When people hear the term "craft show," it may conjure up images of pipe-cleaner finger puppets and crocheted toilet paper cozies -- hardly the kind of items sought out by professional designers or discerning homeowners who want something original and unique.
Pamela Diamond, director of marketing and communications for the American Craft Council, is helping to change that.
"I have a design industry background, and I realized that we needed to reach out to the design community to let them know that ... the unique handcrafted objects they like to incorporate in their designs -- and that their clients like to collect -- can be found at our four nationwide juried craft shows," says Diamond.
One of those shows is taking place at San Francisco's Fort Mason Center this weekend. It happens to be both the oldest of the shows (39 years) and the most competitive (1,000 applicants for 225 slots). On top of that, "you just can't beat the location," right beside the Bay, says Diamond, who predicts more than 12,000 fine-craft collectors and design enthusiasts will attend.
Diamond says one way to illustrate how fine crafts can be incorporated into beautiful rooms is to invite talented interior designers to create craft-inspired spaces for the show, similar to what you'd find at a decorator showcase. "People need to see the crafts in context, not just in a sales booth," Diamond says.
The "Make Room: Modern Design Meets Craft" showcase featured as part of this year's show does just that. Six Bay Area designers have partnered with a dozen artisans to create rooms reflecting the show's theme, "Let's Entertain."
San Francisco-based metalworker and furniture designer John Liston, for example, has exhibited at the San Francisco ACC show for the past two years, winning awards of excellence for both his work and his sales booth. This year, a tray he created from scrap brass is featured in designer Chad DeWitt's kitchen design.
Liston says he thinks the "Make Room" showcase can really help visitors see some of the many ways craft can be incorporated into well-designed rooms.
"People go to the stores or look at catalogs from mainstream retailers like Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel or IKEA to see how to use their products in a living space," says Liston. "Here's a chance to see how a handmade piece would work in a setting, knowing that it can also be custom-ordered in a different size or material."
DeWitt, of the Bay Area's Hwang DeWitt Architecture, Interiors & Objects, says he is familiar with these shows because he has attended them and because his clients often collect art or fine crafts. "Invariably, when I ask them where they found some amazing piece of art glass or ceramic, they say 'we got it at the ACC show,' " he says.
DeWitt chose Liston's tray because he loves the work of the designer. "When I need a cold rolled steel fireplace surround or countertops or a door handle, he's the guy I go to," DeWitt continues. "His stuff is just amazing, and I thought natural brass is so on-trend right now, it would be great to have John's work shine in our neo-Victorian kitchen."
That room, inspired in part by DeWitt's European travels, features wood countertops and a subtly patterned floor in shades of blue and gray Italian tile. DeWitt is also using ceramic pieces from Portland, Oregon, studio potter Lilith Rockett.
"She does these beautiful vessels that fit in your hands perfectly," says DeWitt. "You could put anything in them to drink, and they would feel good to hold. That's what design is all about."
DeWitt recognizes that, for many showgoers, it can be difficult to envision just how something they see in a vendor's display would look in their home. "The whole booth thing is tricky," says the designer. "You get something home, and (sometimes) it loses its punch. In creating these vignettes, all of us hope to help people see these terrific handcrafted items in a new light."
Designer Jiun Ho is taking part in the show for the first time this year, but he has long been an advocate for making handcrafted items a part of home decor. "That's how you bring soul and personality into a space," he says.
The San Francisco designer was drawn to the beautiful fiber art of Kathy Colt, whose background includes landscape design. "I'm a big fan of nature and thought she'd be a good fit for what I want to express in my outdoor pavilion," says Ho.
Drawing on places he saw during a recent trip to Africa, Ho has set his pavilion, which frames a piece of Colt's fiber art, next to a spare weeping willow tree, from which hangs more of her art, resembling insect nests. In the pavilion, he also has used a custom table with a lacquered top and a bronze base shaped like a tree trunk. A basket by Kentfield artist Emily Dvorin sits on the table.
"Emily's baskets are so organic and open to many different interpretations," says Ho. "I'm fascinated by her use of unusual and unpretentious materials."
Dvorin, who has attended these shows for 25 years but is exhibiting for the first time, says, "I love working with things from the hardware store -- irrigation tubing, cable ties, burner grates from a stove." She incorporated some of these materials, as well as old hair pins, plastic handles and shoelaces, into the basket in Ho's vignette. "I like the challenge of using oddball materials in a new way," she adds.
Dvorin used to be a buyer at these shows, to acquire pieces to sell in a shop she formerly ran. "It will be fun to see (things) from a different side," she says. "This is not hobby art; it's high-end fine craft that dances on the cusp of fine art. That makes the ACC show different from other craft shows."
Designer April Powers has created a librarylike cocktail space inspired by the work of ceramicist Shelley Martin, of Portland, Oregon. Powers also has used modern furniture and photography to create something "contemporary with a little funk," she says. Though she often collaborates with artisans, she hadn't worked with Martin until now.
"I was really drawn to the timeless simplicity of Shelley's work," Powers says. "It was wonderful to work together selecting the glaze color and the clay. I'd definitely love to use her pieces again."
For her part, the American Craft Council's Diamond loves seeing what new possibilities these collaborations inspire in creative professionals and craft connoisseurs alike.
"With the 'Make Room' vignettes, it's our intent to make craft the inspiration but with no restrictions," she says. "We want to let the designers shine."
American Craft Council San Francisco Show
When: Aug. 8-10
Where: Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Tickets: $30 for a three-day pass, $14 for one-day pass, $5 for Friday admission after 5 p.m.; craftcouncil.org/sf