The craft connection. New York couple's sourcebook showcases craftspeople to designers

LINKING craftspeople and their work to leading interior designers and architects is the aim of Toni Sikes and her husband, William M. Kraus. In 1986 the couple launched their first annual edition of a unique catalog called ``The Guild: A Sourcebook of American Craft Artists.''

Its success is measured by the fact that a second colorful edition came out in 1987. A third will be printed this coming May.

And next year's fourth edition already has a waiting list of craftspeople waiting to be admitted to this unusual catalog marketplace.

The handsome 384-page current volume displays the work of 318 craftspeople throughout the United States and was distributed free to 10,000 professional interior designers and architects. The name ``Guild'' was chosen for the catalog, says Ms. Sikes, because it implies both excellence and a community of interests.

Sikes has written four books on the marketing of the arts and served on the board of the Wisconsin Designer Craftsmen.

But the idea for the catalog came to her after she was challenged to find a selection of architectural crafts to go into a major new building in the Midwest.

``There was no directory, no Yellow Pages listings, no help at all in that area for locating the craftsmen that I knew were there. That's when I began to think about a marketing sourcebook. I knew that handcrafted objects were becoming an important part of both interior and architectural spaces.''

A direct check with many designers and architects confirmed the fact that they did much ``shopping'' from catalogs filed in their workplaces.

``It also occurred to me,'' she says, ``that artists who do excellent work should have national exposure, and not be confined to a local or regional market. The idea for developing the sourcebook catalog followed.''

The couple moved to New York and spent a year and half doing research and developing a business plan. Mr. Kraus became chairman of Kraus Sikes Inc., and Sikes was named president and publisher of the Guild sourcebook.

She promptly subscribed to more than 20 craft publications and went to every craft fair and exhibition she could find. All the while she built a computer data bank of names, addresses, and primary products of craftspeople whose work impressed her.

Later, she appointed a review committee, consisting of an architect, an interior designer, and a magazine journalist, to assist in choosing that range of craft products most appropriate to this prime design market.

Categories included lighting, vessels and baskets, furniture and cabinetry, tapestries, tiles and mosaics, painted finishes, architectural glass, woodwork and metalwork, textiles and sculpture.

Sikes then sent a mailing out to all the craftspeople in her data bank and hired six salesmen to call to offer them full-color ads at $1,000 a page, including two photographs of work, information about the artist, and address and telephone number. The promise of nationwide exposure sold the ads. The first edition, printed in Japan, was sent free to design and architect professionals and also made available to certain bookstores, and by direct mail.

Over 4,000 books were sold this past year, says Sikes. Many of them were ordered by Europeans and Asians interested in seeing what American craftspeople are producing.

Consumer interest in the crafts appears to be at an all-time high.

Designers and architects contact the craftspeople directly for further information, price lists, and slides of completed work. They can order from the artists, or commission them to work on specific projects. Sometimes craftspeople are invited to visit sites before submitting their suggestions.

New York tapestry weaver Michelle Lester says that her ads in the first two Guild catalogs have netted about 18 inquiries, half of which have resulted in corporate commissions for tapestries averaging $10,000 in price.

Peter Mistretta, a senior interior designer at International Business Machines Corporation, informed Sikes that the catalog ``had been a great source of art/crafts for several art programs we have completed at IBM.''

By staying in close touch with their craftspeople advertisers, Sikes and Kraus are able to put out a monthly newsletter for them that is full of marketing news and such information as who is getting commissions and for what. They also share results of an annual survey that reveals which categories of crafts are getting the best responses, and where the commissions are coming from.

The catalog, which will be revised and issued annually, reflects what Sikes refers to as an ``an upbeat and exciting time to be involved in crafts.''

The Guild sourcebook, she says, ``has been successful beyond my wildest dreams. Yet there is so much yet to do, so much educating to be done, so many new contacts to be sought, so many new presentations to be made at professional conferences of interior designers and architects. We could use more time and more money. But we see the green light that is impelling us forward.''

The couple is assisted by a staff of five, as well as a free-lance production staff.

For more information, contact Kraus Sikes Inc., 150 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001.

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