There is just one week to go until the return of WHAM! In celebration of a whole glorious decade of Houston's favorite annual art market, I have been talking to some of the artists who have exhibited at WHAM not once, not twice, but EVERY SINGLE YEAR since its inception. This week I caught up with local artist, potter, and jeweler guru Nicki Berndt for the final part of my Ten Years of WHAM series:
Ok, can we start with you telling me a little about yourself and your work.
I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois in Champaign. I taught art for a few years before going into corp. sales. I retired early from Account Manager, and then decided to really go full time into my art. Pottery and throwing on the wheel is my biggest interest. I like to make utilitarian pieces that people can enjoy daily. I also do decorative and Raku items that are enjoyed aesthetically.
A few years ago, I took up metalwork at Lone Star College at the North Harris campus. We had a wonderful jeweler as our teacher. I have been taking many courses in metalwork, and enjoy working in sterling silver, precious metal clay, and copper and bronze.
Will we be seeing some of that at WHAM this year?
I will be selling stoneware pottery; bowls, mugs, flower holders, vases, and candleholders and gratitude covered boxes.
I’ll also be selling one of a kind earrings and necklaces in sterling, and other metals.
Nice! How did you first get involved in WHAM?
I had exhibited at the Glassell School of Art, which was the 1st week in December. It was a wonderful show, but when they decided not to have it anymore, Winter Street took over having a holiday sale, and I chose to take a chance and exhibit in that, and I loved it.
That seems to be how a lot of people first got involved. What was WHAM like that first year?
The first year it was good. A lot of the people that attended the Glassell Sale came. It has grown and it's reputation for very good art work has also grown.
What brings you back year after year? Is the draw financial or is it something else?
Of course the income from the sales is very nice and helps me to continue creating pieces, but the best part of the sale is getting the feedback from the customers. I have clientele that have been coming for many years and come look for my booth and compliment me on my work, and buy their Christmas gifts from me. They like the 'one of a kind' creations that I produce.
I can see why! Where can we see you exhibit next?
I will be having a home show and open house on Nov. 11, and I will be selling at the Holiday Sale at Insperity in Kingwood on Nov. 13. I have also contributed 2 items to Art on the Avenue, which is a charitable organization that builds homes for low incomes in Houston. I look forward to contributing to their silent auction each year. That will be held on Nov. 12-14. The first week of Dec. will be a Student Art Sale at Lone Star College at the North Harris Campus and in the Spring I will be selling at the Market Street Art Fair in the Woodands. That should keep me very busy!
Thanks for your time Nicki, I’ll see you at WHAM!
In the second of this three-part Winter Holiday Art Market series, I met with local ceramic artist Betsy Evans, one of the few original WHAM artists to still be exhibiting with the iconic show 10 years later. Side note: she is very pleasant to drink tea with on a Monday morning!
OK, so to start why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and your work?
Ok, well I’m a ceramic artist, primarily clay. I was trained as a woodwork artist and furniture maker, and had a metal and woodworking background, but went into ceramics when my daughter was born. So, I went to school at Glassell School of Art and did a little clay there, but ultimately I moved to Winter Street Studios and got my own studio there. I’m mostly self-taught, and then about 8.5 years ago, I formed a craft gallery called 18 Hands Gallery in the Heights with a few other people.
Ah OK. So how did you first get involved in WHAM?
The way the show originated was Glassell used to have a holiday show, and so Shane Tidmore who at the time had a studio a Winter Street felt that there was a real loss there, so he initially started it to fill that gap. I have been at Winter Street since the very beginning. I’m one of – I guess - seventeen original artists. So being one of the originals, it made doing WHAM logical for me. I can simply just move my tables outside of my studio!
Convenient! What was WHAM like when it first started?
SLOW! I mean, the intentions were good, but I think initially people didn’t know what Winter Street was, and they were really nervous about going there. The neighborhood has changed significantly in the last ten years, but people used to be scared to go there! It’s something I’ve never understood, I guess because I’m a fiercely independent person and I don’t get scared easily – I’d be out there in the middle of the night working! Over the course of time Winter Street and the arts district has developed a phenomenal reputation and become such a major force in Houston. With the force of Fresh Arts behind it, more exposure, and better quality artists, WHAM has just continued to grow too.
What brings you back year after year?
Accessibility! But seriously, I also enjoy the camaraderie that develops and you get to see what Houston has to offer for this specific market. These are not people that are being represented by galleries; so it’s a different way to produce in that sense. Looking at it as a crafts person, these types of markets can be tricky, especially for people who are in Fine Crafts. There are a lot of places that don’t take it seriously; a lot of the mediums are not considered fine arts, they see it as a hobby. But arts and crafts are hard - creativity is hard! It’s my hope that with more exposure at shows like this there will be more education and more understanding. Texas has no history of craft, and there’s a lot of bad craft out there that confuses the public. So if you can get it out there maybe people will understand that it’s not just silly little ducks with bows on!
Do you think WHAM helps to address that issue?
Absolutely, I mean for a city this size there just aren’t a lot of venues for the local artists. It really amazes me that my gallery (which is 90% clay) is the only real craft gallery in the city of Houston, and that’s the fourth largest city in the United States! I think there should be more and more of these events that allow emerging artists to sell their work and be a part of the engine that keeps the city moving.
So you’ll be selling ceramic sculpture at WHAM this year?
Well I have some non-functional work and some functional work at various price points. Just a nice mix of things, I’ve got wall pieces, I’ve got tabletop pieces. I’ve got a tendency to straddle the fence when it comes to functionality!
Is it important for you to sell work at WHAM? Or do you do it for other reasons?
