Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Market madness

Artists create miniature galleries in Bethesda

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Courtesy of Bethesda Urban Partnership
Painter Michele Cormier-Attfield’s ‘‘Birch Trees” are a nod to her Canadian home.
Most people like peppering their walls with at least a little artwork. And often they aren’t very picky: a faded Georgia O’Keefe poster in the master bath, paint-by-numbers in the mud room, a dozen or so flea market finds sprucing up the living room. Just the thought of purchasing artwork can burst anyone’s monthly budget. But art need not be expensive.

The Bethesda Artist Market brings affordable art to the region. Scheduled for Saturday, rain or shine, the event takes place four times a year, with 25 artists selling an eclectic mix of paintings, photographs, jewelry and sculpture. A three-member selection committee looks for ‘‘unique high quality artwork by emerging artists,” maintains Kate Fraser, an organizer of the market as well as the owner of Fraser Gallery. Every work is handmade by local artists, she proclaims: No ‘‘imports from China, T-shirts or country crafts” will sully this market.

Bethesda Urban Partnership initiated the event six years agoat Bethesda Place Plaza. Free of cars and congestion, and a stone’s throw away from The Original House of Pancakes, it’s also just steps away from Fraser’s namesake gallery. Fraser sees open air markets as ‘‘comfortable” places to shop or browse. She hopes that once folks are comfortable wandering through an open art market, they may eventually drop by ian art gallery or two.

Each artist is given a 10- by 10-foot tent, allowing them to create a miniature art gallery. With music playing from morning to late afternoon, the experience should be pressure-free. But no matter how pleasant the place is for patrons, artists need to see this as a business, declares Fraser.

‘‘Don’t sit in a chair reading a book,” she councils artists. No matter if artists are shrinking violets, they must be available to answer questions and talk about their ‘‘ideas.”

Fraser figures critiques, whether good, bad or indifferent, give the artist an opportunity to hear uncensored opinions.

‘‘I enjoy the feedback from the clients,” says jeweler Sara Rivera, and from these encounters, she believes her work has become ‘‘stronger.” Besides, compared to the craziness of the major art festivals Rivera sometimes works, the Bethesda Artist Market is hometown fun. She has always worked in metal; lately she has produced Japanese inspired pieces using a technique called mokume-gane. The artist attaches multiple sheets of copper and silver and then carves into them, creating a wood grain effect. With nature as her inspiration, the artist includes leaf shapes in many of her designs.

Rivera also sells her jewelry in shops ‘‘from Florida to Alaska.” For years, the jeweler designed bridal rings and oversaw jewelry repair for Kay Jewelers, but five years ago, the artist decided she needed a break from corporate life and before long, she developed a thriving business. Even with a half a dozen other jewelers participating in the Artist Market, and her work selling from $40 to $1,000, she isn’t concerned. ‘‘I have many repeat customers.”

This will be Michele Cormier-Attfield’s second round exhibiting her paintings at the artist market. Moving to Bethesda from Ottawa, Ontario, just a year ago, the event reminds the artist of similar shows in Canada. Last year was a banner sales year for the artist, selling so many works, that for this market, she literally is ‘‘taking paintings off the walls” of her home. After almost seven years painting seriously and earning recognition in Canada, the artist has learned that ‘‘it’s faster selling them than making them.”

Cormier-Attfield admits she hasn’t found a particular artistic niche yet, with the artist painting everything from abstracts to apples. That’s OK since this late bloomer and public administrator has plenty of time.

Jorge Salinas discovered sculpture the hard way; he suffered a stroke. While recuperating the Annandale, Va., dad and his son learned to make wooden pens using kits. Enjoying the process, he knew he was onto something when orders for 30 pens at a time started coming in. Soon he was ready to move beyond pen and ink, and try using a high-powered lathe and working with blocks of wood. Now he searches his neighborhood for downed maples, cherries and his favorite, but hard to find, box elders.

When beginning the artistic process, the wood fibers guide the artist’s designs. Working with such a powerful machine, Salinas must be careful with stray wood shards shooting from the lathe; protective face masks are a must in his business. The sluggish economy hasn’t made for easy sales, but he is undaunted. Each month, he attends meetings for the Capital Area Woodturners Club to learn about more sophisticated techniques.

At the club’s annual meeting in Richmond, wood sculptures were being auctioned for as much as $30,000, he declares.

But don’t worry, the Bethesda Artist Market is unlikely to break the bank account.

The Bethesda Artist Market is set for Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Bethesda Place Plaza, corner of Old Georgetown Road and Woodmont Avenue. Call 301-215-6660 or visit