Local, handcrafted and unique are the words du jour for gifting today, but an assortment of Atlanta markets have been ahead of the trend — some by a decade or more. While a number of stores maintain a worthy stock of locally made merchandise year-round, a few groups have developed a reputation for their wide range of offerings during their special holiday shows.
In Dunwoody, the Spruill Center for the Arts has transformed its gallery into an annual Holiday Artists Market for 21 years strong. This year, the space practically bursts at the seams with the work of 90 local and regional artisans, whose work collectively satisfies most everyone on a gift list.
Traditionalists might take delight in receiving an ornament by Stephanie Butker, who transforms household items such as saltshakers and teacups into ornaments with glittering little snowflake and evergreen-tree scenes like you’d find in a snow globe. For a more contemporary tree, consider work by Glak Love. These glass ornaments feature whimsical scenes such a squirrel gifting an acorn to a cat or, oh, a Tyrannosaurus rex family opening a gift under a Christmas tree.
Assistant gallery director Blair Valentino is particularly excited that the market has introduced Masa Sasaki’s ceramics and porcelain to its collection this year. His tea candle jars are a delight, with lacy cutouts creating intriguing patterns emanating from the light inside. They come in a variety of on-trend, glossy colors including shades of buttercream, orchid and moss green. His work also includes sake sets and tea keepers, both painted with fanciful birds, leaves, circles and more in delicate, almost childlike pastel tones.
For the holiday season the past 15 years, the Swan Coach House Gallery has decked its walls with “Little Things Mean a Lot,” an exhibition of mini masterpieces from some of Atlanta’s and North Georgia’s most prominent artists. As the name suggests, the paintings, drawings, photography, mixed media and sculpture at “Little Things” measure in inches instead of feet.
“We focus on smaller-scale works because they are more affordable,” says Marianne Lambert, the show’s curator. The idea is to make it easier for more people to own pieces by venerable locals such as Benjamin Jones, Sarah Emerson or Kojo Griffin as well as discover new artists who might otherwise have flown under their radar. To help achieve both goals, Lambert rotates the artists represented in “Little Things” every two to three years. As a work by each of the featured artists sells, another one by that artist will replace it.
This year, Lambert is particularly proud to have pieces by all three members of the Esslinger family, all of whom create what gallery manager Karen Tauches calls “contemporary outsider” art. Husband Mike Esslinger is recognized for large-scale metalwork featuring flowers, moons and stars; at “Little Things,” the miniaturized versions contain the same elements but serve as, say, a candleholder rather than garden art. His wife, Sarah Rakes, is recognized for her brightly colored paintings of flowers, birds and mountain landscapes. Daughter Amie Esslinger captures a more contemporary perspective, with intricate patterns painted in acrylic on paper and then glued together to create a layered piece that feels like it could burst from the wall if it weren’t framed behind glass.
Korean-born, Atlanta-based Jiha Moon is a favorite among gallerygoers. Her delicate lithographs capture the lines of classic Asian silk screens but include bright colors, amorphous shapes and cartoony elements alongside, say, a crane rising above tall grass. Her work at “Little Things” can transform from a framed piece to a folded paper box.
Another “Little Things” artist of note is Thomas Prochnow, whose metalwork can be seen in sculpture gardens and along the Beltline’s Westside Trail. His miniature items are made from rusty found objects — think pieces of old tools or other metal objects — that he comes across on his own property.
Indie Craft Experience — or ICE — is the relative new kid on the block, and this kid gets bigger every year. Started by local crafters Shannon Mulkey and Christy Petterson in 2005, ICE essentially supports the local craft, maker and vintage movement by hosting a number of weekend-long markets as well as classes and other events throughout the year.
The crowd at its signature ICE Holiday Shopping Spectacular skews toward the young and hip, but inside the venue, you’ll find everything from animal-inspired knit baby caps to handmade cards, soaps and regionally made foods. There are, of course, silk-screened shirts (some made on site with your choice of pattern ready to go), concert posters, scarves and jewelry that put the “indie” in Indie Craft Experience. Add to that the food trucks typically parked outside and the remarkably good eggnog often available for purchase inside, and you have yourself a regular holiday extravaganza. This year’s event takes place Nov. 22 and 23, and it has a $5 entry fee.
The group is teaming up with the High Museum on Dec. 12 and 13 to present Handmade at the High, which will feature more than 55 regional artists. And just in case you can’t make it to either special event, ICE also runs a holiday pop-up shop in Candler Park. Open this year through Dec. 24, it includes work by more than 60 artisans from around the country.