Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Renegade Craft Fair - July 16-17, 2011

Alma and I did not go to the beach today. Instead, we returned to the vicinity of Chinatown for the Renegade Craft Fair at the Los Angeles State Historic Park in downtown Los Angeles. It was a very cool way to pass the afternnon and we plan to go back again today for a second day.

The park itself is a modest little 32-acre affair located just to the east of Chinatown. When we arrived yesterday at about 4:30 p.m., the western segment of the park was filled with tented booths of various craft vendors. The access road bordering the park had about 6-7 of the gourmet mobile food trucks one has started to see in Los Angeles at trendy art events. In addition, there were booths set up where attendees could actually participate in various crafting workshops like paper printing, sewing and crocheting and even woodworking.

My response to the Craft Fair mixed equal measures of exhilaration and depression. First of all, I was simply blown away at the variety of ingenuity, creativity and originality of the various exhibitors, ranging from candle-makers and jewelers to silk-screened t-shirts and prints and other odd wares. The booths were filled with a variety of vivid colors and scintillating shapes. "Eye candy," I said to Alma, when she asked me if any one vendor stood out to me. Truth is, I was equally pleased by all the vendors. I was especially struck by a group calling itself the 'Collage Lab' ( had a lot of vintage-looking materials that were collaged toegether and then decoupaged onto canvas and ceramics. Really beautiful stuff.

You can see a display of many of the artists and crafters here:

So why was I depressed? We asked one of the vendors, a gentleman who did screen printing of ingenious-looking posters touting locally grown fruits and vegetables (in support of local farming) and he told us it cost $400 for a booth for two days at the fair. Based on what I saw, few of the vendors there were making sales at a level that would allow them to recoup their costs simply for the booth. There was  a lot of browsing by attendees and I did see a few people carrying modest purchases. But I had the distinct impression that few if any of the vendors there would see $400 in sales from the event. The California economy is so bad right now and Alma and I are good examples. True, we saw many things that we loved. Even if we have no space on our walls for hangable art (thanks to Alma's own skills in that area), we can always use a new cushion, candle, t-shirt or knick-knack. But we have no discretionary income right now, all our income being soaked up by expenses. I suspect many of the fairgoers are in the same boat.

Add to that the amounts of time and energy required to schlep goods to the fair, to set up and arrange booths, and to break down each day when the fair concludes and you see truly a 'labor of love.' No one is getting rich off their work at the Craft Fairs, that's for certain. And, yet, the crafters and artists persist. It's both heart-warming and depressing at the same time.

We are going back today to look at some of the exhibits in more detail. Anyone in the Southern California area reading this can find out more about the vent in general at this link:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our Friend's Visit

Margie, one of Alma's friends, visited us last week, all the way out from western Kansas. While she was here, Alma and I took her to many of the more well-known tourist attractions and to the beaches. She arrived back home late last night, but only after her original flight on American Eagle was cancelled due to bad weather in Denver. So Margie got to know Los Angeles International Airport quite well before the replacement booking on Frontier got her back to Denver.

It was fun returning to Hollywood, Olvera Street and Chinatown with an out-of-towner who had not seen any of the sights before. We got to Hollywood just as the sun had begun to set, so the temperatures which can be brutal at this time of year had begun to cool off and the lights to come on. We walked down the famous stretch of Hollywood Boulevard that is home to Mann's Chinese Theater and the Kodak Theater. We found several stars whose names we recognized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and several handprints at Mann's of famous movie stars from bygone days.

Below is a photo of King Kong from one of the various attractions along Hollywood Boulevard:

I actually enjoyed Olvera St. and Chinatown more though, as they really bring out the sense that Los Angeles is a true melting pot. We spent the first part of Sunday afternoon trolling the Latino and Mexican-American culture of Olvera St, including the Avila Adobe house which allows visitors to get a sense of what life was like in Los Angeles before California became a state in the U.S. and before such niceties as electricity, television and internet existed. Later in the afternoon, we walked down North Broadway for several blocks into the heart of Chinatown. It was hot during the walk so we each drank a cup of cane sugar with ice, a Chinese specialty. Wow, did it hit the spot.

One of the best things about Olvera St. was seeing the ethnic folk dancing. The dancers were garbed in elaborate ornamental dress of feathers and beads, as the below photo shows:

Chinatown offers its own set of pictorial delights. Below is a shot of the entrance to Chinatown (looking eastward on North Broadway):

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4 at Venice Beach

Alma and I took a slight detour today, due to no street parking on Independence Day. So we travelled to the border between Venice and Santa Monica where I found parking in a metered lot. We decided to walk on the famed Venice boardwalk, rather than walk on the sand.

First, I must say that the crowds seemed decidedly small for such an important holiday weekend. The weather was almost perfect, but there did not seem to be as many people on the Venice boardwalk as I would have expected. A lot of the vendor stalls had no one even stopping to sample the wares.

A couple months back, there was a gang shootout on the Boardwalk between Oakwood Crips and Culver City Bloods. And maybe that shootout has caused the public to shy away from the Boardwalk.

But there has also been a major change in how the artists and craftspeople can display down there. Now anyone wishing to sell items for a set price must obtain a vendor's permit by traveling to a city office up in Van Nuys. Without that permit, artists can still set up on the Boardwalk but now can only ask for a 'donation' (this done, I think, so that they cannot compete directly with the merchants on the land side of the Boardwalk). The result, according to Alma, is that most of the original artists have decided that the Venice Boardwalk is no longer worth it, since they can only ask for donations without making the trip to Van Nuys and jumping through the bureaucratic hoops. What artist would be willing to allow a work that took him or her several hours to complete to go for a token donation of $10, $5 or, perish the notion, $1?

I don't know. What I do know is that there were an enormous number of vendor booths offering 'feather extensions' (for hair). Gone are the ubiquitous henna tattoo parlors that I remember from last year. The number of Latino vendors selling Day of the Dead merchandise also seems sharply diminished from last year also. All in all, the Boardwalk today seemed muted. Certain fixtures like Harry Kerry (the turbaned guitarist who roller blades while playing manic riffs on a Fender Strat) were still there. And the bars and restaurants on the land side of the Boardwalk all seemed to be doing a healthy business. But the spirit that I remember from years past is gone and only pure commerce remains. Ugh.

The Venice Boardwalk used to be known as 'The Freak Show' in honor to the various nonconformists and harlequins on display there. But now there actually is a commercial establishment on the land side called 'The Freak Show' (kind of like what one finds at a Circus or Carnival). So even the Freak Show has become a commercial venture. When I first came to Southern California, I took a turn playing guitar at the Freak Show. Alas, a couple 4-hour shifts where I earned no more than $4 (or $1/hour) cured me of my desire to seek fame there. So I have special reason to mourn this transformation of the Boardwalk to a venue more coldly commerical and less counter-cultural.