Artists are often seen as superior creatures who transcend and forego ordinary human concerns to commune with the muses and produce possibly history-making works that benefit and, even spiritually, can enrich us lowly mortals.
But when you talk to creators themselves, it’s clear that art and commerce can — and for the sake of the artist, should — commingle. It’s true. Like a family with in-laws. When the marriage works, sustainable creativity happens. Talented artists really do want to make money, and, thanks to the wonders of technology, there are vibrant virtual markets for their work.
While sites like Etsy are wonderful, there was not a digital marketplace just for New York-based artists and creatives to sell their products and tell their stories to buyers all over the world, and celebrate work that reflects the diverse intellectual, aesthetic emotional terroir of the Empire State.
“A local version of the patriotic ‘Made in the USA’ movement is how we like to think of it,” says Co-Founder, CEO, and Publisher Silda Wall Spitzer.
After sketching out the New York Makers concept, Silda and her Co-Founder Christine Murphy thought Silda’s longtime friend and former colleague, Audra Herman, would be the perfect person to serve as Marketplace Director and help discover the makers of the best made-in-New York State artisanal food products, pet products, housewares, artwork, beauty products, and other gift items for women, men, and children in New York to fill the virtual shelves of their new digital marketplace. New York’s first exclusive digital family of makers. Then New York Makers brought on Amanda DiRobella as Editor in Chief and COO, who not only adds new dimensions to marrying New York commerce and creatives online, but also believes in the importance of connecting New Yorkers and New York makers on the ground pop up shops and other experiential events.
And, as we always know, our makers themselves are the ones who can tell best the challenges of bringing together their creative passion with the demands of business. Here are stories and insights from a few in our Hudson Valley family:
For Jennifer Hasan, the marriage of art and commerce may be in her blood.
“I actually named my business for my grandfather, Adolph Hanle,” she says. “He had a picture of a rooster from his family crest in his logo.”
Hanle was a first-generation German immigrant. He trained as a pewter spinner in Stuttgart, and brought his trade to New York City, founding Distinctive American Pewter in the 1930s, and eventually opening a showroom on Fifth Avenue. (Some of his work can still be found on Etsy).
Hasan, whose parents did not have an “entrepreneurial bone in their bodies,” has always had one foot in corporate America and the other in the world of fine art, she explains.
“I loved the stability of corporate America, and I worked in marketing for years,” she says. “But then I’d get bored, and I’d leave to pursue art. Yet I’d always end up going back because depending on painting for a salary is, to say the least, challenging.”
In 2015, her dueling workaday worlds collided, in the form of a strange vessel.
“I found this great log,” she recalls. “I was newly married. My husband likes to cook, and I thought it would be really cool if I could hollow it out and create a centerpiece for our table.”
Photo: Jennifer Hasan
Cool, yes. Easy, not so much. Following much research and the peppering of friends who also have artistic bents with queries on the subject, she determined that no one did this sort of thing, and if she chose to, various esoteric instruments would be required.
So Hasan bought a lathe and figured it out. When she saw the reaction the finished product got, Hasan perceived a niche in the market. In 2013, she officially began turning hollowed out logs into sustainable, stunning centerpieces for the booming farm-to-table wedding market, across the country. Hasan is based in Beacon, but she sources discarded logs from all over the Hudson Valley, keeping her eyes out for downed trees, and often offering people with discarded trees one of her creations in exchange for their wood.
“This was always a for-profit venture for me,” Hasan notes. “I was not approaching this as a hobbyist. My background in marketing definitely helped, because unlike a lot of artists starting out, I knew how important building a social media presence, hiring an actual photographer, and getting the logo right was.”
Jennifer Hasan. Photo: Dkol Photography
The market embraced her work, and she began to tease other creations out of discarded logs.
“I started making bowls, vases, birdhouses, all kinds of vessels,” Hasan says. “I love that I’m making beautiful things people can use every day from discarded wood. There are so many homes in the Hudson Valley with objects I made from trees on their property. Yes, the apple tree that their children played under and appeared in so many family pictures got sick and had to be removed. But here is this bowl from that tree, and it will be passed down from generation to generation.”
“I’ve been painting and creating art for my entire life, but it wasn’t until very recently that I’ve been able to make a living doing it,” notes Alexis Tellefsen. She arrived at college (SUNY New Paltz) with the full intention of doing the “sensible thing” every aspiring artist who wants to pay the bills does.
“I decided to get a degree in art education, figuring I could teach art and do my own projects on the side,” Alexis, who graduated in 2013, explains. “But then I took a class in ceramics and everything changed.”
She says that, from the beginning, the clay itself was a source of fascination and inspiration.
“I like to let the clay’s individuality shine through,” she says. “I use several different types of clay. One has a tan body with black speckles that I paint with a thin white glaze. The dark speckles still come through.”
Alexis Tellefsen's studio. Photo: Alexis Tellefsen
The effect is pure magic: shining, glistening, textured, with simple, graphic lines. And while the finished projects are works of art, they are also utilitarian (bowls, mugs, vases).
After becoming entranced with the process of shaping, firing, and glazing wheel-thrown ceramic objects, she did the second-best “sensible thing” upon graduation.
“I got a job in retail,” she says. But not just any job. She landed at the vegan, small-batch, sustainable, free trade, organic chocolatier Lagusta’s Luscious in New Paltz, and was even commissioned by the owner to make mugs for the store. She still works closely with their tight-knit crew three days a week making and shipping chocolates, serving customers in the bustling store, and creating a new line of mugs for them every year.
Alexis also sells her work at Beacon’s Reservoir, at fairs and festivals and of course, online at New York Makers.
“The past year, even the past few months have been incredible for my business,” Alexis says. “My goal was always to be able to make a living on my creative output, and it’s actually starting to happen, which is gratifying.”
Tom Stoenner has been making usable art for more than three decades. Even better, he has been making his living doing so, to great acclaim.
“I graduated from Hamilton College with a degree in history,” Stoenner says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to go to graduate school, and I saw there was glass blower who was looking for an apprentice, and I thought that might be interesting for a while.”
He was immediately entranced with the romance and practicality of creating functional art that can add pleasure to everyday activities...like taking a sip of water from a vessel.
Stoenner, who resides and works out of a studio in Rhinebeck, has garnered a national following for his audacious renderings of everything from humble bowls and glasses to next-level vases, Christmas ornaments, and lamps.
Christmas ornament-making. Photo: Tom Stoenner Glass
“My inspiration is functionally based,” he shares. “But there is always a reference to Art Nouveau in my work, especially in my Luster Series.”
Art Nouveau was a hugely influential art form prevalent in Europe and the U.S. from the 1880’s-WWI. The highly stylized and ornamental movement took inspiration from the natural world at its wildest and was in large part a response to industrialized mass production.
Tom Stoenner. Photo: Tom Stoenner Glass
In addition to garnering an American Craft Museum Design Award, Stoenner’s creations are available at galleries across the country, and, naturally, on New York Makers.
New York Makers is thrilled to have created a market that helps makers live their dream of paying their bills with art.