Interview with Lois Russell
Lois Russell has participated in every role at CraftBoston - from a volunteer to participating artist and she is currently the SA+C Board President! Lois knows how the whole operation runs from all perspectives and believes in the magic that happens when all of us come together. Way back before we knew about COVID-19 we asked her to write about her experiences, thoughts and history with CraftBoston. We are excited about CraftBoston Holiday Online this year and we love thinking about the community we are going to see virtually in just a few months!
Mid-afternoon, just a couple of hours before CraftBoston opens, the space is frantic. And a mess. Artists are hauling carts and suitcases to their empty booths, spilling the contents into the aisles, stringing up strip lighting and steaming wrinkled garments. They are greeting old friends, looking for a ladder to borrow, trying to get a pole or drape they ordered that did not appear, locating the nearest coffee shop. Everyone is dressed to work: tee shirts and jeans and ponytails.
Then a miracle occurs, the same one time and again. It is 6 o'clock and the doors open. The aisles are clear. The boxes are stowed behind and between booths; the glass is polished; the wares arranged; every artist is ready, ready, ready, hoping for a "good show."
For the past 20 years, I have had a variety of roles in this tableau:
- I have been a shopper, browsing and chatting, and collecting postcards to remind me of beautiful things. Some of my favorite treasures have been purchased at CraftBoston.
- The first time I was a volunteer, the director plopped a floppy pink hat from a booth on my head, handed me a stack of cards and sent me out into the Back Bay to drum up customers. "And remember to be friendly," she called as I headed to the door.
- And I have been an artist in one of those booths three times, hiding my coffee and smiling as I explained my process to another visitor… all the while ogling the jewelry across the aisle.
- Now I am on the Board of Trustees for the Society of Arts and Crafts, currently the chair. This means I spend the weekend worrying. Will people come? Will the artists make money? Will my staff survive the pressure? (They always do.) And as I worry, I wander. I hand out water and candy to the artists or sit in a booth so someone can have lunch. I sell raffle tickets and I talk to people about SA+C. And, of course, I still buy stuff.
The best of these roles, by far, is the artist in the booth. It is nerve-wracking. Will you make the booth fee? One's feet do begin to hurt by Saturday afternoon. And, yes, Sunday night I was always face down on the couch.
No matter what my role, I love the booths. The energy is in the booths. Yes, there are beautiful objects and evidence of skill and creativity all over the place. But it is the people looking and talking that bring the whole tableau to life. How did you make that? When did you start doing this? That is amazing. I wish I could sew/ weave a basket/ work with clay, make a ring… It is all worthwhile when someone walks into the booth and touches a piece. I always feel a piece is a success if people want to touch it. It is all about response and interaction. Person and object. Person and person.
At every CraftBoston, 5 pm on Sunday evening always comes and the miracle reverses.. Within seconds of the doors closing, it looks like a tornado has gone through. The trappings come down; the cases are out. Trash cans overflow. The staff is rushing around with walkie-talkies coordinating the "load out." There is banging and clanking and the sound of laughter as artists pull it all down and scramble to get to their cars and vans. Within three hours, it is a wasteland.
This pandemic (supply your own adjective) has snuffed out our in-person interactions. We have had to cancel our spring CraftBoston this year and it is unclear when we will be able to have large gatherings again or what they will look like. Will we be wearing masks? How do you keep people six feet apart when all they want to do is touch things and talk to each other. So much is unknown these days. I do know, however, that the Society of Arts and Crafts will make some kind of miracle happen. There will be a place for this particular brand of magic to happen again. Please stay healthy. We can't wait to see you there.
Image above: Kari Lonning, Linda Kindler Priest and Lois Russell