Friday, the parking would hold for the duration (no school Saturday or Sunday).

Our daughter Cate had spent a summer right in this very area. She mentioned vaguely something about restaurants in the area allowing you to BYOB, but it didn’t really register. We went out to look for a beer and discovered that BYOB was the only option. Hmmmm, no liquor stores in sight either. Finally, we found a little Mexican restaurant which proudly proclaimed it served beer and we were all set for a great dinner and a cold one. (As Strongbad would say, “A One is not a One unless it is cold…”)

No Friday setups so we got to bed real early thinking we are going to be the first ones there around 7am. Wake up time 6:30am. No coffee. Barbarian. Saturday at 6:45 am, we moved like manatees toward the school where we thought we had scoped out our space the night before, only to find the streets already super congested with trucks and trailers of all sizes. We just had to stop and park as the spot in the “playground” we thought was ours actually turned out to be someone else’s and we wandered around until we found our spot. Worst of the worst: the alley. Pecking order: 1 – a spot on 57th St., 2 – a spot on Kimbark, 3 – the playground, 4 – the alley. The alley behind the school and the playground. The photos demonstrate the difference. The first and last shots are the alley. In between photos are the busy, lovely, tree-lined, shady streets. Enough said.

We pulled in the alley to start to set up and noticed there was a little space, just at the fence, where we could probably stash our trailer. TL2OW in full swing. We drop the trailer, I grab an actual parking space for the car (very close by) and our unloading and set-up of the Mighty Light Dome (MLD) commenced. We were up for the most part in about 2 hours, then finally got a bit of breakfast in the school building, kindly provided by the fair organizers. There we saw our new friends Wendy Hill and Xavier Nuez. Cool! After a chat we returned to finish setting up.

10:00 arrived, along with rain showers. Luckily we were all set up. Unluckily, we were in the swamp area. All the rain was running from the high spots on the other side of the alley to the low spots on our side. The lovely Karen of Apexspire jewelry did have it a bit worse than we did – our river ran into her pond – but all of Wayne’s pedestals were getting wet. The water crept up higher, seeping into the wood. Same thing happening on the walls of the booth. Watching the water saturate everything used to display the art, a knot of bad coffee coupled with anxiety began to form in the pit of my stomach. When the rain stopped, we were still standing in wet shoes but the MLD kept the artwork dry and safe from the top and the water never managed to creep up the wooden sides more than about 6 inches. Safe for now.

Wayne had put The Cool Dudes out in front of his booth once the rain stopped. They got a lot of attention, some folks stopping just to have their photo taken with The Dudes. I ran off to take a little jog and by the time I got back, The Dudes were gone. First sale of the day, a couple bought both of them and dragged them off. A good sale and a nice way to start out Day One, Chicago. The usual parade came through, and any number of true art buyers. Wayne sold moderately well, had a lot of interest and compliments, and we closed up contentedly at 6pm. The weather forecast was not good, so I insisted we put all the artwork back into the little trailer, now parked not more than 40 feet from our booth. Wayne grumbled but we had it done within 20 minutes or so. Knowing the scene, we drove to the supermarket to obtain a bottle of wine and brought it back to a really great pizza place right on 57th. Ate half the pizza, brought the rest back for the next day’s lunch, another early night.

Saturday night, howling winds struck. The alley is like a wind tunnel, and arriving back at the site Sunday morning we were immediately struck by a howling, keening sound coming from one of our fellow alley artists. This young lady is a talented glass artist. She had left her work in her booth overnight (was this smart?) and returned to find about half of it smashed on the pavement. The gal next to us had an Easy-Up that resembled our ELAF Easy-Down. She was a painter and this was her first 57th St. Fair. Entering the mess of her tent, she discovered her work was gone! This is because of the neighborhood rescue brigade who worked tirelessly through the night to save whatever artwork they could from the wind tunnel. The poor glass lady's stuff was already toast, but these folks who just lived in the building in the front of the alley realized that a lot of art was being destroyed. They brought as much art as they could into their apartments Saturday night, and took 2 hours out of their Sunday morning to return it to the artists. Wow!

