The 58th Ann Arbor Art Fair is well underway as thousands explore over 5,000 artist attractions and tents filling the downtown streets and University of Michigan campus. The event will continue through Sunday.
The fair is composed of four distinct, smaller fairs covering different areas of Ann Arbor from Main Street to the South University Avenue district.
Art & Design Professor Kate Tremel has been selling her artwork at the fair since 2008. In college, she studied anthropology and Spanish, but decided to take ceramics classes at her local community arts center in 1985 to further explore her interests.
“I later went to graduate school and just got hooked,” Tremel said. “I’m doing it for love, but also as a job, as a profession.”
Tremel said she acquired inspiration for some of her artwork while studying ceramics in Peru.
“The fleeting nature of beauty,” Tremel said. “It’s alive for a moment and then it can all collapse.”
Artists Lou Ann Townsend and Mary Filapek from Concord, N.C., located in the Original fair by the Bell Tower, describe their work as “modern jewelry,” utilizing an array of metals to craft their art. They described how, as innovators, they found their love for the craft of jewelry.
“By nature, we’re both makers,” Townsend said. “We love making things, we ended up picking jewelry, but it could’ve been anything, we could’ve designed furniture, wall art, but we like working small because you can make little tiny prototypes and most of our work you could blow up on a bigger scale.”
For Townsend and Filapek, who travel from February to December every year to sell and showcase their art around the country, what’s special about the Ann Arbor fair is its size.
“It’s fun to get to participate in such a massive event,” Townsend spoke. “It’s one of the largest outdoor festivals in the country, maybe the largest.”
For Filapek, she feels Ann Arbor is different for the friendliness of the patrons.
“The people here are fantastic,” Filapek said. “The people who come to this event are a special kind.”
Joy McCalvin, cork-based handbag and accessories designer and first-year festival artist from Pontiac, Mich., spoke of the significance of being able to showcase her work at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.
“It’s one of the top five shows in the country,” McCalvin said. “I thought it would be really cool to come here to see if I could get in and sell my unique items.”
McCalvin, who found the idea for crafting cork-based artwork after following some sowing feeds on Facebook, said she wanted to try to do something never done before and something unconventional.
“I hadn’t seen it anywhere, and I just started making a few things and people really liked it,” McCalvin said. “So I thought, ‘I think I have something here,’ so it sells pretty well.”
Kimberly Willison, an avid Ohio State University fan from Restin, V.A., said she heard about the art festival from a friend and decided to attend to find out something she could actually like about the rivaling town.
She said she likes the diversity in the types of art forms available at the festival.
“What I like about it is the breadth of different types of art forms,” Willison said. “I’ve definitely always been a fan of art, I’m not an artist myself, but have hung around with artists a lot. I’m an elementary school principal so I’m always interested in the creative process and the different ways people find sharing their feelings, their emotions, their talents and their interests through art.”
Rackham student Takumi Murayama, who has attended the art fair in the past, said if the art fair occurred during the academic year, students would be able to benefit from this experience as well.
“It would probably be better if it was around when students were around more, but it gives a good balance despite what most people are in Ann Arbor for,” Murayama said.
Although Kathleen Kalinowski, a vendor and 15-year veteran of the Art Fair from Grand Rapids, didn’t have any problems with the fair being in July apart from the heat, she said the fair’s length takes a toll on the vendors.
“I really think that it would be just as good of a show if it was three days,” she said. “It’s pretty grueling for the artists.”
Jacqueline Duda, a vendor stationed on East University Avenue, was one of the few artists selling clothing at the fair. Although she’s made art in several different mediums, she said she saw an opening in the industry for wearable art.
“I’ve been a potter, a jeweler, a paper mache artist, but clothing is where I settled because there was a need for color in the industry, there was a need for someone that knows about plus sizing, and more of a modern look, and not your cookie-cutter retail look,” she said.
Her work, which uses a Japanese watercolor technique known as sumi-e brush painting, was featured in the White House under former President Obama. And while she has a 99 percent clientele return rate, she says most of her business comes from people whose friends have referred them to her.
“The majority of my business is from the person that’s already bought, and they bring their friends,” she said. “It’s a great fan club here, and a very appreciative audience.”