Jewelry designers Anne Holman (2002, Fine Arts) and Jen Townsend (2010, Fine Arts) opened The Smithery in October 2014 in the heart of downtown Grandview Heights, a bustling center of retail and restaurants. At CCAD, Holman focused on printmaking and sculpture, though she started as an illustration major with the intent of becoming a children’s book illustrator. Townsend did most of her work in sculpture and jewelry with the goal of working as a fine artist. At The Smithery, Holman and Townsend sell jewelry, ceramics, prints and other products made by over 80 artists from across the country and around the world. In the studio space, they teach workshops to the general public, make commissioned custom jewelry, and create pieces for their own lines in neatly organized former dressing rooms that now serve as their studios. We asked Holman and Townsend for some advice on how to thrive in the art and craft show circuit, how to work up the courage to open a business, and what they learned at CCAD.
How did you come up with the idea for The Smithery?
JT: Anne and I shared a studio for two years while we worked on our individual jewelry businesses. We were both traveling doing art festivals, managing our jewelry lines, selling our work through stores, and had various teaching gigs — we wore many hats daily. After working side by side in the studio talking about all the ups and downs of that lifestyle, we realized we had the same dream of having a space where we could make our work, sell and teach workshops — all in one building.
AH: I organized, curated, and ran a craft show for several years in the mid-2000s, and I loved that experience of helping other people sell their work. That was always in the back of my head — that it would be great if I could continue to help sell their products and work with these artists.
When we opened the store in 2014, Jen and I contacted our network of artists we’d met through years of participating in art festivals. We very easily curated something we felt great about. We knew everybody’s stories and how they were making things, which is very important to us, too.
When you came out of school, what kind of work did you think you wanted to do? How has that changed?
AH: Partway through college, my son was born, and I began to realize that illustration wasn’t the right fit for me. The illustration field was really beginning to go digital, and I found I really wanted to be building more tangible things and making things with my hands. That’s when I switched to Fine Arts. I discovered I loved working with metal after taking an Intaglio printmaking course.
I had a son to provide for, and I knew that making jewelry was something that I could do without a lot of studio space. It was also something that I felt could be more easily sold than a sculpture. I felt there was a little more practicality about it — and I wouldn’t have to sit in front of a computer all day.
When I graduated, I worked in various jobs where I developed some of my business sense. That’s when I realized that I could make a successful business doing something I was truly passionate about. I ended up quitting my job and selling jewelry full time in 2007. I think that when I was graduating, I knew that was the path I wanted to take. It was just figuring out how to get there.
How does your education at CCAD influence your work?
AH: My work ethic incubated at CCAD. Learning to practice technique and develop ideas is so crucial. It’s important that you learn how to take criticism, and so many people get discouraged or don’t find ways to engage in critiques. Critiques in art school are so incredibly valuable and supportive, and I don’t know if you can fully realize it while you’re there. Because once you have graduated, there is nothing more you want than to find somebody to give you honest critical feedback.
Why did you stay in Columbus?
JT: We both came here for college to attend CCAD. We’re both from smaller towns in Ohio. I stayed here mostly because Columbus is very supportive of the arts. It wasn’t as scary to try to be an artist here.
AH: There are more opportunities available because the cost of living is not as high, so it’s not quite as much of a risk to take a chance at something new. I don’t know that we could have a storefront in a location like this in any other city.
JT: The first place where I sold my jewelry outside of a CCAD Art Fair was Wholly Craft, a great local business that sells handmade items. If you want to get started selling at shows, Craftin’ Outlaws has been a way that many Columbus makers get a start. Columbus is a big city that feels small, and there are a lot of artistic avenues to try without committing to the cost of Chicago or New York. The GCAC is a great resource for artists in this city.
Tips for students heading into the art and craft show circuit
Start Wholesale Early
AH: If you want to do a wholesale line, try to design the line from the get-go, as you’ll need to carefully consider pricing and making things in multiples. For art festivals, you can make more one of a kind work.
JT: It is good to think about your work in different ways. Some things work better for wholesale, some things work better for retail where you can sell in person.
Think about Diversifying
AH: Have multiple ways to make money so you’re not entirely dependent on one thing, as the life cycle of each will fluctuate. You have to be constantly developing new things so you don’t pigeonhole yourself.
Read more in our series CCAD & Columbus.
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