The MLD was perfectly intact, and Wayne’s art safe in the trailer. We re-hung the booth and were ready to go. Day two went well, and by the end we discovered we had made enough to pay for our hotel, dinners and The MLD. Success! It was a great show and one where we again learned important lessons. These are:
#1. Get the best tent possible. Spare no expense. You will not regret it.
#2. Learn from your fellow artists. They have somehow made a living doing this.
#3. Being an Art Carny is like being a sailor: respect the weather above all.

So on we voyage in the land boat, seeing new sights and meeting new people, true to the quest of making art a viable career choice. Next show: Grand Haven, Michigan – in just a few days. Beaches, sailboats…Hey! We will feel right at home!

Monday, June 21, 2010

ELAF: East Lansing Art Fiasco or the death of the Easy-Up

East Lansing was not such a far drive from Ann Arbor, so we gamely drove up Friday night to set up our tent and booth. Once again, setup seemed smooth, we got the whole thing done in a reasonable amount of time and were back in A2 for an early night. There were predictions for possible thunder storms, but we did not wake to any in Ann Arbor and did not give it another thought. Until, that is, about 6am. That's when the phone rang.

The nice organizers of the festival called to say that the tent had imploded. Yup, no other way of putting it. The top had somehow slumped, filled with gallons of rain, and collapsed the metal framework. The whole soggy mess was sitting in the middle of the booth, upon the artwork we had so carefully piled in the center of the cement. No time to dawdle, a quick cup of coffee and we were on the road.

We arrived at the scene of the crime and were petrified. Where to begin? Incredibly, the tent top still held a huge amount of water. After shaking the cobwebs out of the brains and bodies, we figured out that was the first thing to take care of. How? Hmmmm.....we ended up poking small holes in the top after splooshing the water into a corner and letting it run into a huge bucket. That done, we unzipped the front and entered the mess. The Luck of Wayne (TLOW) held this time, as the artwork was unscathed! We had been careful to put a tarp over it, and the blasted tent ceiling really held the water without leak. So trying to proceed in a logical fashion, we decided we would have to do something about the maze of metal now clogging up the middle of the tent.

During this time, the festival organizers were hovering, very concerned and helpful. Wayne requested a hack saw, which was obtained from the fire department (luckily close by) and he just sawed that mess apart. Which was sort of ok, but now we had to try to rebuild the framework with something else. A few pieces of scrap lumber and errant broomhandles were duct-taped Yooper style into the middle, which didn't really do the job. Wayne was going to send me to the local Home Depot to get real lumber, and the festigals (20-ish festival volunteers who took it upon themselves to help us) gave me directions. I wrote them down. I got close to where the car was, and realized I did not understand the directions at all.

There was a bicycle parking area that had been constructed out of pipe by some really nice folks, who had a tent there with information. I stopped there to ask them to explain the directions to me. They said, "why do you need to go to Home Depot?" This brought forth the story of the Easy-Down and lots of sympathy. This is where The Luck Of Wayne rubs off on me. They said they still had some aluminum pipes they didn't use, and we could use them to jury rig the tent. Alleluia, alleluia.

I brought everything I could to Wayne, who looked at me incredulously. No time for incredulity, we had a tent to get up and artwork to hang. We worked furiously until the show opened and had it somewhat together. The people/pets/kids parade ensued and we were launched. Right next to us was an excellent and friendly photographer name Xavier Nuez. He and Wayne chatted quite a bit (as no one was buying anything) and he gave us bunches of art-fair tips. I went to check in to the hotel and clean up. I was practically unrecognizable from the sweaty, haggard, dirt and water-sploched gal who had left the fair as I returned in a pretty little sundress and sandals.

Unfortunately, our booth was not much more than 50 yards from East Lansing's Urban Outfitters, so I spent almost as much time "shopping" there as I did strolling among the other artist booths. Since nothing was selling, I really did not feel as if I could buy anything. Rats. The day dragged on with heat, heat, and sun. Two nice things were there, the lovely Sarah Jane Tillison (senior year at MSU) and live music in the nearby square. I gave Wayne breaks when I could (or when he would take them), but nothing was as welcoming as the artist reception at 6pm at a local bar/restaurant.

