I was so happy when I was accepted into a really big fine arts fair close to my house. This fair was known for drawing big crowds, and, of course, the hope is, I could make big sales. Little did I know that this would be a defining moment in understanding that you can never pin your hopes on something as a sure thing. So many factors can intervene to change that. The weather, the economy, the people that are drawn to your art, are just a few of those things. And when you are just starting out, you don’t always know where your audience is, those people who really like your work. So you do go through trial and error in discovering those fairs that are magical, where people go in and out of your booth, flip through every picture, and pore over your work, really appreciating it.
Over the years I have come to realize that the weather is one of the few things that will really crush an art fair. The economy, yes and no. If you have something that somebody really wants, they will buy it. And if you enjoy yourself in spite of not making the sales you were looking for, but just enjoy talking to people, you will surround yourself with good energy, and good things will happen. Money isn’t the only reward. Bottom line is, you can make a difference. You can be a blessing in somebody’s life.
These insights have certainly come over time! And realizing that even if something seems like a dismal failure, there was always good that happened. And finding that good event, or person, or encounter, is the challenge you face when you have a traveling store. By its very nature, your store is impermanent. It is like the bubbles that you blow out of your little bubble wand. They look so pretty in the sun and sparkle and glisten. Sometimes they even land on something and you can see them on a leaf, or a blade of glass. But before you know it, they’ve all popped, and you have to blow another round of bubbles to create more beauty and spread it somewhere else. This is how it often feels to be in an art fair. I don’t know where my creations land, or what they look like in their new home. I can only imagine when my customers describe to me where they are putting my work.
In any case, this new art fair was promising on Saturday. I made a few sales and met some local people that I knew. So I pinned my hopes on Sunday, which, I have found, is usually the better day. People’s chores are done, they are out to enjoy themselves. When we woke up on Sunday, and looked outside, the weather was not good! The gray clouds signaled us to check the weather on the internet. It was not going to be a good day. When we arrived at our art fair, some people were already packing up. Not a good sign! The weather was expected to be bad, and people were already trying to figure out what to do. It is helpful that so many of our neighbors had I-phones and could get the most recent weather report. There were cells of bad weather coming through. I don’t know why we didn’t pack up. Perhaps we were still hoping for those good sales! And thinking that the rain could pass us by, and miss us. It could happen, right? Plus, we wanted to make a good impression. If you pack up and leave without the management allowing it, you might not be invited back the next year. Or at least this is what the promoters say. They put fear in you. And so you stay against all odds.
Well, when the first cell of bad weather came through, we were in our tent and had to close the sides down quickly. We could feel the rain hit our tent roof, as it galvanized into a steady roar. The raindrops fell hard and fast and furious. The tent started to move a little bit with the wind. My husband held onto it in the center. We took turns doing this. And all we could do was to wait, hearing the thunder, seeing the lightning, holding on to the center. And I was constantly checking on my pictures as the raindrops fell through my tent roof. It is not entirely waterproof, water does leak through. I had a towel and I wiped off each drop! Methodically. Checked on each picture. Saw my business cards getting wet, decided they were toast. A small casualty.
My husband kept mentioning his fear about the lightning. “we could get hit” he kept saying. I finally told him not to say this anymore. I didn’t want to hear it. “I am not affirming that!” I said. “It’s going to be ok.”
I have found that in my life, there is an inner calm that takes over when I am in a crisis. And I know what to do. I may worry over things long in advance. And sometimes they never happen. But when something really does happen that you don’t anticipate, like this storm, you just go with it. You wait for the rain to stop. I was on auto pilot. And I was praying. “God please let my work be ok and survive this storm.” I honestly don’t remember if I prayed for the others around me. I think I might have! I know I kept praying for everything to be ok.
When the rain stopped for a little bit, I went into a nearby building. That’s when I saw so many of the other artists! They were afraid of being in their tents so they went inside for shelter. There were worried looks on all of their faces. No one looked at me. Everyone was in their own little world of worry.
I honestly don’t know how many people stayed in their tents like we did. I wasn’t even aware of my neighbor behind me until the rain stopped enough for her to say, “Are you ok?” All I could hear during the storm was the rain, the wind and the thunder. And my heart beating!
In less than an hour, there was another “cell” of bad weather that came through. So we had to go through this again. We tried to pack up in between, but there wasn’t time. So again we were trapped by the furious weather. When it finally stopped, this time, the sun came out. And even though it was still drizzling, my husband peaked through the tent walls to see what others were doing. And he said I should get some stuff from the car to start packing up. I told him I didn’t want to just yet, but he said I had to! He went out of the tent into the drizzle. And he just declared it was done! Thinking back, I believe he was claustrophobic. And I can’t blame him.
So I went to the car and got some things, while he kept watching the tent, making sure it didn’t move. I had just had surgery, so I had to carefully maneuver the boxes and make them drop from where they were stacked up. Once they were on the floor of the van, I pushed them with my foot until they moved towards the end of the van, and dropped them on to my wheeled cart.
We got packed up and were almost ready to go, when one of the volunteers came by to drop off the pictures that I had submitted for entrance into this fair. It suddenly hit me that there were people in charge of this thing and they hadn’t warned us of the impending bad weather! The “management” had not been present and did not take charge. I started to think, what if this had been a tornado? Would they have said anything? I know we all sign waivers that say that they are not responsible for any damage or theft, but come on! Why didn’t they just go around and warn everyone? I suddenly got angry.
In fairs that I have been in since, I am happy to say that I have been warned by some promoters of bad weather. And even been told, on some occasions, that I can pack up and go home if I want to. So it doesn’t always end like this. But it introduced me to the bad side of some promoters. And it made me realize how the artists stick together, and how important those I-phones are in helping to figure out what’s really going on. You have to fend for yourself and make the decision to leave if that’s what is best for you. And once everyone starts packing up, even if the sun comes out briefly for 2 hours afterwards, there is no more art show. People see the tents coming down and they assume the fair is over.
A temporary store is fragile, beautiful, eye catching and friend producing, all at the same time. I have met more good people through these art fairs, both artists and customers. It gives you the chance to spread your fairy dust into the homes of many. And have your piece of art become a treasure to someone. But the fragility of this little store is something that I was made more aware of when the violent weather changed our whole weekend. And when I look back and wonder why I stayed in my tent, I can’t really answer that. I didn’t give it any conscious thought, I just had an overwhelming desire to protect my little store. Like a momma bear, protecting her cubs, that’s how I felt about my store! Fortunately, that momma bear is still here. Thank you God!