As much as we all relish the visuals at SOFA Chicago, it’s often the words that linger.

The last three days have been a banquet of conversations.

I’d like to name names and share insights that were so generously shared with me, but time is not on my side here.

It’s back to the pier for the Last Day and Take Down.

Ta Da!

Lani

PS. And for those who just want to know “What sold on Saturday??!!” – an Akester, another Newell and a Parrish. ;-)

Saturday. Day 2.5 of SOFA. Brain dead. No time. Hoarse.

Here’s 16 quick pics to do the talking. Roughly split into five categories…..

#1. What it looks like when they open the doors to preview night, you’re the first booth in the hall and the earth is moving under your feet.

That’s pretty much all I see on Opening Night. The rest is equally blurred. Sorry.

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It’s Art Fair season and our first stop this fall is SOFA CHICAGO.

Think about joining the crowds to see some of the best in glass worldwide. (and some other neat stuff too).

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Friday inside the Saatchi Galleries, it’s all business. Sales are stronger than we’ve seen in years.

Without a doubt the most satisfying clients are the ones who return a year later to say they deeply regret the purchase they didn’t make the year before and would like to make up for it immediately!

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It’s a portent. Gallery. Mess.

Walking into London’s Saatchi Gallery to set up for this year’s Crafts Council COLLECT fair, I notice the signage over the posh café that’s pimping itself at the entrance to Charles Saatchi’s refurbished military barracks, aka Duke of York Headquarters, aka chichi Chelsea’s chicest exhibition space. We’ve arrived. That’s me, Jamie, our gallery’s assistant director, and Jeff, formerly our gallery’s head preparator until he moved to England.

How cool is this? It’s our fourth time doing COLLECT. We must think this makes sense.

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In short: it was a spectacular opening night. A larger crowd than I’ve seen in years. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we were so busy talking, explaining,  and mostly reconnecting with old friends and clients that I didn’t get a chance to get out of the booth once.

But, at the end of it all, what everyone always wants to know is “What sold?” It’s the ultimate scorecard for so many. OK OK. So here’s where we are after Day one.

1.KMO

Placed with a good home in southern California, the small Moje that has traveled across Australia and to museum exhibitions on both US coasts finally finds a family.

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Somewhere back in Portland, Oregon,  Susan, Janet and a dozen other serious-minded staffers at the Bullseye Glass Company imagine that their leader, Jim – in Chicago for Bullseye Gallery’s showing at SOFA 2009 – is working hard to uphold the supremely professional reputation of the company and the many fine artists its gallery represents.

1.jjW

Wrong. Made irreparably giddy by the fumes of Sherwin-Williams #7048, the normally no-nonsense Mr Jones has been buzzing about the monkey bars all morning, drunkenly painting and repainting the endless corners and angles that make up the skeleton of Michael Rogers’ Beekeeper’s Staircase.

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In June artist Steve Klein was teaching in La Granja, Spain. By July he had led a professional artist-in-residence program at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State. It’s August now and he’s co-teaching a workshop with Kaffe Fassett at North Lands Creative Glass here in Scotland. This fall he’ll be at Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem.

Steve claims to have bad knees. I can’t imagine how much faster he’d move with good ones.

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How many of you know that 2009 is the Year of Homecoming in Scotland?

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It sure felt that way last weekend when many of us gathered for two sensational events: a benefit whisky tasting hosted by William Grant & Sons distillers on Saturday night and a panel discussion the following day by four artists who have taught and studied at my favorite school: North Lands Creative Glass.

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The Answer: Inspiration, Education, Availability.

So, what was the question?

Catharine Newell is more than an exceptional artist. She’s one of the most sharing, inspirational and encouraging teachers I know. Classes by teachers of this caliber are what will keep our “industry” vital.

The last time that Paul Tarlow posted a comment to my blog I ended up writing a reply that was so long I never posted it. He’d commented weeks after the blog had drifted 40,000 leagues below the main page and I figured I’d be babbling alone in the underworld. This time – because Paul’s comments touch on some critical issues – I’m going to turn the answer into a blog post itself.

