Armory offers handmade goods, history

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If you would like to combine the holidays with a local history lesson, stop in the Hunt Armory on Saturday.

You'll be able to shop for merchandise at the Handemade Arcade, winner of the 2009 and 2007 Greater Pittsburgh Art Council's People's Choice Award as the city's Best Arts Event.

Plus, you'll get to bone up on local history. The Armory, on Emerson Street in Shadyside, was built in 1916 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The auditorium occupies an entire city block and has hosted everyone from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Led Zeppelin.

On Saturday, some 90 independent crafters, many from the region, will join others from seven states and one from as far away as Mexico, to display their mainly one-of-a-kind creations from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Admission is free, and the first 100 shoppers through the door will receive a swag bag stuffed with craft items.

"We promise an affordable shopping experience that allows patrons to actually meet, talk to and ask questions of the people who make the items," said Jennifer Baron, of Fresh Popcorn Productions, an event organizer from Dormont. "If you have $5 or $50 to spend, you should be able to find something you like."

The Handmade Arcade is the brainchild of a group of local crafters who used to travel together to take their creations to independent craft fairs in other cities. Seeing a void for similar venues here, they organized the first Handmade Arcade six years ago with about three dozen vendors.

Last year, more than 8,000 shoppers filled the armory.

"We're a little more cutting edge and eco-friendly and use more recycled materials in our crafts that turn vinyl records into bowls, book covers into purses and found objects into lamps," Mrs. Baron said.

Linda Mitchell, of Mt. Lebanon, plans to display her latest creations of "upcycled bottles," glass bottles that are melted and turned into decorative and functional cheese plates and spoon rests or wired to hang on a wall.

"I look for interesting bottles with paint on them and vintage bottles like '50s Coke bottles that can be transformed by melting and reshaping," Ms. Mitchell said.

She turns out at least 90 retrofitted bottles a week and sells them on the Internet and at arts festivals and home and garden and craft shows.

Kim Fox, also of Mt. Lebanon, manages the L2 Design Collective, a group of five designers who live in different parts of the country.

"While working in Orlando, Florida, I and a group of designers fantasized about getting back to doing things by hand instead of by computer," she said. "After I moved to Pittsburgh five years ago, we decided to give our idea a try, even though we were scattered to different parts of the country."

Currently, Ms. Fox warehouses the collective's printed products in her home and manages the enterprise. At the Handmade Arcade, she'll display some of her own work -- greeting cards, journals, gift tags, tote bags and banners, which can be customized to a buyer's specifications.

In Whitehall, screen printer Mike Budai has been turning out concert posters, art prints, T-shirts, pillow cases and other items for the past 14 years.

An art major graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Budai prints his designs in his home and at the Artists Image Resource on the North Side and supports himself by administering a personal care home.

He also attends fairs held in conjunction with music festivals, such as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.

"The craft fairs I go to give me the financial wherewithal to buy more supplies and continue making art," he said. "Here in Pittsburgh, the Handmade Arcade is made up of a group of like-minded crafters, and the event gives area residents a chance to see work that usually doesn't get a proper venue in the area."

For more, call 412-736-0343 or visit www.handmadearcade.com.


Freelance writer Dave Zuchowski can be reached in care of suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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