A sad story


Last Saturday we were part of the Art for the Mansion event at Lakeland Community College, held in their fieldhouse gymnasium.  The place was filled with lots of beautifully made knit hats, crochet things, alpaca… and then there were those creations that the artist felt were the next big thing, the cutting edge of amazing…. but they were not so much.  I refer to this as grandma’s crochet toilet paper holders… things that in theory might sound like a good idea, but in execution they are a bit on the tacky side.   And there were lots of bakery sales…. including the guy across the aisle from us that was hocking his nut rolls like a carnival barker…. It was an atmosphere that was less than wonderful.

A midst all of the booths were some stories that just needed to be told.

One story was an elderly couple – each easily in their early 70s.  He is the artist with a wonderful skill for painting barn slates and old hand saws.  His work was detailed, well executed and painstakingly detailed.  On his table at one side was a 3 ft christmas tree decorated with 3 inch square barn slates painted with little birds, and ohio maps.  Well done.  Beautifully finished… and the price …. WHAT was wrong with this guy for charging $3.00 for such work?   I looked at another ornament thinking i was missing something, or thinking the price tag was wrong.  I looked at half of the ornaments on the tree and every one was $3.00 – It was not a quirk.   So i mustered the courage to ask him why his prices are so low.  He didnt even look me in the eye, said “Cause that is what i wanted to charge.”  He probably hated me when i began giving him my thoughts on price structure, and mean while his wife kept nodding in agreement, and telling me she understood, and agreed with me but he would not listen.  I am not sure what snapped in me, but I said to him “Don’t you value your self or your skills?”  silence fell on the table…. and it seemed like the longest 2 minutes of time, when he said “OK, why would you say that to me?”  Well, what did you pay for the slate, the paint, the ingredients of your work?  And how long did it take to paint those beautiful pieces…. for example how long did it take you to paint this ornament?  He told he it was at least 3 hours of his painting time…. so why did i go there… “so are you saying your time is less than $1.00 per hour?  Silence again.

His wife looked at me in shock.  (Was i too bold, to in his face?) “What do you think is a fair price for these ornaments?”  Honestly I could see them going for $10-12 each if they changed out the thin cheap ribbon for a leather lace to hang them up.  “Really, do you think so?”  Yes I think so.  Yes, Be bold, confident… remind people this was not made in China, but its american barn slate, and you hand painted them.  Sell your skills, tell your story, but tell people there is value in what you do.  Because there is great value in your work.  And they are amazing treasures that can become heirloom decorations that are handed down.

Wow, that was quite a difficult thing to do.  But how tragic this guy seemed to have no clue of the value of his work.  By setting a super low price he was telling patrons that his work rivals that of a thrift store, or a Marc’s closeout aisle.  And that changed the market for everyone.  Handcrafted is a labor of love, skillfully executed in a way that is unique.  Its not assembly line copies that everyone has.  Not at all.

And its not about raising prices so high that people are gauged… not at all.  It is about valuing the work at a price that suits the work.  Fair wage for fair labor.

OK, done with the story, and the soap box.