The festival organizers put out a fabulous spread of cheese, cold cuts, salads, and even pizza. Beers were on special for $2.00. Hot, tired, and amazingly hungry, we enjoyed this immensely. There, we had the opportunity to meet more artists and get more tips. Everyone laughed about our Easy-Up disaster, and encouraged us to buy a real tent. Most notable among the veterans was the ebullient Wendy Hill (once again, props to her for naming the blog, although she wanted to reserve the name for herself...) She had been doing this for about 17 years, and was generous with her advice and wisdom. Sated in mind and body, we drove to the hotel to dull the pain with some mind-numbing television.

Up and at 'em the next day, I dropped off The Wayne and decided I had time to take a run. I was quite unfamiliar with the town, and anxious to get my run in. There was a four-lane road from the venue to the hotel. Having gotten used to driving in A2 - everyone drives like a madman - I was only doing about 40 when a cop hits his rollers, turns around and stops me. SHIT! SHIT, SHIT, SHIT! I explain that I just dropped of my husband, was unfamiliar with the town, and although the road I was on was a "highway" on the map I only now realized as a residential area there was a 25 mph speed limit in effect. I must have been pitiful enough, and the guy was actually very likeable, and after "running my license" (his joke: just to make sure I was not a wanted person), he let me go with just a warning. YAY! I was already seeing that a traffic ticket would wipe out ALL the sales Wayne had made the previous day, putting us desperately in the hole.

On to the hotel and out for my run. It was beautiful running through a lovely residential section of East Lansing which looked like it contained enough people with enough money to go to the art fair and buy something for God's sake... Enough of that, a shower and another sundress and off to the fair. On my run, I had scoped out an excellent parking space and snaked through the back streets to get a great spot. Sales were still very slow, but the music was good so Wayne and I took turns checking out our favorite bands. Los Gatos from A2 were there, as well as Daisy May and Steppin' In It. Not too shabby.

At the close of the day, we were so anxious to leave we could barely contain ourselves. Sales were disastrous. The tent was a joke. It was hotter than hades and I had on leggings. Arrrggghhh. One of the nice festigals said we could just leave the whole stupid, busted up tent frame and they would dumpsterize it for us. That made things more pleasant, as we got the art, and the walls into the trailer rapid-fire and tossed the rest of whatever might be left into the Soob. Escaping East Lansing, I thought I would just put a dress on and wiggle out of those leggings in an effort to dispel more body heat than the car's air-conditioning could handle. For a millisecond, I take off my seatbelt and start to wriggle out of the sweaty, clinging leggings and in the next lane I see a cop in a big SUV looking at me, watching the whole sordid thing. I belt back up, we get in the left turn lane and THE SAME COP THAT WAS WATCHING ME pulls us over. What? OMG, what now? What in the heck did we do?

This was a young guy who must really have missed his calling with the Gestapo. He really enjoyed making us squirm because I had taken off my seat belt while in the car. I kid you not, the guy stopped us because the front seat passenger had not been wearing her seat belt at all times while in the moving car. I wonder what this guy would do if confronted with an actual crime? We are now BOTH as exasperated as a person can be, if this MORON, this ASSHOLE gives us a ticket we will be out about $600 total on this experience (not counting the money we will have to spend on a new tent). So, the asshole "runs" Wayne's license while we wait in fear. He comes back and issues a stern warning to never again remove my seatbelt while in the car. Yeah, ok "Sir". You betcha, ya hey? I am wondering if I should report him for watching an old lady wriggle out of her leg gear while on duty, but the brat is going to "let us go" and so I shut up tighter than Fort Knox. TLOW is holding. No, make that The Legendary Luck Of Wayne (TLLOW) for reference in future posts.

The drive back to A2 was blissfully uneventful. No champagne this time. Just the prospect of purchasing a real, honest-t0-goodness mighty tent: The Mighty Light Dome. In walking around and gathering opinions, the Light Dome seemed to be the best choice. And so as I write these words, we have already done our first show in the Mighty Light Dome. In all, ELAF was a financial fiasco, but the friends we made and the incredible amount of stuff we learned made it worthwhile. Would I go back? No! Too many cops!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Birmingham and Beyond

As long-term Yoopers, it still seems incredible that a person can just get in their car and drive to Detroit. As such, it may not really have been necessary to get a hotel room in Birmingham for Saturday night, but we were determined to make this adventure FUN. Luckily, we knew of a nice place just the other side of the railroad tracks - literally - from Bloomfield Hills in the unlucky community of Pontiac. It is a beautiful Marriott that we stayed in when Cate graduated from Cranbrook. (Amazing we had any money left.)

