Unique holiday gifts at the DIY Trunk Show

By HermineBloom

With the holiday season and Chicago’s imminent cold weather quickly approaching, those who traveled to the DIY Trunk Show on Nov. 21 held at Pulaski Park Auditorium, 1419 W. Blackhawk St., bought gifts of the cutesy, handmade variety that are sure to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings.

The items ranged from trinkets, household items, jewelry and clothes that are both unique and actually more affordable than your average department store find amidst the current economic climate, said artist Steve Shay, who participated in the show for the third year in a row.

Shay, 39, graduated from Purdue University with formal training in graphic design, which ultimately led him to experiment with mixed-media art in 2005—something between art and graphic design, he said.

The results are some imitated, roughed-up El signs with a vintage feel, paintings that include photography and pen strokes and collages that incorporate vintage comic book drawings on wood blocks with painting techniques.

Shay, who owns his own design company in Chicago by the name of iCrossing, said instead of stealing the El signs throughout the city, which were bolted so nicely, he decided to recreate them. After his friends at work showed support for his craftwork, he began to immerse himself in the do-it-yourself community, running booths at shows like the DIY Trunk Show, among others.

Only three years later, the traffic at these types of craft markets seems to be consistently great in Chicago, he said.

“I hear people coming back and saying, ‘I gave this as a gift and I had the coolest gift at the party,’” Shay said. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who sells that hears that. There’s personal pride in their gift-giving skills.”

The nice weather seems to be a factor when it comes to the traffic at these events because, as Shay explained, the crafters are always at the whim of the weather—whether it’s too gloomy to get out of bed or too nice out to be inside looking at crafts.

This year, Marsha Spaniel, an eclectic crafter and a second-year DIY Trunk Show seller, said the crowd in 2007 was one-fourth the size it was on Nov. 21.

Spaniel owns an online shop at Etsy.com, a reputable online handmade marketplace, named Spinal Fusion, named after the scoliosis surgery she received in 2007, but she said she’s been crafting for close to 35 years now.

“In the ’70s, I didn’t have a lot of money, so I had to learn how to sew and make different things,” Spaniel said. “I was doing a lot of recycling then. It was out of necessity. And I’ve always been fascinated by handmade things. My neighbor’s mom made cakes and different things and would sew aprons, and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.”

Now, she lives in a Christian community on the North Side of the city and has taken the advice of her eldest daughter, who introduced her to the Chicago DIY scene and encouraged her to participate in events such as the DIY Trunk Show. She incorporates vintage beads, found objects, fibers and even nuts and bolts that her husband, who’s a carpenter, helps her to find.

Everything from goth, skull and cross bones, cameo rings, necklaces and even barrettes with skulls on them counteract the Chicago-themed pins she sells that are shaped in a heart with each neighborhood on the front.

“I like to be able to offer a lot of things to people instead of one cute theme or one goth theme,” Spaniel said. “It’s really a lot more fun that way.”

Although Spaniel greatly appreciates the warm and friendly atmosphere at the handmade craft markets, such as DIY Trunk Show and Renegade Handmade, all rooted in Chicago, she doesn’t necessarily believe that Chicago has a central hub for crafters like cities such as Austin or Portland do.

Second-year DIY Trunk Show seller Laura Berger, on the other hand, always find that these types of events in Chicago serve as a really supportive community where all of the crafters are encouraging, which leads to buying each other’s work and making trades.

Berger, who originally attended University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue an acting career, also has a more self-developed skill set when it comes to her Japanese, Kawaii pop-influenced, creature-themed illustrations.

After working with everything from costume design to producing renderings and scenic art in college, Berger moved to Chicago and began to focus primarily

on illustrations.

Selling her work on Etsy provided Berger with an audience, which motivated her to continue to take her art seriously and participate in craft fairs like the DIY Trunk Show.

“It’s such a solo profession to be an artist and an illustrator because you’re always by yourself in the studio working,” Berger said. “It’s not a lot of social interaction, which I really enjoy. Doing the show is great to meet people

and network.”

Chicago-based shops such as Paper Boy, 1351 W. Belmont Ave., Hazel, 1902 W. Montrose Ave. and Grind Cafe, 4613 N. Lincoln Ave., sell Berger’s work, but her work can be found in little, artistic shops around the country and in Canada as well.

Mod and retro pattern work as well as Kawaii, or Japanese cute culture, have influenced Berger’s artwork consisting of fantastical creatures sometimes accompanied by little positive messages she’s written like “everything’s going to be alright.”

“They’re things that I need to see so I think that other people need to see it too,” Berger said.

She said people often compare her work to Mangas, or Japanese print cartoons, but she doesn’t directly look to that form for influence.

Instead, she said her style is constantly changing, even just a little bit as she finds what’s speaking to her at the moment.

For Steve Shay’s work visit CitizenShay.com. For Marsha Spaniel’s work visit Etsy.com/Shop/SpinalFusion. For Laura Berger’s work visit, Etsy.com/Shop/LauraGeorge.