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VOL. 128 | NO. 232 | Wednesday, November 27, 2013

WinterArts Fosters Appreciation of Craft Artists

ERINN FIGG | Special to The Daily News

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Often when Memphis weaver Felicitas Sloves shows her work, she has to explain to people exactly what goes into each intricately designed bag, scarf, wrap and bracelet.

“I’ll be at a crafts show and people will ask, ‘Wow, where did you get that fabric?’ I have to explain to them that I make the fabric – on a loom,” she said.

Sloves, who also teaches weaving through Creative Aging Mid-South and at the Center for Excellence at Hutchison School, is one of 36 local and regional craft artisans who are selling their work at WinterArts, an annual monthlong show presented by ArtWorks Foundation featuring wares that range from whimsical pottery and Memphis memorabilia to ornate jewelry, woodwork, glasswork and more.

Memphis weaver Felicitas Sloves creates the fabric that goes into the work she sells.

(Submitted Photo)

Besides offering a vibrant spectrum of skillfully crafted and distinctive holiday gifts, WinterArts, now in its fifth year, aims to foster a greater appreciation of Memphis’ often-unsung craft artists and their work, said WinterArts Director Greg Belz.

“Some people don’t understand the depth of skill and dedication that’s involved in the work,” Belz said. “They’ll see a beautiful wrap and they’ll compliment the artist’s choice of fabric – they don’t understand that the artist started the piece from just one thread.”

To further the educational cause, the show has gone high-tech this year. At many stations, digital picture frames display slide shows or videos showing the artists at work. And because the artists also staff WinterArts, at any given time some of them are on hand to answer questions and offer insights.

This is the fourth year the show is temporarily housed at the Shops of Saddle Creek in Germantown. So on that note, shoppers don’t have to brace themselves for an Etsy-esque explosion of ornaments made from pipe cleaners and pom-poms, country-chic “Home Sweet Home” wall hangings or assembled jewelry.

“I’m often stunned by how bad some of the crafts out there are – it’s very uneven,” Belz said. “For instance, it seems like everyone out there these days says, ‘I make jewelry,’ and I usually want to say, ‘No. You don’t make jewelry. You assemble it.’ At WinterArts, it’s not like that. These artists don’t buy beads – they make them. They don’t buy jewelry chains – they make them. This is a heavily juried show with extremely high standards. The rule is they have to make at least 65 percent of each item with their own hands.”

Belz clarifies that he isn’t knocking the creative people who make crafts for a hobby. He simply wants the public to understand that they’re going to get a very special experience at WinterArts. And to that point, the space – located at Saddle Creek South on West Street – has an upscale, sophisticated gallery atmosphere that seems to reverberate with artistic vision.

“Artists have an energy and a creative spirit. When you walk into WinterArts, you can immediately feel that you’re not in a regular store. You can just feel their devotion to their craft, and they also get very excited about each other’s work.”

Each year, Belz pushes the participating artists to take their displays and work to a higher level than the previous year. In this year’s show, shoppers will see more polished displays, along with some items the artists have never shown anywhere else. Also at Belz’s request, each participating artist has at least one thing – often more – in the price range of $10 to $50 so there’s something for every budget.

Those visitors who want to purchase something more extravagant can visit the new WinterArts Gallery next door. Also temporary, the gallery offers larger items, such as sculptures, paintings and exquisite handcrafted wood furniture.

Regardless of whether guests purchase anything at all, Belz hopes they’ll stop by to at least browse and gain a better understanding of the immense talent Memphis holds.

“Many of these artists have to travel like gypsies to show and sell their work. There’s a huge market for craft artists in Nashville, and sadly, some of our former Memphis artists have now relocated there so they can make a living,” Belz said. “We’re in danger of losing some of our most talented people if we don’t support them.”

Sloves is appreciative of Belz’s hard work and the WinterArts patrons.

“What Greg and ArtWorks Foundation is doing is a wonderful opportunity for not only our local artists but also the Memphis community,” she said. “Memphis is a wonderful place for craft artists to live, but people here often forget about the artists who make quality crafts. WinterArts is a great way for us to introduce ourselves to the community.”

WinterArts runs through Dec. 24. The show is open for “preview peek,” with the official opening reception gala from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29. Hours vary by day. For specifics, visit winterartsmemphis.com.

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