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Not an artist, but definitely crafty

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By Sarri Gilman
I was visiting an art gallery recently and purchased a bracelet. There was a handwritten tag hanging on the bracelet that said "porcelain hand-painted beads."
I thought the bracelet was beautiful and looked to see if there was another in the gallery to purchase as a birthday gift for a friend.
No such luck, just the one bracelet.
A day later I was picking up picture frames at Michael's Craft Store in Lynnwood. While in the store I thought of other random items I needed such as a silk cord for a silver owl pendant.
I asked where to find a silk cord for a necklace and was directed to the bead aisle.
Quite unexpectedly, completely a random coincidence, I found myself nose to nose with a string of beads on sale for $4.99, exactly the same as the "hand-painted beads" I bought in the art gallery for $28.
What? My head nearly popped off.
The beads were not labeled porcelain hand painted; in fact these very same beads were "made in China."
Steam was coming out of ears. How could the bracelet be misrepresented this way? Obviously the "artist" was a clever crafter.
I wouldn't mind if this bracelet had been sold in a drugstore or a craft store or any kind of a general clothing store. I wouldn't have felt so ripped off when I later saw the beads at Michael's.
The thing that bugged me is that the item was sold in an art gallery, and I felt it was intentionally labeled to deceive.
If there had been no label at all on it, I would be much less offended.
But, everything in this particular art gallery is made by hand. They make pictures and weavings, and they actually do it in the gallery.
I don't think the gallery's owners know a crafter had slid past them claiming to be hand painting her made-in-China, not-hand-painted beads.
I am not against crafters. I count myself as a crafter. See all my knitting stories. I am definitely a crafter.
But where is that line between artist and crafter?
My mother was both. I grew up setting up booths at craft shows on the East Coast.
The crafters made everything by hand: carved bowls, hand forged rings, ceramic plates, and they were artists.
If they sold a beaded bracelet, they blew the glass beads. They were craftspeople. Skilled artisans.
When I buy beads at Michaels and string them together, I don't feel that I meet the skill level of a master crafter, nor do I meet the level of artist.
I realize that the person who made the bracelet sold to me in the art gallery only met the threshold of trickster.
However, I am thankful for the lesson because now I'm making my jewelry at my kitchen table.
Michael's had plenty of beads that I thought were affordable and pretty.
I would have been deeply embarrassed though if I had sent the original bracelet to a friend for her birthday and said, "I picked up this hand-painted, beaded bracelet in an art gallery for you," and then she saw the beads at Michael's.
Sarri Gilman is a freelance writer living on Whidbey Island and director of Leadership Snohomish County. Her column on living with meaning and purpose runs every other Tuesday in The Herald. You can email her at
Story tags » Social IssuesArts (general)

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