Art Fairs

Can art fairs make your kids more artsy?



A warm but not scorching, sunny, Saturday in June. Perfect for an art fair. In fact, it was just about right for everything. Case in point: two weekends ago Indianapolis hosted the MKNA Home Tour, the Gay Pride parade, the Talbot Street Art Fair, IMAF and the INDIEana Handicraft Exchange, all within a couple miles of each other. Indianapolis has gained so much momentum when it comes to "things to do and people to see" during its summer weekends. Our family had the pick of the litter and the winner was the Exchange.

The boys were engrossed with all the booths at the Exchange.
  • The boys were engrossed with all the booths at the Exchange.

This was my family's first visit to the Exchange. I know, I know. It's been going strong since 2007, so what's my excuse? It's a simple but lengthy equation:

Crowds + hands-on art + (kids - restraint) = angsty mother in need of high dose of Ibuprofen.

This year though, we headed on down to the Harrison Center for the Arts, boys cautioned to adhere to being a sort of family amoeba, while I threw down some preliminary Advil.

I have always loved art fairs, and I wanted my kids to love them, too. If you have spent much time with children though, you might know that some can be really turned off by large crowds and loud sounds or even louder music. It is complete sensory overload for them. My boys can be no different. I hoped that the distraction of more than 100 booths might divert them from the hustle and bustle, losing themselves in hands-on art rather than drowning in a crowd. The plan worked.

After easily finding free parking on the street, despite the Talbot Street Art Fair being just a couple of blocks away, we found our way to the booths lining the outside of the Harrison, along with the two stages featuring live bands and an assortment of good eats. (Duos being my favorite food artist.) And that was just the outside. Inside, the gym also held various booths and we could wander around the building where we found some of the studios open to the public.

Cameron Oehler of 1337 Motif creates geeky merchandise using woodworking skills.
  • Cameron Oehler of 1337 Motif creates geeky merchandise using woodworking skills.

It was manna from heaven for my boys. After all, what's better than stuff you can touch and then prod someone else into buying? Each and every vendor was completely kid-friendly, encouraging the boys to look at and pick up their work, engaging them in conversation and answering their questions. We saw lots of booths selling fabric clutches - not exactly my boys' style although one booth had the coolest monster purses (yes, purses that looked like plush monsters). Kitchy and cute in the way of hair clips and key rings - of which there were many - only go so far, but wooden pendants with a Mario or Pac-Man on either side?! Step aside!

Cameron Oehler, a local designer and woodworker, had the most amazing booth that appealed to all three of us. Oehler's business is called 1337 Motif. The term 1337 (pronounced leet) is especially geeky and originated from computer hacking culture. The booth was full of pretty geeky stuff that most every kid gets and appreciates. We spent some serious time in Oehler's space, admiring his cutting boards with Batman, Mario and Pac Man motifs made with woods like maple, pine, walnut, bloodwood and holly. The boys bought wooden key rings that Cameron happily converted into necklaces, and I found a handsome pair of dangling earrings. I think some interest in woodworking might be in our future, and I may have Cameron to thank.

It was exciting to be in one place where so many artists used traditional methods to make such innovative, irreverent goods. Some of my other favorites included Cincinnati's Keli Catalano of Colette Paperie who sold greeting cards. And while the she used giclee printing, her cards were anything but traditional in theme and message. Wouldn't you rather get a card like this if you were expecting than the run-of-the-mill silhouette of a pregnant woman looking peaceful and confident?!


Ben and Mel of 8-Bit Classics took their love of pixels and using perler beads (available at hobby stores like Michael's or online) crafted various characters starring in video games, comics and movies.

George and William may or may not become the artists that frequent art fairs or have etsy sites, but experiences like browsing art in such a sunny, vibrant and varied place might do the next best thing: encourage them to look beyond what art is deemed to be and celebrate art just where they see it.

These were our favorite purchases of the day.
  • These were our favorite purchases of the day.

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