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One of a Kinds

After 45 years, the Craft and Design Show evolves.

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Ask anyone who organizes craft shows and they'll tell you that consumers' interest in hand-crafted objects is not waning in the face of the omnipresent Blackberry, iPod or even the recession. Craft is flourishing. Even in big cities where every form of retail abounds, craft fairs are brimming with people of all ages. How is it that well crafted, one-of-a-kind creations can weather such competition? Is owning such things a way to unplug?

 The most successful craft fairs and exhibitions evolve in order to appeal to more sophisticated artists and art buyers. As she prepares for the Visual Art Center's 45th Craft + Design Show on Nov. 21, event coordinator Karen Miller anticipates a new look and feel for the event. “The days of hippie craft shows are over” she says, referring to the changes the country's most famous juried craft events are undergoing. The American Craft Council Show in Baltimore, for example, this year featured rising indie artists whose innovative techniques and materials were displayed in a shared market-style space.

“That was my favorite part of the Baltimore show,” recalls Katie Ukrop, one of the Craft + Design jurors and the owner of Quirk, one of Richmond's few art venues that consistently features craft artists in both exhibition and retail settings. While helping to select the 73 artists from across the country, many of whom will exhibit in the show for the first time, Ukrop set her sights on artists whose work is not only high quality, but also fresh in approach.

Jeung-Hwa Park, a new exhibitor from Providence, R.I., brings a multidisciplinary practice. Educated in fashion design in Korea, Park discovered textile design as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. In her elegant knitted or felted apparel, she injects unexpected volume and texture, transforming her textiles into objects that seem to live and breathe.

New to the show is a booth Ukrop is organizing. A Quirk booth mimicking the upbeat style of the Broad Street gallery will offer work by about 15 rising and established artists who can't justify a trip to Richmond or the time to set up and staff their own booths. Collaborating Richmond artists Robin Kranitzky and Kim Overstreet, whose usually detail-laden sculpture and jewelry may not suit the average fairgoer's wallet, are creating more affordable objects especially for the booth. Work by Frances Palmer, whose sumptuous pottery is making waves in the interior design world, is also included.

As the show has become smaller in the last few years, it's becoming more exclusive and — the Visual Arts Center hopes — more like a museum show. Yet the pool of applicants this year is the biggest ever. Yes, those hippie craft shows are over. Let's hope the soul that came with them isn't.

Visual Arts Center of Richmond's Craft + Design Show will be held at the Science Museum of Virginia at 2500 W. Broad St. on Nov. 21 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Nov. 22 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for the public and $10 for center members. Weekend passes are available for $15. For information, visit www.visarts.org or call 353-0094.

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