CAW Kicks Off Celebration of American Crafts

Tammy Chapman never imagined that mixing potions in her kitchen would lead her out of the house, and down Audubon Street. Now, she is making the case for skincare products as handmade crafts for a second year in a row. 

Chapman is the founder of The Glass Jar, a line of natural skincare and hair products that she began piloting 10 years ago. This year, she will join artists from all around Connecticut at the 48th annual Celebration of American Crafts at Creative Arts Workshop (CAW) from Nov. 25 through Dec. 24. The event’s kickoff is planned to coincide with Small Business Saturday

 Image courtesy Tammy Chapman. 

Image courtesy Tammy Chapman. 

The celebration will feature fiber art, small-scale sculpture, delicate handmade books and jewelry, ornaments, clothing, and more. That variety is meant to show that the American craft movement isn’t just alive and well, said organizer Sheilah Rostow—it also falls within the umbrella of fine art. 

Nearly five decades into the celebration, CAW is taking a new approach, with almost 80 New Haven and New Haven area artists participating. That’s been the product of expanded outreach to local artists and craftspeople, said Rostow in a recent phone conversation. 

Artists just like Chapman, who first learned about CAW not as a home maker but as a  single mom, whose kids wanted to take art classes. CAW offered scholarship money and lower fees for parents who couldn’t pay its full class prices. Her kids enrolled. She said that they're still using that background today in some of the more artistic thinking and work that they do. 

“It’s phenomenal … they’ve been a huge supporter to me,” she said. “This is my way of supporting them. One of the things that I love about what they do is that they’re highlighting the maker and the value of items. They consistently do it [the celebration] and I praise them for that. it’s infectious. the energy and the hum, it’s really really something to see.” 

 A beard oil that Chapman has perfected for The Glass Jar. Image courtesy Tammy Chapman. 

A beard oil that Chapman has perfected for The Glass Jar. Image courtesy Tammy Chapman. 

Chapman started that road toward makership a decade ago, when her daughter came to her with acne and nothing commercial seemed to work. From a few lotions, Chapman developed the line into balms, salves and creams for men and women, adding haircare products to the line as well. She is now partnering with other local makers in the state to make products like an African black soap in bar and liquid form. 

“To me, there’s nothing that says ‘I love you and I care for you’ than something handmade,” she said. “In Connecticut I don’t see that love and respect for the handmade artisan. For some reason there’s this disconnect in the Northeast. We’ve got to keep money in local communities, to see the makers and support the makers. And folks really love that interaction.”

While Chapman will be selling those crafts—the men’s products did well last year, and she said she is planning accordingly—other artists like Valerie Rhodes will bring far larger pieces into the mix. After she brought a “show-stopping skull” to last year’s celebration, she said she is “very honored” to have been asked back.  

Not even a month into her position, Creative Arts Workshop's newly appointed Executive Director Anne Coates said she is looking forward to her first Celebration. 

"This has been an iconic event at the Workshop for 48 years where the best of the best in high end crafts is offered for sale,” she said in an email. “The Celebration has a well-earned reputation for being the place to go to get unique gifts during the holiday season.  

“Over the past couple of years, the Celebration has evolved from an event that featured works by artists and makers from across the United States to one that focuses on the tremendous pool of talent right here in the Northeast. The majority of our artists hail from New England and over half are from Connecticut.  We are very proud to be able to showcase and promote the local talent of which the New Haven area abounds.  And of course we love being able to show off our own faculty and student work. They are a great advertisement for our art school, which is the centerpiece of this vibrant center for the visual arts in the New Haven region.”