Tucked in the contemporary wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, visitors were drawn from the artwork into the museum’s new Artisan Market and Book Sale located in the Riley Seminar Room and the Druker Family Pavilion next to the bookstore and shop. The three-part market extended into three rooms and united at the entrance by the cash register.
Ellen Bragalone, director of retail operations at the MFA, hoped that the market here would increase the artisans’ clientele, as well as engage the museum’s visitors in support for local independent businesses.
“[We want to] give them [especially members] the opportunity to meet these artisans and have the opportunity to buy something different than what they come in and see day-to-day,” Bragalone said.
At last year’s members’ event, the museum tested the waters by bringing in a few artisans to promote their products. Having received such positive feedback from the members that attended, Bragalone immediately began planting the seed for this market. Some of the team attended trade shows in January to recruit artisans.
All eager to speak about their products, processes, and opportunities for customers to explore their companies further, the sellers were extremely personable. Aside from making various glass products, Luke Adams Glass provides glass-blowing classes to beginners and experienced glass blowers alike at their studio in Norwood.
Likewise, Sousa Jewelry displayed a variety of unique jewelry, also offering designs in custom colors. Its representative explained that the company receives scrap metal, which it turns into necklaces, rings, and earrings decorated with vibrant oval stones. The museum wanted to bring products to their visitors that would appeal most to them.
“We’ve been working with a lot of different vendors, so we really approached the ones we knew would be open to doing this and have the ability to do it,” Bragalone said. “[But] the surprise has been … that we’ve been contacted now by other vendors that would love to participate.”
The museum decided to start the event small, but this positive response from vendors was a good sign for success in the future. Still, organizers had to prepare early in order to get the best vendors on the dates they wanted because it is so close to the holiday season, and early November is optimal for artisans to make their greatest profits. The MFA organizers planned their artisan market so that it would be ideal not only for the artisans, but for their visitors too.
The front two rooms of the market held most of the artisans manning tables of various products, from socks to woodwork. Many of the artisans produced eclectic jewelry, sprinkling the market with handmade pieces created with piano wires, 3D printers, glass art, welded metals, and various manipulated mediums. Nevertheless, the market also had scarves, bags, and a few textile stalls.
Appealing to the crowd’s artistic inclination, one artisan—Maggie Stern Stitches—sold tea towels, pillows, and pins embroidered with popular works of art like Michelangelo’s Creation and portraits of Frida Kahlo.
The back room of the market was primarily discounted books from the MFA’s bookstore, along with other items from the museum shop marked down and a stall selling hand-carved woodworkings. The books varied in topic but tended to be coffee-table art books, with the exception of a few pop-culture novels, such as Colm Toibin’s book, Nora Webster. Besides books, however, the MFA sold discounted paperweights, vases, Matisse greeting cards, and CDs.
The customers dispersed nicely creating a steady stream of people flowing from one room to the next—no one stall was ever so hopelessly crowded that a buyer never had the chance to explore each and every commodity. Still, museum visitors freely strolled through the market at their leisure. A variety of customers attended, from college students to older adults, but the event primarily drew in an older crowd. Many of the items were beautiful and expensive but still worth exploring because the market provided some reasonable finds and a student discount.
Bragalone wanted to ensure that the market not only appealed to students, but was accessible to them as well. She stressed that the museum was free for Boston College students, and they also enjoy a 10 percent discount on all items with their student ID. She hopes that this event is successful in its first year so that the artisan market can continue to exist as an opportunity for local businesses to excel and museum visitors to find unique gifts for the holidays.
“A lot of people like to support local artists,” Bragalone said. “It’s reaching out to the community, it’s really pulling a lot of things together that the museum believes in—supporting the artists, engaging the community—and really just creating a nice event that could become something.”
Featured Image by Mary Wilkie/For The Heights