Lori Gottlieb has always had a passion for creating art. So when forced to abandon her career as a general surgeon due to health reasons, she turned to her muse.
As founder of LoriMeg Designs, the Owings Mills resident now happily spends her days and nights creating and designing unique, handmade jewelry. She sells her pieces at galleries around the country, as well as at such gatherings as the American Craft Show, which returns to the Baltimore Convention Center from Feb. 22-24.
“My career as a surgeon had a lot of similarities to my career as a jewelry artist,” says Gottlieb, a Beth Tfiloh congregant. “At the end of the day, you can say what you have accomplished and you are using your hands to problem-solve since every piece is different.”
Celebrating 45 years in Charm City, the American Craft Show — sponsored by the American Craft Council, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit educational group — features 650 artists from around the nation selling handmade clothing, home décor items, furniture and jewelry.
“The American Craft Show was the very first show I participated in as an artist back in 2004, and I have been participating in it ever since,” says Gottlieb. “It’s always been one of the biggest and best shows with the most talented artists. Having the show in my hometown means I end up seeing people from my past life as a surgeon, which I love.”
Pamela Diamond, the American Craft Council’s marketing director, says the term craft has traditionally referred to “functional objects made out of one of five mediums — metal, clay, glass, wood or fiber. Crafting is about the materiality and what the artists will make with their hands out of those materials.”
‘The Ideal City’
But in recent years, Diamond says the definition has evolved.
“Everyone now has a different definition,” she says. “I boil it down to the idea that there is human instinct to create, and the definition has expanded to include writers, composers, artisanal chefs and craft breweries, to name a few. In today’s society, crafting means smaller batch, higher quality goods and services.”
The council annually coordinates four shows around the country, but the one in Baltimore is the organization’s flagship event, being three times larger than the others.
Thousands of people are expected to attend the three-day show.
“Baltimore is the ideal city for this show because there is a ton of creativity and making in the area,” says Diamond. “Coming to this show is like traveling to a foreign country because everything you see is unique. I always say if you see something you like at the show, buy I because you aren’t going to see it again. All of the pieces are one-of-a-kind.”
Baltimore’s proximity to other big cities such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., makes it a superb craft show destination, says Diamond.
Joy Stember, a Philly-based metal artist, agrees. She says she looks forward to the American Craft Show each year. Specializing in Judaica, Stember, 34, says her participation in a Birthright Israel trip eight years ago greatly informed her Jewish creative focus.
“Birthright was the first time I felt really connected to my Judaism and felt I didn’t need to explain being Jewish to anyone,” says the founder of the Joy Stember Metal Arts Studio. “That trip was instrumental in me choosing to make Judaic art my career.”
Stember says creating Jewish art pieces is her particular way of “speaking to God. … There is something about Judaica that really satisfies my soul. This is how I find my connection to other Jews around the world. I make contemporary heirlooms to help other families fulfill their legacies. For example, when a grandmother gives a grandchild one of my handmade kiddush cups, that grandmother is leaving a legacy with every sip taken on Friday night.
“My work is bigger than me,” she says. “It’s part of the legacies of thousands of families.”
Stember will sell all of her pieces — including kiddush cups, candlesticks, chanukiahs, dreidels and seder plates — at the American Craft Show.
“The Baltimore Jewish community is incredibly welcoming,” she says. “Each year, I see the same people who come up and tell me how much they love their Judaica pieces. The community is so supportive of artists creating Judaica, which is wonderful because I believe we have to support each other in order to keep Judaism alive.”
Making An Investment
In addition to the art displayed and sold at the American Craft Show, there are two specialty events in which visitors can participate.
“Let’s Make” is an interactive program where participants can create their own art works, while the American Craft Council’s “Hip Pop” program, a juried showcase of new artists, introduces attendees to emerging crafters and makers.
“It’s important for us to educate people about the handmade process and why it’s an important investment,” says Diamond. “People are more likely to invest in something they understand, and these programs allow show-goers to learn about what goes into crafting.”
The American Craft show is an important coming-together, says Gottlieb, because “art just makes the world a better place, and I think jewelry in particular changes your outlook on life. When you are wearing something that makes you feel good, it gives you confidence and makes you happy, and I love that.”
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.