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VOL. 37 | NO. 48 | Friday, November 29, 2013

Artists find 'magical' home at Porter Flea

Floating market, show strives to ‘get the best folks possible’

By Jennifer Justus

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Jennifer Jeremias had given up on making jewelry. But it wasn’t for lack of talent or for trying.

She had been honing her craft for about five years. She had the slick website and updated blog, and she had even been accepted into the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn, the largest modern craft and do-it-yourself fair in the country.

“I would have made it as a crafter,” she says of applying for the show.

But on the big day of the fair, 350 vendors were competing for shoppers’ dollars and attention – and another large market was piggy backing on Renegade’s popularity by setting up next door – so visitors seemed overwhelmed, Jeremias explains. In any event, she wasn’t selling.

“It was actually a super-demoralizing experience,” Jeremias says. So, she packed away her tools and moved to Nashville with her husband to start school for a medical career.

Then, she discovered Porter Flea.

The Porter Flea market showcases handmade art and design by locals in carefully curated shows that crop up a couple of times a year at different locations. The first took place at the corner of Eastland and Porter Road in East Nashville.

The market returns with a holiday rendition 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, December 7, offering shoppers rows of handcrafted books, handbags, prints, eye glasses, bird houses and even pancake mix and honey at a special local artisanal foods section of the market – being set up in collaboration with Hey Rooster General Store.

The December show will be held at Track 1 (4th Ave. and Chestnut). At least five food trucks will be on hand, and a DJ from Grimey’s New & Preloved Music will spin and sell records made by local artists

A ‘magical’ production

Jeremias will be there with her jewelry, the second Porter Flea market she’ll participate in since picking her craft back up.

“Just on a whim I saw that the show was coming up. I had extra inventory from Renegade and really went into it with no expectations,” she says, calling the summer event no less than “magical” in its production, organization and collection of vendors and shoppers. “I started making jewelry again because of Porter Flea …They gave me back this thing that I thought I have given up on.”

The December show will be Porter Flea’s third holiday and sixth market overall, and the popularity of the show continues to grow.

While about 35 vendors participated in the first market in July of 2011, more than 220 people applied for 75 spaces at the upcoming holiday market.

“That’s been a big part of our focus – a juried and curated show,” explains co-founder Katie Vance. “We’ve always wanted to strive to get the best folks possible.”

James Worsham of Handy Dandy Production Company will participate in his first Porter Flea this year, bringing his custom furniture, design and home goods.

The display artist for Anthropologie stores started his own company in December.

He kept hearing about Porter Flea but was “nervous about craft fairs in general,” until he learned about Porter Flea’s modern and more elevated, sophisticated approach.

“I’m pretty stoked about it,” he says.

Vance and her Porter Flea co-founder Jessica Maloan both create works of their own, and decided to host Porter Flea after meeting and participating in craft fairs locally and in other cities.

“We certainly had no expectations,” Vance recalls. “But even the day of the first show, the vendors were asking us, ‘What’s next?’”

Vance and Maloan partnered with the third co-founder, Brent Elrod, who works for Urban Housing Solutions, which owns the property where their first show took place at the corner of Eastland and Porter Road in East Nashville.

Since then, locations have changed to keep the event fresh and accommodate vendor and shopping space. The summer show was held at Cornelia Fort Airpark.

Vance says at least 80 percent of those who sell at the market are local.

“We love for people to do their holiday shopping from local folks and independent artists and designers,” she adds.

The indie crafts movement

Indie craft appeals to shoppers and vendors for a variety of reasons, but Jeremias said a 2009 documentary called Handmade Nation helps explain the movement and differentiates it from traditional art and craft fairs.

“A craft fair is more than just showing up and buying stuff,” says Susan Beal of Supercrafty in the film. “It’s a way to meet people, it’s a way to support individual artists.”

Andrew Wagner of American Craft Magazine also offered his thoughts in the film.

“There are so many ‘things’ in the world now that I think people want the things in their life to mean something – to have some type of personal meaning whether it be a friend has made it or whether you went to a craft fair and met the person who actually made it,” he explains.

The Renegade Craft Fair, which many consider to be the first and largest in the modern indie craft movement began in 2003 in Chicago spreading to Austin, Brooklyn, Chicago, London and Los Angeles and San Francisco and spawning other fairs across the country.

Nashville, though not necessarily on the forefront of the movement at that time, has been supportive of artists and small businesses, Jeremias and Worsham, who moved here from New York, say.

“I would guess it’s in part because of the music community,” Jeremias adds. “People are much more understanding of what it means to be an artist and to have an end product and piece of art. “

Moving to Nashville from Washington, D.C. and with her experiences in New York and at other shows, Jeremias says the community here is more supportive even in her category of jewelry, which can be saturated, and in other cities, competitive.

Indeed, Vance notes that Porter Flea strives to promote the handmade art and design movement, local businesses, community building, and local culinary fare, but it also involves having a place where folks can come together and inspire one another.

“It just kind of facilitates all sorts of neat ideas,” Vance says.

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