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.