From baskets to benches, wall art to wind chimes, the Allentown Art Festival offers a dazzling – often dizzying – array of accents for your home and garden.
Some find it wonderful. Others, overwhelming. Either way, this weekend's juried art festival may be the place to find that one unique item you have been looking for.
Or the one you never dreamed of purchasing – until you saw it.
"Be prepared to buy something different, something unique. Something someone put their hands on and created," said Mike "O" Owczarczak of Yartworks, a local artist who creates steel abstract sculptures designed to be used outdoors.
"It's the place to look for that unusual piece you don't find at the mall," added Rita Harrington Lippman, chairwoman of entry and placement.
A few things to know: The festival, which runs 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, features 380 exhibitors from Western New York, across the United States and Canada – including some new to the festival. In addition to paintings and photography, artists will be showing scrolled metal mirrors, glasswork, clocks, pottery, tables, chairs, sculpture, garden accents and large vinyl artwork that can be hung outdoors on a fence. And most exhibitors take credit cards.
You can spend less than $20 for some jewelry and prints, or more than $1,000 for some (but not all) paintings.
And while there is plenty to look at, you will NOT like everything you see. But, likely, some things you will.
Buffalo interior designer Mark Taylor, for one, has recommended clients go there looking for artwork "that speaks to them."
His advice: " ‘Go early' is the biggest tip I can give anybody. It's less crowded, and you can see more."
Once you are there, his No. 1 rule is this: "Buy what you love."
"This is the perfect place to walk around and see what you like and what speaks to you. Art doesn't have to match your interiors. Keep in mind that if you really love a piece, buy it and you will find a place for it," Taylor said.
(Mike O, for example, once sold a metal sculpture to a customer who planned to put it in the yard. Once home, the customer decided to display it in the living room instead.)
But for shoppers who are looking for artwork for specific areas, jotting down dimensions beforehand can help, Taylor said.
You might need a piece no wider than 36 inches to hang above a chest, for example. Or a piece of pottery that measures no more than 12 inches high for a bookcase.
Other people are shopping for gifts – showers, weddings, Father's Day, housewarmings, noted Robin Strauss, of Grand Island, who designs glass wind chimes and is participating in the art festival for her sixth year.
She, too, recommended coming early; she and several others mentioned that some exhibitors are ready for selling even before 11 a.m.
But in describing the crowds milling about in the afternoon, Strauss made another observation: "Some people are there for the entertainment, but I've noticed that the people who want to shop have access to the booths," said Strauss, whose wind chimes range from $35 to $125.
While exhibitors may not be willing to put something "on hold" while you shop, remember that the festival also offers an opportunity to meet the artists and artisans (they are required to be there, Lippman noted), become familiar with their work, and pick up business cards with websites and other contact information for future purchases. You can even request to receive emails or mailings for upcoming shows and product updates.
It's up to each exhibitor to set guidelines for returning/exchanging items, deciding whether to negotiate price with customers and arranging for delivery, especially for large items.
Lippman also said that the Allentown Village Society is there to help if there is a problem with a purchase, such as if a necklace clasp breaks.
"If something has a problem, contact us and we will get in touch with the artist," Lippman said.
To make it easier to contact an artist, the best thing to do – especially if it is a major purchase – is to keep the artist's business card or make a note as to what you purchased from whom, she added.