The Art of Crafts

Kelly Richard believes her ownership of The League of Maryland Craftsmen and American Craftworks Collection located on Main Street might possibly have been in the stars. It all just happened so easily.

One day in 1996, her husband, Kerry Smith, said to her, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could own something like The League of Maryland Craftsmen?" That same day, she received a call informing her that the owners, Bill and Lee Johnson, were selling.

"We said we would only do it if all the numbers were right---and they were," she says. "It seemed that it was meant to be."

Six years later at a craft trade show, it was she who approached her husband this time, asking him if he thought it would be "crazy" to open a second store featuring not just work by Maryland craftsmen but by artisans across the nation. "At the time, it was difficult to find really good work from Maryland craftsmen," she says. "My husband said, 'I think it makes infinite sense.' We found the location on Main Street that week."

Nearly two years later, Kelly says her husband was right. "The stores have been very successful," she says. "Annapolis is unique in that we have a very astute and knowledgeable public. There are many people here who have a real understanding about wood and other materials. They truly appreciate what we are selling."

Kelly, a sculptor, graphic designer and illustrator, hails from New Jersey but has lived in this area for nearly 30 years. She became familiar with The League of Maryland Craftsmen through selling her own work there. At that time, the store was located on Maryland Avenue and was run solely on consignment with more than 130 artists and craftsmen from around Maryland.

Kelly and her husband, an ordained minister who manages Anchor Mental Health, bought the store in 1996 and moved it to 216 Main Street when the location became available in 1999. "When we moved, our sales went up 300 percent," she says.

Today, less than half of the crafts are sold on consignment. The remainder Kelly has purchased outright. "We have found consignment to be a kind of lose-lose for everyone involved," she says. "Many of the products just end up sitting there. When I purchase them outright, I have more control over the quality, the price and the production. I have a good idea of what will sell and what will not."

The League of Maryland Craftsmen features numerous types of traditional crafts ranging in cost from as low as one dollar to $4,000 for some of the furniture items. "I try to keep the average price in the $30 to $50 range at both stores," Kelly says. "The tourists really want something made by a local artist, and they need to be able to take it with them."

The crafts include fiberworks, hand-painted silks, kaleidoscopes, model ships and boats, original paintings, prints and photography, scrimshaw, hand-woven baskets, jewelry in a variety of mediums, mosaics, pottery, wood carvings and turnings, sculpture, blown and fused glass, and stained and etched glass.

American Craftworks Collection caters to buyers with more contemporary tastes, featuring fine glassware, wooden kitchen items, metal fountains, stained glass, and jewelry. "We go all over the country looking for crafts," says Kelly. "We also have craftsmen who come in or call both stores, asking to show us their work."

Kelly says working with the artists is what makes work so enjoyable. "There is just so much creative energy and a great deal of ingenuity," she says. "I'm always amazed by what they come up with." Plus, all of the craftsmen have a story which she likes to share with her customers when they are buying the craftsman's piece.

"We have one craftsman who is an insurance agent and simply decided one day to take a pottery class with his wife," she says. "He's now our best seller, hands down." His name is Richard Ashburn, and his work is very recognizable in that every piece features a Maryland blue crab so real looking it feels like it could reach out and pinch you. "He is able to catch the essence of Annapolis," Kelly says.

She believes what brings the artists and the customers to her stores is her effort to display the items in a way that makes them look the most enticing. "I try very hard to make it as professional a display as possible," she says. "I change the store around often so everyone has a chance to be in the spotlight."

Ashburn, who sold his work on consignment through The League of Maryland Craftsmen even before Kelly took over, agrees. "It's a beautiful place, and they are such nice, honest people," he says. Kelly now buys his work outright. "I wouldn't dream of going any place else in Annapolis," says Ashburn.

Margot Mohsberg is a resident of Eastport and a freelance writer in addition to being the media relations associate for Anne Arundel Health System.


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