Craft and design meet in St. Paul

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

An example of Autumn Higgins' ceramics work. Submitted image

When it returns to our state’s capitol city for the 30th time in April, the American Craft Council St. Paul Show is expected to gather about 240 artists and craftspeople inside the RiverCentre convention hall.

The Minneapolis-based council produces four annual retail shows — the others are in Baltimore, Atlanta and San Francisco — each a showcase of artist-crafted fashion, décor, furniture and more. From the porcelain vases to the gold jewelry to the wooden train sets, you know it’s all made by hand.

ACC shows draw artists from across the country to exhibit, and, as usual, there’s a large contingent of Minneapolitans making a trip across the river for the St. Paul show. Many of them are emerging artists dipping a toe into the ACC show experience through the Hip Pop program.

For the first time

Hip Pop artists are selected by a jury and get extra support from ACC to participate. Instead of taking a full booth like regular exhibitors, they pay a lower fee to share a “pod” with five other artists.

One of the Hip Pop artists making her ACC show debut in St. Paul is ceramicist Autumn Higgins, an Oregon native who earned her MFA at Louisiana State University in Baton Rogue and then, in 2014, followed the Mississippi River north to Minneapolis, where she won a residency at Northern Clay Center through the Fogelberg Studio Fellowship program. The yearlong residency ended in September, and Higgins took a job teaching art at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in New Brighton for the current school year.

When she’s not in the studio or working with elementary and middle school students, Higgins is often driving around Minneapolis and stopping along the way to sketch. Her love of drawing goes back to childhood, long before she made the switch in college from photography to working with clay.

Those quotidian street scenes — a snow-covered garage, a bike locked to a sign pole, a mail truck parked on a quiet street — decorate Higgins’ mugs, plates and vases, which can also be found locally at Gallery 360 and I Like You. Don’t expect the Stone Arch Bridge; Higgins finds a way to portray her adopted city without resorting to the landmarks.

Shoppers might recognize another Hip Pop maker from her booth at the Mill City Farmer’s Market — or the pages of the New York Times’ T Magazine, because she’s been featured there, too. Textile artist Annabella Sardelis has a growing local and national following for her hand-printed and -painted clothing and home goods, but this will be her first time at an ACC show.

Sardelis is best known for her use of a Japanese dyeing technique known as shibori and her dedication to natural and sustainable fibers, like organic cotton, bamboo and linen.

“Every step of the process, I evaluate: How responsible is this from a sustainability standpoint?” she said. (It’s no surprise Sardelis was taking environmental studies courses alongside printmaking classes during her college years.)

For the ACC St. Paul Show, Sardelis is preparing her signature “organic tunic” in a new palette of colors. Also hanging in her corner of the Hip Pop pod will be a new line of linen and raw silk tops that she dyed and painted by hand, linen skirts and a selection of hand-printed home goods, including her popular tea towels.

It’s a busy spring for Sardelis, who has a new collection set to debut at Northeast boutique Hazel & Rose in June.

Make room for design

One can’t-miss stop for ACC show-goers is the Make Room home décor exhibition. Four local designers were invited to style room vignettes that incorporate objects made by ACC St. Paul Show artists.

Each of the designers picked a cardinal direction for his or her theme, and for Jennifer Jorgensen north meant “up north,” as in the traditional Minnesota Northwoods cabin. Jorgensen’s dining room scene, which she described as “a mix of true rustic north with super-modern contemporary,” includes log stools topped with Faribault Woolen Mill custom covers and handcrafted furniture from St. Paul’s Elijah Neumann.

Inspired by a recent trip, Liz Gardner’s south-themed room heads all the way to Miami, mixing work from both local and national artists to evoke south Florida.

“What I experienced in Miami was that play on the gaudiness of Art Deco, but then the sophistication of the design district,” Gardner said.

Keep an eye out for the herringbone flooring and furniture by woodworker Marvin Freitas and ceramics by Laura Vest Klein, both Minnesota artists. If you’re searching for ways to bring more craft into your home, these Make Room designers will show you how.

A sketch of Jenny Jorgensen's north-themed dining room vignette.
A sketch of Jenny Jorgensen’s north-themed dining room vignette. Submitted image

American Craft Council St. Paul Show

When: April 8–10; preview party is 6 p.m.–9 p.m. April 7

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

Info: Tickets are $11 in advance and $14 at the door. Admission is free for children 12 years old and younger. Preview tickets are $75.