The revenue is not necessary, but it’s nice! Really I just like feeling connected, going out and seeing people and being part of an event is so much more fun! Feeling like my participation is leading to something that makes Houston more interesting is one of the advantages of being an artist in a big city. I think the more we have these art markets and festivals, the bigger the sense of community.
I think you’re absolutely right. So you know a lot of the other artists that exhibit at WHAM regularly?
Yeah, I know quite a few. There are some that have been there consistently year after year. I’m familiar with most of them. I actually didn’t think I would be accepted again this year, because it’s getting really competitive with all the new artists. But, that competition just makes for a better show; I think that’s one of the great things about WHAM.
Well we’re pleased to have you back! Thanks so much for your time, I’ll see you at WHAM!
2015 marks the tenth anniversary of Houston's beloved Winter Holiday Art Market (WHAM), which has been organized by Fresh Arts and hosted at Winter Street Studios for the past decade. For those of you who are yet to attend (i'm assuming you will this year, because it's great fun), WHAM is a juried art market that takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving every year. It's not only a celebration of Houston's creative sector and economic engine for Houston’s talented independent artists, but is also a yearly tradition for fans of our city’s indie art scene. With just three weeks to go until the big event, I caught up with the few very special folks that have been exhibiting at WHAM since its humble beginnings in 2005. In the first of these interviews, I met with local printmaker, photographer, and retired biologist David J Webb to pick his brains about what its like to be a veteran WHAM artist:
Ok, so let’s kick this off! Tell me a little about yourself and your work:
Well, to summarize I’m a print maker and photographer. I do block prints of various sizes from 4x5 to 2ft by 4ft. Right now I’m working on a project to obtain old post cards from Houston, Texas and then I go to the location where those old postcards were photographed and take a current picture. Then I take it further by looking at who the post card is directed to and using genealogical software to figure out who they are and track the whole trajectory of a life. All these people are from 1910, so sometimes it’s just impossible but if I can I also find out who wrote the postcard. I’ve done other photographic projects, mostly associated with the passage of time.
Very cool! Will you be selling those at WHAM this year?
Those are actually for an exhibition at the Cloister Gallery next year, and I probably won’t be selling any of those.. I may have a few presented to stimulate conversation though! A lot of times I learn things from people who just happen to see it and say, oh, by the way…! For me WHAM is so much about the kinds of people you can meet and the kinds of conversations I can have about my work. Of course, it’s nice to sell things! But, for me it’s about having a good conversation.
So do you think that the networking part of WHAM is the most important aspect of it? Not the sales?
Yeah, I think that’s the real draw for WHAM artists. It’s one thing to put yourself on the internet, but that’s kind of impersonal. Some of my work is botanical monoprints, which are 15” by 42”, and it’s really hard to capture their impact on a tiny screen. Some things just don’t translate as well on the Internet.
Absolutely. So tell me about your first experience of WHAM in 2005?
For me, it was not exactly a disaster.. but I sold only to other artists that were there, and there was very little foot traffic. I guess there were people that had second thoughts about participating, because I ended up at the end of a long hallway with no other booths! The next year I said I’m not going to do it, but then the time came and I thought well, it could develop into something, so I was there for the second year and made double what I had made the year before! That was good enough for me to try a third year, and it just kind of got bigger and bigger. Now it’s a must do for me if I want to make my art business function in a real economic way.
Aside from the financial appeal, what else brings you back to WHAM year after year?
Well, I have a lot of customers who repeatedly buy my stuff, because the block prints look good by themselves but they look better in groups. I’m pretty affordable if people want to buy like five or six at a time. So I have a lot of people, when they go to WHAM, they look for me and a lot of people are repeat buyers or collectors now. I don’t have a functioning studio where people can come to look at my work. I don’t have many opportunities to put my stuff out there. WHAM is one of my more important venues for that.
So, being face to face with your buyers is very important to you?
Absolutely, it’s fun for me because I do like to engage with the buyer, or just have a conversation with somebody. For me just having someone look at my art and react to it gives me ideas for the next year. It’s sort of crowdsourcing, in today’s terminology!
Like a think tank, I like it! How has WHAM evolved since it first started?
It’s definitely gotten a lot more publicized! And a lot better attended. The first artists were of a certain caliber, and that has only risen with time. It gets better and better for people coming there to look at art or buy art.
Ten years ago, what was it like to be an emerging artist in Houston? How has it changed?
Oh it’s gone way upscale in the last decade. I moved to this neighborhood five years ago and on my block there were many of these little suburban looking houses. In the last three or four years 50% of those have been replaced with townhouses. So, all these new families are looking for some snappy art for their homes, and I think it has created a big market for not only the high end stuff for the big spenders, but for smaller things for people on a budget.
Like our WHAM shoppers!
Yes! WHAM I think really fills that niche, it’s not a gallery environment, there’s not the intimidation going in, you don’t have to deal with a curator. I think that’s a real special niche. I like to point my stuff in the direction of affordability. One of the things I like about my smaller prints is that just about anybody can have one. It’s a real handcrafted thing, it has a history, it has a genesis. When people can get there hands on stuff like that to decorate their personal environment it serves art really well.
It does. After WHAM, where can we see you exhibit next?
In July I’ll have an exhibit of the postcards and photography at the Cloister Gallery. I’m currently looking for funding to frame it, but at the very least I’ve committed to exhibiting about 50 or 75 individually framed works. I’m also contemplating doing a book dealing with the author and the recipients of the postcards, it’s fascinating.
Great! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today, see you at WHAM!
If you also want to go see David at WHAM, RSVP on ole Facey-b or check out the website for more information, see you there!
British-born arts blogger living in Houston, Tx. A mixture of Street Art, Fine Art, Installation, and anything weird and wonderful. Follow me if that sounds like your cup of tea.