Caryn Newman is a master potter and owner of Willowood Pottery studio in Ewing, where she produces stoneware and porcelain and teaches classes. She describes her work as “refined, yet very functional.”
Her website is full of photos of dishes, bowls and mugs, trays, vases and more. While many of the items she makes are intended for household use, she has also seen many of her creations accepted into juried art exhibitions.
Newman is just one of the hundreds of artists and craftspeople in the area who spend their days making unique and beautiful objects by hand. And whether they are decorative, functional or both, objects like these can make for memorable gifts, perhaps never more than in 2020, a year turned upside down by the global coronavirus pandemic (among many other things).
In past years, Newman has held a holiday sale in early December at her home on Willowood Drive. In this extraordinary year, she decided to move the sale up to October.
She says it was the best holiday sale she’s ever had, and thinks that people have at least one good reason to shop locally for gifts this year.
“I’ve heard that people are worried about being able to ship things, that the carriers are saying now that if you don’t ship out gifts by Dec. 1, that they can’t guarantee delivery by christmas,” she says. “So we’re using that as a way to say shop early and we’ll ship it for you and help you get it done.”
Many artisans like Newman depend on craft fairs to reach customers, and they have been hurt by the fact that most fairs this year have been canceled out of concerns for people’s safety. Sugarloaf Craft Festival, since 1975 one of the largest organizers of craft fairs in the country, went out of business in June.
Newman doesn’t do many craft fairs these days. She prefers selling out of her home — usually by appointment — or through co-op galleries like Red Tulip Gallery in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where she regularly has items are on display.
Business has been decent despite the restrictions caused by the coronavirus, but only because artists have adapted to new business conditions. Newman will still accommodate visitors to her studio if they make appointments and agree to wear masks and social distance. She is also in the process of overhauling her website to offer point-of-sale service directly from the site.
But she says one key tactic both for her own studio and for the gallery has been buffing up their email lists and sending out email to the lists more frequently.
Newman says that Red Tulip Gallery has begun offering virtual shopping, where shoppers can make video calls to the gallery and get a personalized tour. And she has personally sold a number of items via Facetime this year.
“I’ve had Facetime with someone in Hawaii, someone in New Mexico,” she says. “I can show them different glazes, I can show them different shapes. I sold dinnerware to someone that way and she just contacted me — she wants more. And we haven’t been face to face. Artists have got to adjust to this situation.”
Willowood Pottery, 7 Willowood Drive, Ewing. Phone: (609) 203-7141.
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Craft fairs may be few and far between this year, but that does not mean there are no ways to find artists and get a look — virtually or in person — at what they have to offer.
HomeFront is still hosting ArtJam 2020 this year at its family campus in Ewing. Shoppers can browse online and at the gallery by appointment.