Evolution of the Westchester Craft Crawl
By Lauren Hurwitz
Ever since high school, Ossining resident Leigh Taylor Mickelson knew the world of art was calling her name. Still, it wasn’t until she attended the School for American Crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology that she discovered her love of ceramics. Just a few years ago, the clay artist was sitting at Sing Sing Kill Brewery with her friends and fellow artists,
Loren Maron and Alex Fitzgerald, when she came up with the idea for the Westchester Craft Crawl. Within 20 minutes, the trio had determined the official name of the show, set up a plan, picked a date and turned their crazy idea into a viable business model.
Mickelson says, “The Crawl kind of came out of the pandemic. I left my job of 22 years in non-profit arts administration in early 2019 and became a consultant which enabled me to really kick up my studio practice a notch. I started making outdoor sculptures, and I thought a craft show or fair might be the best vehicle to sell this work.” Before the pandemic, Mickelson had applied to showcase at the Crafts at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown and was accepted. Unfortunately, it was later cancelled due to the pandemic. She had already created all of the work for the show and knew she needed to share her pieces in some way. As a next step, she connected with Maron and Fitzgerald to suggest the idea of an open studio tour, hence the Westchester Craft Crawl.
“Each of us would open our studios and invite guest artists, and this is what led to the first iteration in the fall of 2020.” While Mickelson runs the business development for the show that features clay, wood, fiber, metal, jewelry, glass and mixed media, Maron serves as Artist Liaison and has traveled to shows across the nation showcasing her work while simultaneously developing an eye for talent. She reached out to her vast network of artists to gauge interest in being part of the outdoor studio tour. “Artists planned to bring their booths to our yards for the
Crawl. We also found a few other locations where we could do this in neighboring towns. Our first show had over 30 artists participating in Ossining, Tarrytown and Croton on Hudson. Everyone spread out so the tents could be socially distanced and at the time, we required everyone to wear a mask,” according to Maron. All of the artists jumped on board as they were eager to “be back at it again,” according to Mickelson, especially since the fall shows were proactively cancelled once the pandemic struck. The trio threw their first craft fair together in six weeks with some word of mouth and social media promotions alongside some online community newspaper advertising.
Maron says a key component of being accepted into the Westchester Craft Crawl is that each artist is designing and fabricating crafts themselves, starting from raw materials, making things by hand. “We want to have a professional look and have the public recognize that our Crawl is an opportunity for the community to come free of charge to see quality art in a different way,” says Maron. She appreciates that visitors can come to the show and see the fruits of the artists’ labor. “I love it when the shoppers come and they ooh and ahh at everyone’s work and say they’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s a wonderful affirmation when people put their hard-earned money down on the table to buy something you’ve made or organized. The entire experience is very rewarding and fulfilling,” says Maron. The only downside Maron says is that she has no time to walk around and see the work of fellow artists on the day of the show, but other than that, she has no complaints!
And what would a show be without any attendees? A vital part of the Crawl’s success includes getting the word out to Westchester County residents that this incredible experience is taking place locally on Oct 22-23! On the side of being Art Director for Casamigos, Fitzgerald serves as Co-Organizer and Graphic Designer for WCC for which she develops all of the visuals including social media, postcards, photography and editing, logo creation and brand guidelines for the festival to attain the look and feel the dream team desires. “Those first two shows were so incredibly rewarding to not only be able to show my pottery again but to really branch out and meet and help these real professional artists from all over the region, and giving them a safe venue to sell again. Every time you get to talk to another artisan, you’re really expanding your own horizons and it gets your brain fueled again for your own portfolio.” Still, not everything is so simple according to Fitzgerald. “Just getting it all done is the most challenging. I work full time and I’m trying to maintain my own pottery studio while planning a wedding. There’s lots of things to do and our goal is to always deliver to the best of our ability for our artists. In pursuit of that, it can feel really difficult to find the time to get it all done and get it all done well. We are all artists too and our team puts ourselves in their shoes and we want everyone to put their best foot forward.”
The Crawl is a growing event that’s a joy for all Westchester residents and beyond to experience. “I think really hammering home for visitors is that you can choose your own adventure tour. All the stops are really close together, within a 15 minute drive max, so you can take your car and explore each stop. Just being open to the travel aspect and fully enjoying the fact that you’re out in Westchester for the day and you have a structured opportunity to visit parts of the county you haven’t been to before is really exciting, says Fitzgerald. The plan is to keep growing and Mickelson says the surveys they send out to attendees each year, help them shape the Crawl and make it stronger. “We feel like we have a good model and if it continues to remain viable while the other (local) shows are going on, we will continue. We’re attracting an audience of craft lovers and shoppers and as long as the artists are happy, I’m happy, and that’s what I am mostly focused on.”
Shoppers can check out the Fall 2022 Westchester Craft Crawl at four stops in Northern Westchester with about 50 participating artists along with food and beverage vendors; Sing Sing Kill Brewery, 1857 Spirits/ Barber’s Farm Distillery and For the Love of Toffee from October 22-23, 2022. Visit their website at www.westchestercraftcrawl.com and follow the show on Instagram @westchestercraftcrawl to learn more details and exact locations.