In these studios, craft is brewing

Minneapolis artists and designers prepare for the American Craft Council Show in St. Paul

Ceramic artist Ben Fiess plans to debut a new line of vases at the American Craft Council Show in St. Paul. Credit: Submitted image

Southwest Minneapolis weaver Ann Masemore is among the artists from this side of the river making their American Craft Council Show debuts in St. Paul in April, and her booth at the RiverCentre will feature her newest creation, the Emerson Envelope Bag.

The Knox Avenue Tote, the Harriet Beach Bag, the Kenwood Clutch — all of Masemore’s woven bags are named after Minneapolis streets and neighborhoods. But look closely and you might notice something besides a name that is identifiably Minneapolitan about them — a splash of Bachman’s purple, perhaps.

Her unusual medium is repurposed plastic, and while working at her loom Masemore might select one the local florist’s distinctive lavender bags for a touch of color. Or she might grab a tortilla wrapper, or one of the 20 or 30 empty bags of cypress chips a friend who is an avid gardener drops off at Masemore’s house every spring.

“I’m just a big color person,” she said. “Color, for me, comes first, then form and function.”

Weaving and bag-design make a rewarding second career for Masemore after almost three decades in the corporate world. In addition to selling her bags online, Masemore does the circuit of regional arts and crafts shows, but she considers the prestigious ACC Show a big step up.

More than 225 artists and designers are expected at the three-day event, returning to St. Paul for its 29th year. For shoppers, it’s a chance to view unique handmade wares up close and meet in person with potters, glass blowers, leather-, wood- and metalworkers, jewelers and clothing and furniture designers, an experience Etsy just cannot provide.

The annual ACC Show also deals in inspiration. Visit the popular “Make Room: Modern Design Meets Craft” exhibition for ideas on incorporating crafts into home décor.

This will be the second year local interior designer Karen Soojian has created a room setting for the show, and this year’s theme,“4 Elements,” had her mulling over the design possibilities for air. Soojian came up with an open, almost colorless sitting room accented with just a little bit of sky blue and a wall covered in a pattern of triangle-shaped molded tile.

In it, Soojian placed a delicate to the point of gravity-defying porcelain vessel by artist Jennifer McCurdy and crinkled handmade paper art by Earlene McNeil Larson. “Real, true art brings an element of soul into the house,” she said.

“For me, a home is never finished until you have accessories in place,” she added. “… That’s the difference bringing in arts and crafts can make.”

South Minneapolis artist Ben Fiess’ new line of vases has soul and something more. Spunk, maybe. The “ceramic compositions” and unusual ceramic vessels showcased on Fiess’ website are somehow quirky while remaining elegant, a rare combination.

“Juicy” is how Fiess describes his glazes, and it must be the combination of candy-sweet, saturated pastels with the graceful lines of his pottery that makes it so appealing. His new vases are accented with playful polka dots.

Fiess, whose studio and kiln are located on a Hudson, Wis., hobby farm, is one of the artists appearing in the “Hip Pop” section of the ACC Show. Mainly young, emerging artists and craftspeople, the “Hip Pop” participants are all ACC Show first-timers.

Local jewelry designer Lauren Neal described “Hip Pop” as a low-pressure, lower-cost entry into the ACC world. A former social worker, Neal launched her business as Carrier Pigeon Jewelry but recently renamed it NEAL Jewelry.

“It’s going to be really interesting for me to figure out this show,” she said.

Neal specializes in lost-wax casting, and said she likes her collections “to tell a story” through shape, color or texture. Although she said it was hard to pinpoint an inspiration for her latest line, a Paul Klee poster Neal picked up in a thrift store and hung in her bedroom was an influence.

“Those shapes, I look at them every day before I leave the house,” she said.

As the name implies, Lakestone Jewelry’s rings, necklaces and bracelets all incorporate polished stones and sometimes driftwood, the kinds of humble treasures one collects on the beach. They’re typically set in sterling silver.

“I’ve always been a fan of found-object jewelry, so whenever I have anything I find that’s small enough that I can make jewelry out of it, that’s always what I’m thinking,” designer Jennifer Nunnelee said.

People often ask Nunnelee if she hunts for agates, and her response is that she prefers to find a common rock and “elevate it.” They are still precious stones, but by another definition.


American Craft Council Show

When: April 10–12. One-day passes are $11 in advance or $12 at the door.

Where: St. Paul RiverCentre, 175 W. Kellogg Blvd.