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Handmade Arcade inspires attendees and expands opportunities for crafters

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By Ligaya Scaff

Point Park News Service

Visitors to a Downtown marketplace in December will find quirky screen-printed T-shirts, handcrafted plush toys and letterpress greeting cards in styles ranging from homespun to avant garde to retro-inspired chic.

Crafters and consumers alike can exchange trade secrets, and perhaps a first time vendor’s collection of $8 handmade soaps will catch the eye of a retail buyer, leading to a huge order.

Just in time for the holiday season, the Handmade Arcade, the first and largest indie craft fair in Pittsburgh, will be returning Saturday Dec. 8 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

“Shoppers will be able to go up to the tables and see the intricacies and details…” described Jennifer Baron, co-coordinator of the fair, during a phone interview.  “They’ll find foldable screens filled with art posters and purses made of vintage materials.”

Baron says that even shoppers on a budget can find affordable keepsakes with prices as low as $3.

A multi-sensory experience

For the past eight years, Handmade Arcade attendees have observed art techniques like printmaking of posters, discussed the indie crafting process with artisans, and grooved to live music from DJs spinning rare vinyl records all under one roof.

“It’s not just about selling,” said Baron.  “It’s a chance to meet the makers and for the indie craft community to talk to one another.”

Additionally, crafters and artists are given a platform to broaden the reach of their businesses by sharing their creations with buyers from across the country.

A vendor at the first Handmade Arcade, Baron said the show originated to “fill a void” in the local crafting community by offering more of a “do-it-yourself” aesthetic with vendors recreating materials like antique fabrics and salvaged books into anything from “high fashion to found objects.”

With the initial Handmade Arcade at Construction Junction in 2004, the fair has grown from 35 vendors to now over 150, including local crafters and those from across the country.

Collaborating with crafters

This year, attendees and vendors will take part in new activities through ‘Hands-On Handmade,’ an interactive component of the event that allows participants to make their own crafts.

For instance, during the 2011 Handmade Arcade, attendees created an evolving sculpture of cardboard tubing that developed into a huge, maze-like art installation. These activities let shoppers see the artistic processes take place right before their eyes.

“It creates a chance for shoppers to bridge the gap between being producers and consumers,” said Baron.  Other past demonstrations have included live silk-screen printing stations where participants created and took home patterned gift-wrapping paper.

A cult following

Damon Mahon, a Churchill IT administrator and his wife Sarah Kuharik, a data analyst, discovered the show through friends and have attended every year since.

“There’s more of a sense of people doing creative work and taking pride in showing it than you see at many craft fairs…” said Mahon in an email.

Kuharik pointed out the “diversity and quality” of the vendors, and in particular, those who created functional recycled art.

She recalled a vendor who turned “old library book covers” into jewelry and other objects which became “really great Christmas presents.”

Mahon mentioned finding items beyond a “women only” selection with vendors displaying more art prints from “alternative” or “pop culture-related artists”.

To preview the goods and avoid competing with the crowds, Early Birdie passes ( are offered through Handmade Arcade’s website and at the Lawrenceville shop, Wildcard (

“We paid for the Early Birdie passes on the advice of a friend,” said Kuharik “…and it was worth every penny to have that extra hour without the big crowds, which flood the vendors about 10 feet thick once they open the doors to the public.”

Local and national recognition

Pittsburgh-based screen print artists, Allison Glancey and Craig Seder, have shown their mid-century modern influenced indie rock posters of artists like Feist and cheerful illustrations from their design studio, strawberryluna (, at Handmade Arcade since its inception.

“We do a ton of shows and travel as far as California,” revealed Glancey during a phone interview.  “It’s one of the best shows, and it’s awesome to have it in our backyard.”

With throngs of shoppers clamoring for that special item, Glancey says profound networking opportunities are available through showing at Handmade Arcade.

“We’ve gotten hired to do illustration and custom company work such as gifts for employees…It’s a great way to get your name out there,” said Glancey, who mentioned that ad agencies and retail company buyers often come to the show for inspiration and to discover new products.

Even Glancey’s own mother has taken part, unveiling her melt and pour soap line, Mamoucha (, which resulted in a substantial order from retail powerhouse Anthropologie and a feature in their Holiday 2012 collection.

“This never would have happened had she not done Handmade Arcade,” said Glancey.

Another vendor, Whimsical Wonders ( led by Melissa Venneri-McCabe and Lew McCabe, will exhibit their affordably priced wind-chimes and jewelry designed with reclaimed silverware, natural stone and vintage beads.

“It is not your typical craft fair where you will find Christmas wreaths and toilet paper roll covers,” said Venneri-McCabe.

Presenting her designs at Handmade Arcade has led to “countless opportunities,” including new customers and relationships with other business owners.

“People who come to this show are ready to buy and they appreciate items that are made by hand by the artist who is standing in front of them,” she remarked. “Simply put, Handmade Arcade opens doors.”

What: Handmade Arcade | When: Saturday, Dec.8, 2012, 11am-7pm | Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center | Admission: Free | Specials: Early Birdie Passes are $15 and can be bought online or at Wildcard (4209 Butler St. in Lawrenceville, 412-224-2651) starting Nov.1st

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