Art Fair season in Ann Arbor just ended, and, this year, I had a mission: to find a specific ring from a specific artist who had a booth at the fair two years ago. The problem was I only had a vague memory that the artist was a woman who made jewelry out of antique silverware with her husband. I tried Googling “antique silverware jewelry” beforehand, but there was a surprising number of people on Etsy who make things out of antique silverware. So, out into the field I went.
The Ann Arbor Art Fair is a yearly affair and has been a city staple for the last 60 years. Artists from all over the country flock to the streets, only to sit in a small, white booth in what is often 90-degree heat. It’s magical. And, according to the Ann Arbor District Library archives, not much has changed. In a series of photos from the summer of 1971, artists stood by their wares, just as they do today, and I, as a faithful Art Fairgoer, am still confused by some of the things people choose to make. For instance, take Jane Hawkins and her macramé, or Victor Ing and his prints, a style of art that is still favored by the Art Fair today. This year, I saw what looked like paintings but were actually images made entirely out of string. Vastly different mediums and subjects, yet the artists still have their audience scratching their heads, wishing they could craft something similar.
The next closest thing to being able to do it yourself, of course, would be to buy it from the artist. It’s fulfilling to support an artist, to know that your hard-earned money is supporting a tangible thing that others can enjoy, rather than handing it off to the corporate entities that are so entrenched in our lives. That said, the masked capitalistic vibe of the Ann Arbor Art Fair did nothing to deter downtown businesses, local or otherwise. The fair is a time of sales galore from MDen to Urban Outfitters, Cherry Republic to Moosejaw. It’s not only a place to find eye-catching paintings of seascapes, but also a new dress or hiking boots at half the price. This shouldn’t be surprising, though — in the 1985 Street Art Fair brochure, it’s revealed that the fair actually started as a partner to the Summer Bargain Days of local businesses. A fitting beginning for one of the biggest attractions Ann Arbor has to offer.
Aside from the actual art and the sales, the other appealing part of the fair is the people-watching. The number of times I saw someone walking around drinking from a full-sized fruit is surprisingly high for day-to-day life, but, at an art fair, what else would I expect? People come from all over the country, not only to showcase their art, but to look around and do some of their own shopping. I spoke to one woman doing just that as she visited the city from Texas. Though a seasoned art fair shopper, this was her first time at the Ann Arbor Art Fair. Even better, she was scoping out the competition for her son, the artist (what he actually makes, I didn’t quite catch.) Her goal was to figure out what people are doing and how they were doing it so he could adapt his techniques and stay relevant to the art fair circuit.
But where am I in my hunt for the ring? Sadly, after walking up and down the various branches of the fair, I found myself coming up empty. It seemed I was going to remain ringless, a sad fact given how I decided the Ann Arbor Art Fair was my moment to become a ring person. It’s not that there weren’t any rings; there were plenty of jewelers (and potters and painters) throughout the fair. I just couldn’t find the kind of ring I had been picturing ever since I lost the original in the depths of my grandparents’ couch.
Fear not. I persevered like any good shopper, kept an open mind and stumbled on some really great pieces that weren’t just rings. Further down Liberty Street, closer to where it intersects Fifth Avenue, there was a man selling bowls. But not just any bowls, vegetabowls. (I’m mostly mentioning them here because of the magnificence of the pun.) Although an interesting concept, I didn’t end up purchasing any because the bowls themselves weren’t really my idea of dinnerware. Instead, I found solace on Main street with Corbé, a Detroit-based pottery company. The brand catches a shopper’s attention with mini vases in a white wire basket sitting just outside of the booth, but then it’s the patterns that force someone to really consider how great this pottery actually is. There’s a spotted design reminiscent of a dalmatian mixed in with strong oranges, blues and a speckled motif that somehow all came together into a cohesive aesthetic. My parents bought four of their mugs and a vase.
The most surprising part of this year’s art fair, though, was running into a Utah-based artist, The Bearded Jeweler. A first-timer, he and his wife both had booths on Thompson, just outside The Michigan Daily’s building. I knew his jewelry from a Sunday market in Park City where my whole ring hunt originated — which is also where his wife just launched her own brand. So, imagine my excitement when I found out he was here in Ann Arbor! Though his pieces aren’t made from antique silverware, they’re gorgeous in their own right, and both he and his wife were fun to talk to.
Despite the welcome surprise of running into The Bearded Jeweler, my ring hunt was still on, and I was getting frustrated. It was hot; I had worked four shifts at MDen with one more to go, and I was still ringless. What was a girl to do? As always, it was my mom who came to the rescue. Both my parents enjoy walking around the Art Fair. With both kids employed at stores in the heart of it, they had plenty of reason to stroll around the area for hours — serving as an extra pair of eyes on the lookout for some rings.
It was on North University, booth NU714, that my quest for rings finally ended. Made out of a variety of silverware, the rings manage to be both delicate and edgy and a marvelous way to assuage my ringless woes.
The Ann Arbor Art Fair is a unique experience — some townies enjoy all it has to offer, in spite of the absurd heat and its painstaking traffic, while others leave town that weekend to avoid the tourists that descend on Ann Arbor. Whichever way you choose, just remember to shop local, and send me an email if you see any rings worth wearing.