Sunday, November 11, 2007

Review: The 2007 Handmade Arcade @ Construction Junction.

Ya know, I probably should have written this post a couple of days ago. But I didn't even know for sure whether I was going to attend this year's Handmade Arcade. When I went there a couple of years ago, I was overwhelmed by the crowds of young women packed into the narrow aisles between tables. It would have been ideal if I was single, but as a married man I couldn't truly appreciate this aspect of the event. I mostly tagged behind M. as she looked at all the crafty wares. There were a couple of tables with men lurking sheepishly behind them, but overall it was a vast gathering of the hipster indie rock pink team. I felt a bit self-conscious as I attempted to avoid looking like the creepy husband with the wandering eyes. I spent a lot of the time staring at my feet, and resolved to suggest that M. attend with her "womyn" associates the next year.

It's kind of odd (if you think about it) that the Handmade Arcade is held at the Construction Junction in Point Breeze/Wilkinsburg. The business sells reclaimed and recycled building materials for virtually every home improvement need. I know I risk coming off as a stereotypical chauvinist here- but that is one "manly-man" place. It's raw, dirty and all business. I have to point out that according to my own definition, I am most assuredly not in that exclusive club. No one would mistake me for a handyman. In our little intimate dyad, M. is the one you'd be more likely to see with a hammer in hand. I may make and buy art, but she is in charge of hanging it around the house. While my incompetence in this realm could be more of a pose than an actual innate deficit, I certainly don't aspire to expertise. When I walk into the Home Depot, my blood runs cold and thin.

So suffice it to say that when I walked into this year's Handmade Arcade, I felt like a poser on several fronts. I had every expectation of being a disinterested and uninvolved bystander. Given my apprehension I was surprised to find myself put immediately at ease. I was quickly greeted by friends and acquaintances I know from around town. The same crowd that I'm used to interacting with at a gallery opening or the bar on Friday night was at Construction Junction today. Additionally, I saw plenty of men walking around making the scene... and some of them even left their rainbow pins at home. Overall I felt like I walked into a cross section of my very own marketing demographic. In fact I ended up lagging behind M., as I continually stopped to talk to one person or another.

It's a bit of a shame that so many folks still make arbitrary distinctions between artists and "crafters". There was as much artistry on display at this event as you will find at any gallery in the city. And to top it off, you can actually use these objects! Even if you are not in the market for "onesies" for your infant hipster, there are still a lot of shiny things to be enthralled with. There were several artists hocking their prints, including Ben Keyhoe, Andy Kehoe, Mike Budai, Paul Roden and Valerie Lueth (of Tugboat Printshop). Of course the ubiquitous Curt Gettman was in full force, wrapping up the last push for the 2nd edition of Unicorn Mountain. In addition, Jennifer Baron was selling her (now famous) hand-painted thimble people/photos, and my co-worker Kelly Del Greco had her punk rock "day-of-the-dead" merchandise out on display. There was even a guy doing unflattering caricatures.

Happily, this year's Handmade Arcade was held in a huge open space, rather than in the rather cramped upstairs gallery where people log-jammed previously. The only real critique that I had was that the bathrooms were set apart from the activities and there were long lines of folks waiting to vacate themselves. It was also a bit too cold for M., but I was alright with that in exchange for the breathing space. The two-day expanded format probably helped to alleviate the crowding. And I liked the hipsterish DJ who set the tone by spinning some of my all-time lo-fi favorites (including Slint). There were even multiple options for the stomach- veggie treats, cupcakes and the "Franktuary" for the meat eaters in the building. While it's too late now for you to go if you missed this weekend... remember that this is an annual event. If my description appeals to you, I recommend you keep your eyes pealed for next year's installment.

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