Chicago artisans Kelli Wefenstette and Jessica Duff believe that every Chicago resident should have easy access to quality handmade wares, right in their own neighborhoods. As they grew their own handmade businesses, though, they realized that most craft fairs were concentrated in the same parts of the city, and many were costly for crafters in both time and money. They launched the Urban Folk Circuit (http://www.urbanfolkcircuit.com), the city's only traveling handmade craft fair series, to help connect mindful buyers to artisans in their own backyards.
Left: The Urban Folk Circuit's sandwich board sign always appears outside a market to direct shoppers inside. Right: Organizers Kelli Wefenstette (left) and Jessica Duff celebrate a recent market with homemade cupcakes.
"Our personal goal is to promote ethical consumerism," says Wefenstette, who owns the handmade business Greenie Bean Recycle and writes about sustainable living at her blog, Our Urban Farmhouse (oururbanfarmhouse.blogspot.com). "We select artisans who we get to know personally and have sound business practices and we want to encourage [market-goers] to do the same."
"It is a relaxing way to spend a Saturday, and we hope it will become part of peoples' routines, like going to the farmers' market," Duff says of the monthly markets, which launched in October 2010 with a small fair at Cole's Bar in Logan Square.
Since then, the UFC has moved all around the city, from Rogers Park to the Chinatown area. Markets have taken place everywhere from bars to auto repair shops, and most feature live music from local acoustic performers.
The organizers seek neighborhoods that have a strong artistic spirit, support small businesses, are close to public transportation, and aren't already saturated with crafty events. "We felt that so many festivals and shows are centered in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area, and wanted to branch out," says Duff, who makes and sells soy wax candles through her company, Milton and Margie's (http://www.etsy.com/shop/miltonandmargies).
Crocheted flower accessories by Muggy Tuesday (http://www.muggytuesday.com, left) and soy wax candles by Milton and Margie's (http://www.etsy.com/shop/miltonandmargies, right) were among the handmade wares at a recent Urban Folk Circuit market.
The UFC's shows appeal to crafters because their cost and time commitment are low, organizers say. "Artisans at any stage in their handmade careers can participate," Duff says.
Markets typically take place for a few hours on a single day, instead of all weekend long like many large festivals. The booth fee is a fraction of what the bigger shows charge, and the markets provide a year-round income for crafters rather than all falling during the busy summer and holiday show seasons.
UFC artisans must hand-make all the works that they sell at the markets, and are juried into the shows based on the quality and diversity of their products. "There are some artisans that we literally can't get enough of because their product lines are one of kind, always improving, and stand out for themselves," Wefenstette says.
Jewelry for sale at a recent Urban Folk Circuit market included everything from dichroic glass earrings from Red Ava Designs (http://www.etsy.com/shop/redavadesigns, left) to snarky resin pendants by Rachel KatzmannFarr of Madame Platypus (http://www.etsy.com/shop/madameplatypus, right)
In addition to giving crafters a place to sell their work, Duff and Wefenstette are working to unify the Chicago crafting community and help makers get to know one another. Last summer, organizers offered crafters the opportunity to pool their resources and share tents at large summer festivals such as Do Division and Midsommarfest. Twice a year, they host meet-and-greet parties at Wefenstette's Portage Park home where crafters can network, share ideas, and help one another grow their businesses.
"It is extremely important to us to create a cohesive Chicago craft community where artisans, consumers, and organizers are supportive of each other and work together to promote handmade," Wefenstette says.
The UFC recently added two new staff members to help grow the markets' audience and community presence. Tuesday Bennett, co-owner of Muggy Tuesday (http://www.muggytuesday.com) has come on board as director of marketing and will head up the UFC's advertising, social media, blog, and publicity efforts. As the new director of DIY, Heidi Gustad of Hands Occupied (http://www.handsoccupied.com) will host hands-on workshops and make-and-take craft booths at each market.
"These ladies are full of brilliant ideas, talents, and passion to grow the Urban Folk Circuit with us and we're thrilled to have them," Wefenstette said.
Handpainted ceramics from A Quartzy Life (http://www.etsy.com/shop/aquartzylife, left) and coasters showing famous landmarks from Madcanvases (http://www.etsy.com/shop/madcanvases, right) celebrate Chicago.
In addition to their monthly markets, organizers have plans to partner with other established festivals through the summer. In August, the UFC will travel to the suburbs to the first time for the Wasted Plains Rock and Roll Music Festival in Woodstock.
Duff and Wefenstette are gratified that their markets are becoming well-known among Chicagoans. "The experiences that continually blow our minds is when we meet people who know about the Urban Folk Circuit without us telling them," Wefenstette says. "We received an email from an artisan who found us when she covered her table with the Chicago Reader to decoupage and saw our ad. A few venues have sought us out to bring the Urban Folk Circuit to their establishment and that makes us feel all sorts of special!"
The next Urban Folk Circuit market is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21 at the Grafton Pub, 4530 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. February's market will take place Sunday, Feb. 12 in the vacant storefronts adjoining Architectural Revolution, 3224 N. Clark St., Chicago. On Saturday, March 24, the market will move to Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State St., Chicago. All three will be open from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.urbanfolkcircuit.com.