Art festivals pave road to commercial success | Crain's Philadelphia

Art festivals pave road to commercial success

Artist Eric Fausnacht built his business in part through the festival circuit. Today, he sells his creations through Eric & Christopher, which produces silk-screened pillows, totes, wallets and tea towels sold by 1,000 retailers nationwide. He still shows up occasionally at art fairs, however, displaying his wares in a booth like this one. | Photo courtesy of Eric Fausnacht

Summer may be over but the festival circuit is still alive and well, presenting opportunities for vendors to set up pop-up stores and artists to display their wares to a wider audience—particularly as the holidays approach.

In the Philadelphia area, Bucks County is known as an artists mecca and hosts dozens of festivals annually. The area generated a school of impressionism that boasted the likes of John Fulton Folinsbee, Walter Emerson Baum and George Sotter, the three best-known members of the Late Pennsylvania School.

 “We don’t do this [run festivals] every week or strategically look to fill [store] vacancies. We just do it a couple times of the year when we know we’ll have an influx of people,” said Naomi Naylor of the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce. She said her group scouts the booths at those festivals for artists with an interest in opening retail stores in Quakertown’s downtown area.

Naylor currently is preparing for the area’s Autumn Alive! festival, Oct. 21, which is organized around pets and their needs. The festival features pet vendors and rescue groups—about 200 booths in all— and attracts as many as 8,000 visitors. The subsequent Christmas tree lighting event Dec. 1, by contrast attracts just 3,500 visitors and 25 to 30 vendors, largely because of the colder weather, despite the free goodies for shoppers and attractions such as ice sculpting, alpacas and carolers.

Large crowds are a major opportunity for local artists—and can even generate big success, as they did for Bucks County-based artist Eric Fausnacht, who five years ago joined forces with silk-screen expert Chris Kline to found Eric & Christopher, which produces silk-screened pillows, totes, wallets and tea towels sold by 1,000 retailers nationwide.

Fausnacht recommends the craft show circuit as “the best way to get your name out there.”

“Whether just for fun or you want to sell—you never know who you’re going to meet: gallery owners, collectors. It’s a way to say, ‘Try our products,’ ” he said.

Fausnacht has been an artist for more than two decades and his works, mostly farm animals, were sold in galleries as well as on the festival circuit. He met his business partner about five years ago at a Bucks County art show focused on silk-screening—and soon, Fausnacht began screenprinting images of his painted animals on pillows.

“I had a background in sewing,” Fausnacht said. “Chris was the silk-screening expert. So we made up a bunch of pillows and I brought them along to the craft shows. They sold really well. First I took a dozen and they’d sell out. I’d call on Monday and tell him I needed more. And then they’d sell out.

“So we thought maybe we could think about going into business.”

While Fausnacht still does a few shows annually, it’s nothing like the 15 years he spent attending 30 shows a year in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware—all of them juried fine art and craft shows.

“If you’re not doing well, it really gets old really fast. If you are doing well, getting recognized, it can be really rewarding,” Fausnacht said.

When they decided to partner up, Fausnacht and Kline each had his own business. Eric & Christopher currently has a 12,000-square-foot warehouse and 20 full- and part-time employees. The company produces several thousand pillows a week, featuring pigs, flying pigs, horses, goats, birds and 20 breeds of dogs. In addition to the pillows, totes, wallets and tea towels, Kline is still silk-screening T-shirts, the business he had previously.

The company generates nearly $1 million in revenue annually, Fausnacht said.

Fellow artist Helene van Emmerik-Finn said she has been on the festival circuit for a half century, but has reduced the number of shows she attends from 20 to about a half dozen, most an easy drive from Philadelphia.

She said she brings about 30 pieces with her to display and a 10-by-10 foot tent.

“I go early in the morning or the day before to set up. It takes a few hours,” said van Emmerik-Finn, who advises people considering the circuit to “buy the right equipment right away. Don’t just rig something up in your workshop.”

Van Emmerik-Finn works in pastels and lately has branched out into farm animals, saying goats, chickens and cows “have a lot of personality.”

Before a show, van Emmerik-Finn sends out mailers, both snail and email, along with Facebook announcements.

“Rarely has it not been worth it [to attend the festivals],” she said. “During the recession, there were times I didn’t always make expenses, but overall I always made money doing it.”

And the shows provide an opportunity to expose one’s work to many more people than just displaying in a gallery.

“It really gives you wider exposure, I get to meet people directly,” she said.

And as an added bonus? “It’s a good physical workout.”

October 17, 2017 - 5:36pm