Without shows, artisans embrace ‘the virtual side of things’

Emilee Geist

Katheryn Krouse paints in her home studio. Courtesy photo Autumn doesn’t seem quite the same without the normal rush of festivals and craft fairs, and no one feels that more than the craftspeople who sell their wares at these places. Pandemic cancellations have forced these to creative people to get, […]

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Katheryn Krouse paints in her home studio.

Autumn doesn’t seem quite the same without the normal rush of festivals and craft fairs, and no one feels that more than the craftspeople who sell their wares at these places. Pandemic cancellations have forced these to creative people to get, well, a little more creative.

For many, craft fairs are sideline, a supplemental income.

Melanie Harvey spends her days teaching chemistry at Johnson County Community College, but for the past six years, fall weekends have been a time for selling her many ceramic creations at festivals.

“This year, every single one of them was canceled. The whole calendar year, I haven’t had a single event,” she said. “It makes me feel really bad for people whose whole livelihood is dependent on this sort of thing. I can’t imagine how they’re making up the difference.”

Harvey said she uses the money she makes to pay for activities for her kids.

Raymore resident Stacie Sampson usually has a booth selling jewelry and religious items at the local Greek festivals, as well as a few other fairs.

“When you’re in a situation where you do events, we’re like a little village. You know the other vendors. … I’m kind of in a lucky spot because I can afford not to sell, but I see so many of my friends that are really hurting because that’s their source of income,” she said.

Bryan Lloyd Rosell, who sells his homemade hot sauce at festivals, said he’s also been trying to boost sales through online means, but the volume isn’t nearly as much as he’d see in a normal year.

“I’ll do 10 deliveries on a Saturday, and that can be a couple bottles each, but that’s only 20 as opposed (the) 50 to 80” that would sell in one day at a festival or holiday market, he said.

Cynthia Schmidt would normally be selling her ceramics at the Lenexa Art Fair and 10 to 12 other festivals over the course of the year. The profits from those typically make up half of her annual income.

“This year has been detrimental to that,” said Schmidt, who hasn’t been able to sell anything this year.

Kansas City-based painter Katheryn Krouse, who grew up in Overland Park, is a full-time artist. Her income comes mostly from the sales she makes in person in the spring, summer and fall.

“It’s been an adjustment. For most of us artists, we’re really resourceful. We have to be to do this job,” she said.

“This year, I think it means really embracing the virtual side of things. When my shows started to get canceled, I had an enormous inventory of artwork, (and I thought) if I’m not going to be selling these in person at art shows, it’s time to get really good at selling online.”

Krouse said she’s been neglecting her website for years in favor of selling in person, but during the lockdown, she completely redesigned it as a place to sell art. She’s also been enhancing her social media presences by making time-lapse videos of herself painting to try and make a more personal connection with buyers.

“Selling online still isn’t the same.”

Festivals draw a lot of people coming together to have a good time, but “not necessarily coming out to buy art until they see a piece they love,” Krouse said. “That’s the difference between selling online and building a connection organically by seeing it in person.”

It’s not only the connection of seeing a piece in person but having seen a vendor or artist year after that makes a difference.

“With art fairs, every year you do one, you sell more the next year. People see your stuff, and even if they don’t buy something, they’ll think about it and say, ‘I wish I had.’ There’s definitely momentum, and we haven’t had that this year,” Harvey said.

Krouse said she’s been able to make up a lot of the difference from not having festival sales through her new online sales, but she isn’t alone in not having had a big online presence before the pandemic.

Some have pages on Etsy, and some have a website. Others have just a Facebook page or no online presence at all.

“I think my social media presences and my social media wisdom has grown. It’s forced me to grow my social media presence and think about branding and constant posting,” Lloyd Rosell said.

Leawood resident Denise Rueschhoff, who does embroidery and makes decorative items, said she’s thinking about inviting the people on her email list to a holiday sale at her home later this year.

“I’ve contemplated setting up a website,” Rueschhoff said. “I don’t do Etsy, because I don’t really want to pay the fees.”

Schmidt also doesn’t have a website.

“Shipping ceramics is not my favorite thing to do … but I’m feeling I may be forced into doing that,” she said. “The whole tactile thing is important, and you can’t really get that from online.”

Without festivals, the lack of hard deadlines can stifle creativity or increase an artist’s sense of freedom, depending on the person.

“I haven’t been designing as much because I don’t have the shows to share it,” said Lisa Coyan, a Lenexa-based engineer who also makes jewelry. “The way it’s affected me is I haven’t been able to play and have fun with the design like I usually do.”

For Krouse, the disappearance of deadlines has had the opposite effect.

“It’s brought us back to the level we can enjoy our process. I just have a clean studio and all these materials and I get to play,” she said.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of really amazing art come out of this time. A lot of beautiful art can come out of that, from spare time and inspiration.”

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