Centralized market lets craftsmen stay home as others do the selling

Most professional craftsmen now market their work through craft galleries, department store boutiques, specialty and museum shops, and craft fairs that range from street markets to organized regional fairs offering special days for both wholesale and retail buyers.

Early this year, another selling outlet for craftsmen, the National Craft Showroom, opened in New York at 11 East 26th Street. The works of 150 craftsmen from 32 states are being shown in this attractive showroom, which eventually may display the work of 250 others as well. The showroom is open to buyers (anyone who resells the crafts) from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. daily, five days a week. It is not open to the public.

This centralized wholesale showroom has been a project in Elizabeth Raphael's mind for at least eight years. In 1972, Mrs. Raphael opened The Store in Verona, Pa., as a nonprofit enterprise, originally intended to be an outlet for local amateur craftsmen's work. She soon saw that if crafts were to hold their own, they had to be superior to their manufactured counterparts in both design and workmanship. A year later she began to seek out work of expert craftsmen throughout the country.

Since 1973, The Store has shown and sold the work of more than 1,000 professional craftsmen from every part of the country and has become a regional landmark. ''After years of sating ourselves with mass-produced look-alikes we've begun to once again admire the uniqueness of handmade things,'' Mrs. Raphael says. ''These talents are still important to our progress in industry as well as art, so it is vital that we retain a place in the economy for trained craftsmen.''

In 1979 she founded the Society for Art in Crafts, and as president of this new nonprofit society she worked out the details of its three-year sponsorship of the National Craft Showroom in Manhattan.

An invitation to submit slides of their work was sent to thousands of established craftsmen around the country last year. Last August a jury met to consider the slides and to select those craftsmen who would be asked to send samples of their work to be judged on quality and creativity. Each applicant was required to have a minimum of three years' wholesaling experience.

Baskets made by Choctaw Indians in Mississippi, painted floor cloths, batik, woven and quilted hangings, folk harps, trapunto pillows, woven wool rugs, wooden sleds and toys, cabinets made of exotic woods, stoneware, and jewelry, indicate the diversity of items chosen by the jury. Each year, the work of other craftsmen will be juried and added.

''We sell the merchandise at the individual craftsman's wholesale price,'' Mrs. Raphael explains, ''and guarantee shipment directly from the craftsman within 90 days. We write the orders, bill the stores, and pay the craftsmen within 30 days of each confirmed delivery. This whole unique marketing process enables the craftsman to stay home and do his craft while we are selling for him. We think our system is convenient for everyone - the craftsman, the store buyer who comes into New York a few times a year, and interior designers and architects who are looking for the handmade and unusual.''

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