Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Studio artists from across the country came to the nation’s capital last week for the American Made Show, dubbed as the nation’s largest wholesale marketplace for American and Canadian handmade crafts. Put on by the Buyers Market of American Craft, the event offered designers and makers the chance to showcase their work for buyers and the public.

AAM’s own Ryan Lombardozzi traveled to the showcase. Here’s what he saw.

Ever since I was little I have been drawn to home-made products, and even considered making a profession out of crafting. Although my crafting career never panned out, I was excited to visit the American Made Show. I was especially thrilled to see that everything was Made in America, supporting local artistry and creating jobs in American communities.

As I slowly descended the escalator, I managed a glimpse of the vast array of booths spanning the entirety of Halls B and C at the colossal Washington Convention Center. I ventured through the vendors like a boy lost in a maze, marveling at all of the quality American-made handcraft – I wanted to buy it all!

From hand-blown glass figurines and jewelry made from river stones to up-cycled products made from World War II artillery shells and wooly mammoth tusk knives, there was an American-made product for everyone.

The first artist who caught my eye was Varda Avnisan of Art Glass Design Studio in North Bethesda, Maryland. The myriad of colors in every piece was mesmerizing, all masterfully fired and designed, and the transparency of the pieces captured the light perfectly. 

Her work can be categorized as functional-fused glass and home décor, and she specializes in architectural accents, commissioned art, sculptures, lighting, Judaica and vessels.

“I like to work with strong colors, a harmony of colors and designs, and have my pieces be a little geometric but not quite,” Avnisan says. “I like to make a lot of your one-of-a-kind non-manufactured pieces giving me the option to make new products all the time.”

Next, I found myself at Thomas von Koch’s booth. Koch is the owner of WGK Glass Art in Newark, Delaware, where he crafts glass figurines through torch work, trying to express humor and emotion in all his pieces.

“The creepier the art the better, this allows for the option of showing emotion in my pieces,” Koch says. “Other pieces are static, that drives me crazy, the more challenging the more fun it is to make.”

Red & Black Dichroic Dragon | R.L.

Featuring glass figurines as small as a dime to larger pieces as big as the size of a NFL football, Koch’s aim is combine art and functionality to reach a wide spectrum of customers worldwide.

Every animal I could think of was displayed, from nautical seahorses and exotic birds to farm animals and fantasy creatures. Each piece exemplified exceptional craftsmanship.

Following Avnisan and Koch’s booths, I found myself conversing with craftsmen and artists.

Looking over one of the most exquisite Damascus steel kitchen knife collections I’ve ever seen, Bill Wirtel of Santa Fe Stoneworks from Santa Fe, New Mexico came over and talked with me. He mentioned the company’s new Spyderco knives, Kershaw collection, and even their Woolly Mammoth and Dinosaur Bone collections. As a chef and fisherman, I work with knives often. These knife collections impressed me, and could be described as nothing short of beautiful.

3" Santoku knife from the Damascus Collection | Courtesy Santa Fe Stoneworks

Makeshift Accessories out of Northfield, Minnesota stood out from other booths as I walked past it. With a large sign crafted from license plates and uniquely crafted objects displayed everywhere on top of what seemed to be suitcases, how could I not give them a visit? As I talked with the owner, Devin Johnson, he explained how he crafts authentic materials that were either found, salvaged or traded to be up-cycled into coin rings or bracelets, antique harness leather or machine plate cuffs, machine plate or geared money clips, WWII artillery shell products and so much more.

“These metals are like the graveyard of American manufacturing with most of these companies not around anymore,” Johnson says.

Antique Machine Plate Cuffs | R.L.

As a person who enjoys writing, I’m a lover of fine pens, so naturally I was drawn to Steve Hess’s booth. Orlando-based HessCraft & Sons Precision Pens had several collections that caught my eye, and in particular, the Sierra Comfort pens. They were simple made pens that were comfortable to write with, which is everything you need in a quality pen.

Sierra Pen Collection | R.L.

Having Italian blood run through my veins, as soon I scouted wine glasses through my peripherals, I was at the Sea Stones booth in seconds. Based in Windham, New Hampshire, Anne Johnson and her husband craft handmade products out of sea stones they collect from private rivers and beaches all over New England. Their unique collections consist of wine glasses with a “sword-in-the-stone design” fashioned with a sea stone on the stem of the glass, Man Coasters made from granite, On the Rocks drink chillers crafted from granite, and Stone Stoppers constructed from sea stone.

Sea Stone Wine Glasses | Courtesy Sea Stones

Finally, I found myself at the Janow Metalsmithing booth talking with Jason Janow.

The North Carolina-based Janow finds his materials when he’s fly-fishing for trout. When he sees a “cool” stone in the riverbed, he immediately picks it up, and envisions himself crafting jewelry from the stone.

In his 10th year of business, Janow takes pride in his craftsmanship. If his product doesn’t have durability, longevity and quality, it won’t leave his shop.

Twig and River Stone Collection | R.L.

“When I think of American-made, I think of quality. Finding something Made in America stamped means a lot because of America’s strong work ethic,” Janow says. “You know that you’re getting a quality product just like if you bought German or Swiss made goods.”

After hours of talking to the artists and marveling at all the American-made crafts, I left wanting to spend more time looking at the products.

While I couldn’t spend time at every booth or talk to every craftsman, the American Made Show was definitely worth the few hours I spent perusing through the collections and is a must-attend event for any lover of crafts.

The next American Made Show is scheduled to take place June 25 to 28 in Dallas.

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