OK. First, go read Paul’s comment. It’s no. 7 on the last post (“Mystery Shopper”).

In short, Paul asked 1) “what Bullseye sees as the market drivers…for the kilnformed glass ‘industry’” and 2) whether we think that our online ordering program is going to be perceived as a threat by “independent studios” (by which I think he means teaching studios that also retail supplies).

No. 1: The Market Drivers

To repeat myself, these are the components that I believe will create and maintain a healthy future for our field:

Inspiration: this kiln-glass “industry” (if, at its current size, it even merits that title) needs, before all else, a public face that is awe-inspiring. The works it generates need to be shown and seen in museums, art galleries and stores merchandising good design wares. People need to want to create in this glassworking method and to know that they can.

A once-in-a-lifetime retrospective by a major artist in kiln-glass like Klaus Moje at a major venue like the Portland Art Museum doesn’t happen every day. But why not? Our field has artists in it that are worthy of this sort of public exposure. We can make it happen. We must make it happen.

(But before anyone is intimidated by Museum Art, take a look at some of the fantastic work showing up on Etsy recently. This is Good Design, dreamy – and affordable – kilnformed glass jewelry)

Education: our community needs local teaching studios that satisfy the interest created by exposure to good quality kiln-glass. Paul operates just such a studio – Helios – in Austin, Texas. Top quality teaching studios are the gateway to our field. They should also be gathering points for people sharing this common interest. Internet communities are useful but they are not a substitute for face-to-face personal interaction and hands-on experience in the craft.

When was the last time you got to suit up in yellow slickers and headphones to enjoy an Internet bulletin board session on coldworking? There is no substitute for the bricks and mortar classroom.

Availability: once introduced to the medium, the end-user needs to have quick and easy access to the materials and supplies. This is often more difficult for the small teaching studio to supply. The largest wholesalers in the stained glass industry have historically been poorly stocked in fusible glass and supplies. The situation is only aggravated at the local retail level. Online availability fills a need and keeps the user active and engaged in the field.

The sheer variety of materials and tools demanded by enthusiastic students and artists in our field can be a challenge to small retailers. Online supply can fill in the gaps sometimes missing in local supply.

If those three elements are in play – inspiration, education, and availability – they will drive a healthy future for our field.

No. 2: Online ordering as a threat to bricks-and-mortar retailers

I’m a Mac-fanatic. I can get anything I want to feed my addiction online. But my idea of a Great Shopping Experience is a visit to my local Apple Store, in person, in The Flesh. Why? Because it’s teeming with People who can answer my questions. I go there to learn, to get my hardware fixed and my software explained – personally. The place is CRAMMED with people – customers and staff – talking about the activity and the products that excite them, signing store visitors up for “One-to-One” sessions, giving advice at the Genius Bar, selling stuff.  And while I’m there I too buy stuff. I wouldn’t ONLY go to buy. But my interaction with that staff and the electricity of that community stokes my passion and encourages me to pick up something I usually didn’t even know I needed.

And a lot of the time, it’s having seen something online that drives me to the local store – to see it for myself, to talk to a specialist face-to-face.

“Online competition…putting brick and mortar stained glass retailers out of business?” My opinion? Absolutely not. Quite the contrary.

Local stained glass retail stores have been struggling since I first worked in one 35 years ago. That was long before the Internet. This blog is long enough already without my opening that particular can of worms.

Is Bullseye a threat to retail by selling online? Not even close.

The greatest threat to this fledgling industry is a newcomer becoming inspired and educated, then not having access to the materials s/he needs to keep growing and learning. If those supplies are available locally, to be seen, handled and explained by savvy sales staff, online is not a threat.  If the products are not available locally or are constantly out-of-stock, both the end user and the retailer are headed to a dead end.

Paul, as far as I can see, your teaching studio is doing a great job of providing inspiration and education. And you’ve already said that Bullseye’s online operation isn’t a threat to your ability to sell product.

So again, I’m kind of confused by your question. I think that YOU (& Helios) are your own answer.