SANTA AND his elves may have outsourced their operations ages ago, but there are still plenty of local artisans creating beautiful gifts right here at home.
Savannah hosts a dazzling array of toymakers, clothing designers, jewelers, silkscreeners, soapmakers and all manner of creative crafters, each busily churning out unique items in her or his respective magic workshops. Many sell their wares online via websites and Etsy shops, but few have the resources to showcase their brands where the public can peruse in person.
But wishes come true this holiday season, when 40 of the city’s most innovative imps convene for the Merry Maker Market at the American Legion this Saturday, Dec. 13.
Presented by collaborative duo Gianina Gabriel and Jessica Duthu, the market marks the first event for Craft Scout, their recently-founded artists’ collective.
“We want to provide opportunities for people to sell their items without having a storefront,” explains Gabriel, a seamstress and leatherworker who fashions pattern-cut purses under the brand Well-Loved.
A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago in fashion design and shoemaking, Gabriel moved to Savannah with her soldier husband and began making bags while he was deployed in Afghanistan. She met Duthu last February when she hosted a Valentine’s craft fair, and the pair forged a bond.
“We both had the same mindset about keeping creative people in Savannah,” says Gabriel.
“There’s just so much talent here.”
While many SCAD grads indeed head for more lucrative hills, Cincinnati native Duthu stuck around after earning her degree in Production Design in 2007. She’s built a tidy business illustrating and screenprinting fanciful clothing and décor for children as Strawberry Moth, though she craves a community where artisans can gather and meet their customers face-to-face.
“I sell plenty through on my website, but I miss having that one-on-one interaction,” admits Duthu.
“Markets are a great way to get feedback, and it’s a valuable relationship that can’t happen online.”
Both women are veterans of the indie handmade scene, particularly the Renegade Craft Fair that began in Chicago in 2003 and has blossomed into 14 annual events held in seven cities, from London to Los Angeles. What sets Renegade apart from other craft fairs is a celebration of independently-produced, imaginative items showcased in a highly stylized atmosphere.
The women of Craft Scout have patterned their event the same focus on beautiful presentation, enlisting Audrey King of French Knot Designs to help transform the Legion foyer into a festive winter wonderland. Shoppers will also be treated to hot cocoa and a sweet serenade courtesy of the ladies of Lovely Locks.
The emphasis on ambience also reflects the curatorial aspect of the crafts themselves.
“It’s got to be handmade, but there’s a lot of variety,” assures Gabriel of the juried line-up of vendors.
“It’s the best of the best.”
In other words, no knitted toaster cozies or flip-flops decorated with hot-glued flowers. Indie shoppers will find something for everybody on their list: No kid needs another plastic toy from China when there’s charming playwear made by LoveLane Designs, and butch types who make a mess will appreciate a handsome denim work apron from Magic Stag.
Socially responsible T-shirts by 13 Bricks Clothing and Lauren Winter’s artfully-draped garment cover bodies of all sizes, and natural body products from Sunshine Scrubs and Kleo’s Handcrafted Soaps pamper what’s underneath.
Colorful hats and bags from West Broad YMCA’s Handmade Neighborhood LLC make perfect small gifts for teachers and co-workers, along with baubles from Epiphany Bead and Jewelry Studio, K. Courage Jewelry and Metal Pressions.
There are plenty more treasures to make your loved ones genuinely gasp with delight when they pull off the wrapping paper (as opposed to smiling wanly then asking politely if you kept the receipt.)
The all-day affair is just the first bullet point of Craft Scout’s plan to help galvanize Savannah’s crafting community. The partners have a spring market in the works as well as classes that include Intro to Sewing and Creative Business 101.
“We want to help people who are making this a business, turning their passion into a livelihood,” says Duthu, adding that each stocking stuffer also provides a small boost towards the much-discussed goal of keeping creative entrepreneurs in Savannah.
Gabriel also posits that seasonal markets give artisans another outlet for their tremendous imaginations:
“It’s going to be gorgeous. There are great things that happen when people strive to put time and energy in their displays.”