Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lawrence, The Summer Arts Festival, and how we did there....

Since Boxing Day (December 26th) most of my energies have been focussed on making stock (inventory) for the Lawrence Summer Arts Festival.

I made mugs, cups, bowls, teapots, and jugs. 

A new teapot that I am rather excited about!

Note the pretend screws that appear to hold the teapot together!

I also wrote and printed a handout about our work, and about the Old Post Office where we have our studio.  
Prior to the Event, I had no idea how many to print, and hoped that 100 or so would be enough and took a stack of our business cards, just in case.

On Friday I unpacked the final glaze firing from the kiln, smoothed feet of cups and jugs, and then spent the day loading the van with the kick wheel, clay, ware boards, tables, buckets, tools, and boxes full of pottery.  Laura worked up at the local shop for two thirds of the day, then joined me with packing.  We were finished loading about 7 in the evening, then drove 137km (84 miles) to Lawrence.  We were very tired, but the drive was a pleasant one, the last half hour or so is very pretty as the road winds its way through narrow tree lined valleys between steep sided hills.

Our friend James, who appeared three years ago in this blog, kindly let us use his flat for the weekend.  The flat was a Godsend, as it made a safe haven to retire to at the end of each day after working in very hot conditions.

We got up early on Saturday and were on the street to set up our stall at about 8.15 in the morning.  

The Main Street of Lawrence first thing on Saturday morning.

The day was already warm, and temperatures climbed to what may have been above 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). 
We had been provided with a large tent that had been put up in a vacant area of land beside the old town hall.  It was a good position, and the tent was roomy enough to put out two trestle tables end-to-end for the pottery to be displayed on, and for there to be a separate "messy" area for potter's wheel and tables for working with clay.  In the hall next to our tent, Laura had some paintings on display.

Laura set out the pottery on the tables whilst I got the wheel organised and prepared clay for the day.

There was a hat competition, and exhibitors were encouraged to wear something colourful.  Laura made a hat for herself that looked rather splendid, and a little like Dutch traditional costume.

By the time that ten o'clock came around, the official opening time of the Festival, I was flowing with perspiration, it was uncomfortably hot, especially as I was having to wedge clay.  In fact, I was so hot and tired by that stage that I could not prepare clay for the full day, but had to do more preparation at intervals right through.

As the hours slipped past, we began to realise that things were not going that well.  There did not seem to be many people visiting the festival.  By afternoon those that did come in the tent were complaining of heat, and were lethargic.  Some people coming into the tent, were just coming to get in the shade.  A large group of women, who may have been part of a family reunion, came in and just talked together about Cousin Ethel's hip replacement, and other such juicy gossip, and kept their backs to the display the whole time.  I demonstrated on the wheel all day, and Laura looked after the display of pottery.  In theory people could have had a go at pottery, but I think there would have been little interest on the Saturday, as it was simply too hot.  So, I talked and potted, and tried to be cheerful, and Laura talked and tried to sell pots. 

By the end of the day sales consisted of one goblet and one small bowl, total value NZ $53, and we were completely exhausted and dehydrated in spite of consuming 3 litres of water between the two of us. As there was no security at night we had to pack up the stuff that we had in the tent.  We were able to put the wheel and tables in the hall, which made packing up much easier, and the pottery went back in boxes in the van.  It was still a long job.

So that was day one.  People said that Saturday was too hot for people to turn out to the Festival, that Sunday would be better, the festival usually went better on the Sunday.

We were back on the street early on Sunday morning and set up whilst the day was still relatively cool.  This time I made sure that I did my clay preparation a bit earlier in the day, so that conditions were more bearable, and I could try to get more clay in reserve.  I decided to work at the wheel only when there were people around, and make the most of little rests, as I had really worked far too hard on the Saturday.

Sunday did get hot again, but not to the dizzy heights of the day before, and a light breeze blowing through the tent made things quite pleasant.  In the morning I took the camera with me for half an hour, and walked around a couple of the events further down the street.  One thing I enjoyed was a display  that was set up in an empty shop building by the Balclutha Floral Arts Club.  

There was a wedding cake made of pale yellow soap, 

a party of people sitting round a table, 

and various bicycles outside in a garden area that were decorated with flowers.

On my way back to our tent, I stopped to listen to the spirited and enthusiastic singing by a group of young men from Vanuatu.  

They had incredibly high voices, and accompanied their singing with guitar, ukulele, and a tea chest base.  

