Hearts and Crafts: The Renegade Craft Fair
Written by Rachel Fernandez
The summer sun beats down like a spotlight on the tents and beautiful displays set up by talented independent artists at the Renegade craft fair. Every few steps boasts new visions of handcrafted art. The creators tend to their charming spaces while impressed consumers meander from booth to booth picking up stunning and meticulously designed business cards.
The crowd is a collage of pastel colors, floral prints, and exposed shoulders. They happily endure the hot summer day as popsicles and ice cream that they bought from local food stands melt in their hands. The heat is no match for this popular craft show.
Every year, the fair features a variety of artisanal displays including everything from hand-painted art, illustrations, and handmade jewellery to clothes, soaps, and plant displays. The diversity in the art brings about diversity in the shoppers, too.
Michelle VanAcker runs the tent for Verdant Matter, a plant and pottery store opened by Kelly Doodeman and located in Pilsen, Chicago. The tent features a variety of succulent plants in beautiful handmade pottery pieces and hanging pots which speaks to VanAcker’s “serious plant addiction” and attracts enthusiastic shoppers.
“I find a lot of the people who come to Renegade are people who appreciate art, specifically art made in Chicago,” VanAcker says. “I feel like when we go to other festivals, people don’t always appreciate the art or the fact that it’s made locally. They’d rather buy a pot that’s made somewhere else just because it’s cheaper. People here appreciate things.”
Although this is VanAcker’s first time running a booth at Renegade, she is no stranger to the scene.
“I used to come to the fair all the time when I was younger,” VanAcker says. “I loved how there was so much cool stuff in such a small space and you could just be outdoors and look at art.”
The pleasure of interacting with all of the spectators at the event never seems to go away. Despite the summer booth being her third, illustrator and graphic artist Tyler Feder still finds herself drawn to the people around her.
“I feel like it draws such an artsy crowd,” Feder says. “Everyone has cool hair colors and tattoos, and I’m taking notes on outfit ideas from everyone.”
Feder does all of the illustrations, marketing, and distribution for her popular online Etsy store, Roaring Softly. The store, which has been in business since 2012, specializes in pop culture art and customized illustrations.
Online shopping is completely revolutionizing the way independant artists handle their businesses. Websites such as Pinterest and Etsy make marketing and distribution all over the world easy and nearly free for the creators. Starting a business and a brand has never been easier, but developing and maintaining a personal relationship with customers can be difficult when all interactions take place behind a computer screen.
Renegade, however, provides a welcoming space where the artist and customer can meet face-to-face and get to know each other better.
“Being at the fair is so much fun because I usually do everything over the internet,” Feder says. “This is the only time I really get to meet and interact with my clients in person, and the response has been great. The people who come by are usually excited about the same shows that I’m excited about so there’s a good connection.”
The Renegade craft fair seems to bring Pinterest boards to life. The network of independent artists and art lovers becomes supported and uplifted from within as makers show off their work as well as get inspiration from others. Whether they are creating or just attending, each person at the fair brings new ideas and influences the work being developed.
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All photos courtesy of Rachel Fernandez