One of the best compliments longtime clay artist Sue Scamihorn said she’s ever received came when she was applying for Indiana Artisan, the juried branding program that recognizes and promotes the state’s exceptional art, crafts and foods.
Reviewing her work, one of the judges wrote, “She has an overdeveloped sense of whimsy.”
“I always though that was kind of fun,” said Scamihorn.
She had just retired as an art teacher the year before and was trying to turn a lifelong passion for sculpting playful clay critters and figurines into a full-time endeavor. That’s when she turned to Indiana Artisan.
Though she may have been “overdeveloped” on the creative side, Scamihorn said the program helped fill in dimples when it came to the business of being an artist. “Self promotion is hard because most of us don’t like to brag that much.”
That was five years ago. The now 62-year-old rural Wabash artist said Indiana Artisan has helped get “Scami Stoneware,” as she calls her work, into places she never dreamed — including a boutique, owned by a native Hoosier, in Paris. [To read more about Scamihorn, read the Profile in this edition.]
“Whimsy” might not be the first word that comes to mind when seeing — and sitting on — Darin Caldwell’s handiwork. Instead of miniature creations of clay, his works are sturdy, large pieces of art rendered from wood. But like Scamihorn, he, too, is an Indiana Artisan.
From the workshop beside his home in the rolling hills of rural Perry County, Caldwell, 43, has turned his experience in engineering and building high-end wood products into a side business: meticulously handcrafting rocking chairs, lamps, barstools and more from traditional native and exotic hardwoods.
“Wood is beautiful, and every piece is unique,” said Caldwell, a consumer of Southern Indiana Power. “My focus is turning it into functional art, and it’s inspiring to see people’s reaction to my work.”
Caldwell has been an Indiana Artisan since 2014 and embraces the brand that gives artisans a hand. “I have no desire to be a starving artist,” he said. “That was the goal of Artisan: To help people start a business and grow a business.”
No one would suggest that the Sisters of St. Benedict at the Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand is a new venture. The Benedictine Order was established there in 1867. The monastic tradition of the Rule of St. Benedict that they live, work and pray by dates back 1,500 years. But relatively speaking, the bakery at the monastery is right out of the oven. It’s been selling baked treats to the public for just about 20 years.
So when Indiana Artisan — which includes culinary creations, bakers and vintners — came along in 2008, the sisters saw it as an opportunity to expand the monastery’s sales and, more importantly, its mission.
“In the Rule itself, there’s a chapter on the ‘artisans of the monastery’ and recognizing the work that they do,” said Sr. Jean Marie Ballard, who tends to quality assurance and a number of other duties at the bakery. “It’s part of what we do. We shouldn’t be too concerned if we have to support ourselves by the work of our hands. Work is sacred.”
Like most religious communities, the Ferdinand Benedictines have experienced declining numbers and economic changes in the past several decades. But as the sisters noted, with the losses have come new opportunities. One has been the bakery.
For years, the bakery’s only public offerings were traditional German Christmas cookies sold during Ferdinand’s annual Christmas festival and at the monastery’s gift shop. But the popularity of the cookies inspired the sisters to seek other markets. The bakery applied for Indiana Artisan. All applicants for the initiative must pass a panel of expert judges. Three of the bakery’s cookies were in the inaugural class.
Since then, five more cookies have passed the Indiana Artisan muster, including a new one last month. And while their sales at Indiana Artisan events raise money for the monastery and its missions, the sisters also share their mission with other Indiana Artisans.
“We have one of the chocolatiers who, from time to time when the show starts, will ask us to pray with her for a successful show,” said Ballard.
“Praying with the other artisans, that the work that we do is all to be for the glory of God,” added Sr. Lynn Marie Falcony, bakery manager, “is just a way for us to connect with more people.”
Connecting with people
Indiana Artisan celebrates its 10th anniversary in January. Eric Freeman, who has been director since its inception, points out that despite its name, the organization is not focused on “art,” per se. “It’s not an arts program or foods program. Its mission is economic development,” he said.
Indiana Artisan began in 2008 as the state-funded brainchild of then Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman. Freeman said she wanted a brand that gives meaning and recognition to Indiana-made goods.
“The mission is we create and develop a brand based on the highest quality art and foods coming from Indiana,” said Freeman, “and help those artisans expand their business.
“Everybody knows the 500. Everybody knows corn. We’re trying to create a brand that says ‘Know Indiana by its great art and its great foods.’”
Three other states — Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia — had artisan branding initiatives. Each offered distinctly different avenues to support their artisans. After looking at their programs, Freeman helped craft Indiana Artisan as a hybrid of the three with a menu of services:
- offering business “bootcamps” on budgeting and pricing;
- hosting an annual spring marketplace at the Indiana State Fairgrounds that attracts thousands of shoppers;
- publishing a 48-page “viewbook” magazine/catalog showcasing all the artisans, their goods and contact information;
- helping form “artisan trails” to encourage folks to visit the local workshops and studios around the state;
- launching IndianaArtisan.org that highlights each member;
- and opening a shop that sells nothing but the works of member artisans. The first store opened in French Lick last year, and a second is scheduled to open by this holiday season in Carmel’s downtown.
Initially, Indiana Artisan was overseen by four state divisions: agriculture, tourism development, the arts commission, and the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The latter supplied the original funding.