Sunday had enjoyable moments.  I particularly appreciated a visit by an elderly man called John, who said that he had come specially to see me at the wheel.  John had been a keen amateur potter, and still did some. He filmed me working and enjoyed talking potting.  Two teenage girls from Melbourn Australia had a go at making a bowl each on the potter's wheel, and they were both charming and did very well.  Late in the day two young children watched me work whilst their parents went to have a drink of something cool at the nearby pub, and I enjoyed their company and their enjoyment of watching clay turn into a bowl on the wheel. 

On Sunday morning the nice people that owned the old town hall next to the tent bought a small jug from me, and in the afternoon a friend bought 3 cups...  Those were Sunday's total sales.  Sunday was actually much quieter, with less people in attendance, than the horribly hot Saturday.  Some stall holders actually abandoned the Festival early and went home.

 Packing up.

Packing up took a very long time, and we finally drove away from our site just after 6.30 in the evening, with the van almost as full as when we packed it on Friday.  

Summing Up
As I was a demonstrator, the organisers of the Festival paid my petrol expenses, which was greatly appreciated, as were the sales that we did have.  We were also very, very fortunate that James looked after our accommodation so splendidly.  In all honesty though, I have been rather sad over the last couple of days. We are running low on money, sales are patchy and not as frequent as they need to be, and I had hoped that attending the Festival may have helped our situation.  The Lawrence Arts Festival was one of the few big events in our part of the country, so for us to fail so badly in a business sense at a "big event" was very sobering.

I realize that some others that took part as stall holders, or were involved in the organising of the event, will very probably be feeling "battered and bruised" emotionally too.  I do feel sorry for them.  I think everyone put in a huge amount of effort to make the event a successful one.  

This was the first Lawrence Arts Festival that we had attended, so we cannot compare what happened this time with previous years, but those people that I did talk to that had been in the past were convinced that "numbers were well down".  I am also not in a position to judge as to why things did not go as well as expected, I am sure that everyone did their best.

Coming up!
On Saturday, 2 February, we will be attending the Palmerston A & P Show.  We had a stall at the show last year, our sales were not great, but were worth the effort of attending for the day.  Attending this show is also a way of advertising ourselves in our local area.  Most of the locals have never visited our gallery, so it is good to bring it out to them, and some are quite surprised to see what we do in the Old Post Office building!  I will demonstrate on the wheel for the day, and Laura will look after sales.

This year marks 130 years of A & P shows at Palmerston, and special celebrity guests will be the Topp Twins (who make country music and comedy).

Image from the Topp Twins official site
See you at the show.... I hope!!


gz said...

good to see you having fun!
All the Best!!

Anna said...

how disappointing :^( very difficult times for the professional potter. Maybe you could linkup with the 'Handmade' movement?? Its a very informal thing but more markets in Oz are taking that theme.
Good luck with the Show...

Linda Starr said...

the more shows I go to the more I think many folks go for the free entertainment and food, galleries, gift shops and online seems to be more worthwhile especially with the cost of art fair entries.

Arkansas Patti said...

Aw Peter, I am so sorry the show was such a let down. That heat had to have been miserable. I had no idea all the work involved in just presenting your wares.
Laura looked adorable and I loved your display. That teapot is really impressive.
So glad that some of your expenses were covered anyway.
Hoping the next one is much better attended.

Luke said...

Peter -

Sorry to hear about the less-than-stellar festival. I think we all know the defeat of a poorly attended/supported/promoted sale. Hopefully the next one turns things around a bit.

I'm taking on the task of producing some teapots (a rarity for me) this winter (as us northern hemispherites are in now), so I do enjoy seeing what others are up to in that area. Love your teapots!

Hang in there and keep up the good work.


Michèle Hastings said...

How disappointing. If you are like me you spend days after trying to figure out what you could have done different to create more sales... did I bring the right pots? was the demonstrating a distraction from sales? Are my prices too high?... etc, etc.
We just have to pick ourselves up and move on.

Peter said...

Hi Gwynneth,
Good to hear from you.
"Fun"? Well, it was good to catch up with friends and to have a change of scene!

Hi Anna,
Thank you for your comment.
I'll check out the "Handmade" movement with interest, it would be good to investigate anything that may be of help to potters and other craft people.

Hi Linda,
I know that you have had to struggle with shows too. In some ways I don't mind being "entertainment", and enjoy demonstrating (especially with the thought that it might just inspire a person to get their hands into clay one day), but there certainly has to be a better way of selling.

Hi Patti,
Thanks for the sympathy, I'm starting to bounce back again!
Laura enjoyed dressing up, and I did like the hat and apron combination. On the hot Saturday, I think I needed to wear some sort of air conditioned space suit to keep cool, but I suspect that one hasn't been designed for potters as yet!