We set out around noontime on Friday to set up our booth for the Saturday show. Previously the show had been in a park. Now, for the first year, it was right on Old Woodward in the heart of downtown. Mapquest directions in hand, we fearlessly navigated our way to the alley that we were assigned to and discovered we were about 8 cars back in a line. We would have to just wait until the art fair guards (I'll need an entire blog post to describe these folks, but think Folsom or Jackson) would let us in. About 45 minutes later, we were first in line and let in through the barriers to our first view of street art fair pandemonium. Winding our way among huge vans, trailers, and trucks, we arrived in front of our "spot" - a 10 foot by 10 foot square on the pavement. In no time, we had our "Easy-up" up, and were assembling the plywood walls of Wayne's booth. It took us about an hour and a half to get it all set up, hang the artwork, and zip it shut. It was fairly windy, but we had our trusty weights holding the tent down and we did not worry. We were too naieve to worry.

All finished, we were hot and sweaty and not looking forward to the ride home. By some miracle, we had timed everything just right and managed to avoid Friday Detroit rush-hour traffic both on the way to the site and on the way home. Shower, beer, sleep.

Next morning we arose very early in order to have plenty of time to put the finishing touches on the booth. We had taken the trailer to a remote parking lot in front of the art center, and easily made the trip up and found the appropriate parking structure. Our booth had survived without problem, and as soon as we opened up the parade of strollers and dogs began.

It seems as if art fair goers must either have small children, dogs, or both. Although there are some lovely people who attend sans these accessories, for the most part the dogs/kids look is de rigueur. Very soon Wayne started to make some sales, and I wandered off.

Now Yooper artists are a hardy breed, as they must travel far and wide in order to keep bread on the table. Within a very short walk, I ran into Ed and Julie Risak who were amusingly almost opposite Barry Bernstein. Just can't have enough Yooper potters in one place, I guess. Julie and Ed's booth is a Yooper castle, replete with corrugated fiberglass roof, two-by-fours, duct tape, and other up north necessities. But damn, if those pots don't look GREAT in the setting. The need for a mighty booth would become apparent at another venue. Julie said their booth had an added benefit: it provided her with all the exercise she needed. Indeed, lugging around pots and lumber has got to keep one fit.

At the end of the day, Wayne deemed his first day a success and we gladly drove to the lovely Marriott. It is located right next to a HUGE Chrysler plant/complex. When we stayed there four years ago, the place was humming 24/7. This year it was empty. Vacant. Nada. "Lease Available" signs all over. Holy wah, if that isn't an indication of the economic suicide of the Bush administration, I don't know what is. Chilling.

But, the lovely hotel was doing great biz and was full of a multicultural wedding party (as it had been our previous stay). This time post-shower we went to dinner at a reasonably nice Italian restaurant within walking distance. No wedding crashing for us, too tired, possibly too white, and just not even interested.

Up early again, and Wayne is happily ensconced in his booth while I get to take a run, mess around, etc. I managed to grab all our stuff and check out and still get to the fair with a couple of hours left. The weather had been lovely, sunny, not too hot, breezy. By the end of art fair day two, however, a person always seems to be exhausted. We struck the booth (a theatre term for dismantling a set - I don't know if it's commonly used but seems the best term to me) and loaded the trailer and headed home. I had a cool bottle of champagne waiting to celebrate Wayne's first art fair of the season and we toasted our good fortune. It was great to get home having actually made a profit, having made good contacts, and looking forward to the road ahead. Next up, East Lansing - home of Michigan State University and the Spartans. Little did we know what was in store for us!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sorry Wendy, it was too good to pass up...

Art carnies...what a great name for a blog about travelling artists peddling their wares. The credit has to go to Wendy Hill, printmaker extraordinaire. That's exactly what we have felt like - driving to towns big and small across the midwest towing the trailer with the Soob, setting up the show, luring customers, making money (hopefully), and tearing it down again. Just like the voyage to the Bahamas on Cassiopeia, these trips are filled with highs and lows - challenges and rewards. It took a very long time for this image to load, so this preliminary post is only to introduce the subject. Next post: From the Beginning: Birmingham and Beyond!