“OCRA’s primary interest was I get outside Indianapolis and really involve folks in Indiana’s rural areas,” said Freeman. “They didn’t care if artisans came from Indianapolis, but they did care that not all artisans came from Indianapolis. And they don’t. They come from all over. Little towns of 500 people have an artisan there.”
And the state arts commission didn’t want Indiana Artisan to teach watercolor classes, for instance, he said. “But take that watercolorist and help him or her learn how to create a budget or create a business plan, or design a website or understand how to make sales … help them build their business.”
After a three-year incubation, Indiana Artisan began operating as a self-sustaining 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation at the beginning of 2011.
As it entered its 10th year this year, Indiana Artisan for the first time began charging annual dues — $100 — to maintain membership. While artisans agreed that was still a bargain for the return the brand delivers, about a third of the group’s almost 350 members juried in over the years declined to continue.
With the annual jury selections announced last month, 11 new artisans were introduced, bringing the current number back to some 220 artists, woodworkers, sculptors, photographers, culinary artists, vintners, and craftspeople from all sorts of media from some 60 counties. Freeman said only about 17 percent of those who apply make it in. But, he added, those who do are at the top of their trade and usually have been honing it for a lifetime.
It costs $30 to apply, and artisans can apply however many times it takes to get accepted. He notes that’s still a bargain for younger artists getting into the business on their own because the panel of judges provide valuable feedback to all applicants.
“For 30 bucks, I get seven, eight, nine people I don’t know to look at my work which they don’t know and critique it for me. Where am I going to get that deal?”
The judges use four criteria for art/craft and culinary submissions. All applicants must first explain in writing what links their product to Indiana. They must also show there’s “marketability” for their product. Those working in visual and craft arts are then judged for design and technique. Those in the culinary fields are judged on taste and texture, and packaging.
But the one thing, Freeman said all the artisans have in common, whether its heirloom-quality furniture or a cookie that will be gone in an instant, is the “story” that goes with the product and the artisan as a person. “That is the appeal of local art and food. In many cases, you get to meet the maker. Once you meet him or her, you really have to buy something because you know the maker.”
Telling the story
Caldwell can attest to both the “heirloom” quality work and the “story” that goes with each piece by recalling the last chair he sold recently, and the first in 2014.
“The last rocker I sold, the guy told me, ‘I didn’t buy this for myself. I bought it for my grandkids.’”
The man asked Caldwell to write a little journal of how the flexible backed and seated rocker was put together, and to note the two dozen species of wood used on the chair and where each is placed. It’s a journal that will travel with the chair perhaps for decades — or longer.
The first chair Caldwell sold at his first Indiana Artisan Marketplace, though, was perhaps the most memorable.
“Everybody told me: ‘Your first show don’t expect to sell anything. They don’t know you; they’re not going to buy from you the first time around.’
“The first woman that sat in that chair bought it.” He said he and his wife, Angie, who travels with him to shows, were ecstatic.
“It was a walnut frame,” Caldwell continued. “Her brother had just passed, and he built a lot of furniture out of walnut. There was an emotional connection to that chair.”
Like poets who move people with their words or painters and photographers who touch people with their images, Caldwell found he, too, can touch hearts and emotions — as a furniture maker using his hands to shape wood. “I never thought I’d be able to do that for anybody,” he said.
But that’s what artists do.
Indiana Artisan is here to help artists of all kinds connect with prospective patrons and share the many more stories out there just waiting to be told.
Richard G. Biever is senior editor of Electric Consumer.
Christkindlmarkt kindled bakery
The Sisters of St. Benedict Monastery Baked Goods traces its origin of consumer baked goods to Ferdinand’s Christkindlmarkt, a German holiday festival and marketplace. When the festival began 20 years ago, the Benedictine sisters at the majestic monastery on the hill above town provided traditional anise-flavored German Christmas cookies called “Springerle.” They proved to be so popular, the bakery began selling more and expanding its product line.
2017 Ferdinand Christkindlmarkt
Dates & Times:
- Friday, Nov. 17; 6:30 pm
- Saturday, Nov. 18; 9 am-5 pm
- Sunday, Nov. 19; 10 am-4 pm.
Location: Monastery Immaculate Conception (Friday); various locations around Ferdinand (Saturday and Sunday).
For info: www.ferdinandchristkindlmarkt.com;
For bakery info: MonasteryBakedGoods.org.
From ‘shop class’ to classy shops
After college in 1998, Kentucky native Darin Caldwell crossed the river, taking a job as an assistant engineer and furniture designer in Tell City, a river town with a rich tradition of furniture making. It was a perfect “shop class.”
From experienced woodworkers, he learned how to build high-end wood products. At his fingertips, he had some of the best woodworking equipment. But the 2000s were hard years on the U.S. woodworking industry as more contracts went overseas. At the end of 2008, the plant closed.
Caldwell remained in Perry County and found other day jobs and new inspiration to expand his own passion in woodworking. He became an Indiana Artisan in 2014 to help his work find a larger audience.
“I’d built most of my own furniture in my house. It was NEVER this good,” he said, “until you start seeing what other people are doing, and you step it up.” By joining Artisan, he said, “It’s allowed me to realize what I CAN do.”
Check out his work at DarinCaldwellDesign.com.