Hi Luke,
Good to hear from you, and your encouragement is much appreciated. We are certainly hoping that the show this coming Saturday works out better. Not much travel to get there this time, so it will be easier logistically. I hope you enjoy making the teapots, they certainly are a challenge at every stage, but they are such a delight too.

Hi Michèle,
I did spend a couple of days after the show with the head going round in unhelpful circles. Sometimes it seems that life would be so much better if there was a "reset" button to press and you could do the show again with the same people attending, but with different prices and/or different pots, and see if it went better. Maybe someone should make a video game, like a craft orientated version of Monopoly! But, life isn't like that, I tidied my studio yesterday, and I'm back to work again today! :)

Amy said...

Gosh, how disappointing! hope that sales change for the better, even in surprising ways... hang in there. If I lived closer, I'd come to the sale for sure.

Peter said...

Hi Amy,
Thanks for the encouragement, it is good to hear from you.

Michèle Hastings said...

I love the idea of a craft show video game to help determine outcomes!!
You should sell your idea to the game makers... you might make more money than sell pots.

Angie said...

I feel for you re sales ...I so hope the tide turns. I think that those who go to these festivals are mainly looking for cheaper items or little things that are easy to carry around and home ....I know that I do ...and then keep the card that is usually dropped in the bag.

I thought Laura looked gorgeous btw ... and that tea pot was a work of art xx

Peter said...

Hi Michèle,

Mmmmm the prospect of actually making money sounds tempting, maybe I need a career change..., a game designer!

Hi Angie,
Thanks for the encouragement. People always seem happy to buy food, I remember having a stall next to a German bread maker.. He sold everything he made! I have wondered if I should bake some bread for shows, with my knowledge of kiln building I could make a nice wood fired bread oven.

Anyway, tomorrow is the show at Palmerston, about 10 minutes by car North of where we live. We have spent the last few hours packing in readiness for an early start tomorrow.

I'll pass on your "gorgeous" to Laura. Pxx

Jill Hodgson said...

That is a very interesting and thought provoking insight into what goes on behind the scenes at an event like that. I can see it's a lot of hard work. The art and craft festivals here are also usually in the searing heat of summer, there's something wrong with that.

From an attendee's point of view I often feel a slight tension when looking round stalls, I want to have good look but would prefer to be more invisible to the seller because I find it's often an awkward social dynamic, a feeling of letting someone down by not buying. The demonstration idea would ease that a lot.

We would be more likely to buy something if we had decided upfront to do so and viewed it as a hunting expedition for the right item. We often end up having a discussion about something we both liked on the way home when it's too late. Will remedy that!

I do think your pots look wonderful, would like some hot chocolate out of those mugs (freezing here!) Hope the next show is more lucrative!

mugmkr said...

Hi Peter, do you have a website where folks can purchase your fantastic work on line? If not, I suggest this as one area to explore to increase your sales. Best wishes, Owen

Peter said...

Hello Jill,
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, it is interesting to try to understand things from both sides of the craft stall table. Small markets can be very intimidating for customers. We went to a local farmers market once when we appeared to be the only public visiting at that time, and it did seem that 11 pairs of eyes from all the stall holders followed us around as we nervously walked from stall to stall! We were close to panicking and running!

Happy to report that we have done better at the show at Palmerston that we attended today.

Hi Owen,
Lovely to hear from you, thank you very much for your comment. I was fascinated to hop across onto your web site and see what you do. I am so impressed by your hand made mugs and the way that you have developed your business and use the internet, it is marvellous, and a great example of what can be done. I certainly will give on line sales a try soon.

Greg said...

Hi Peter (and Laura). My wife and two daughter and I were among the visitors who did enjoy your display and to watch you working, although I'm sorry to say we didn't purchase any pots. The Lawrence festival was great, but unfortunately coincided with an A & P day in Mosgiel and a popular festival at Brighton. So there may not have been as many visitors from Dunedin as expected. Incidentally, I did discover an old potter's wheel, very like the one you were using, in a shed at Marama Lodge in Lawrence. I wonder if they'd be interested in selling it?

gz said...

Sometimes just being out there is important.
Catching up with friends is always important!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter and Laura,
I'm sorry your weekend at The Summer Arts Festival wasn't as great as you may have expected. It's sad to hear you're struggling with finances. :( I would like to be in a position to help, but unfortunately am not at this point in time.
I can only pray that things improve, and there will be a solution to the problem.
I really like the mugs you made. I'm a mug for a nice mug. ;)

Love Sue

Peter said...

Hi Sue,

Thank you for your sweet comment, you are a real encouragement! Happy to report that Palmerston went better than Lawrence for us.

Love from P & L xx