This year the South County Art Association will finally get a chance to mark its 50th annual holiday art sale, even if it took another year to do it.
Executive Director Kathleen Carland told The Independent this week that she’s happy to throw open the doors again to the public, have the works of more than 90 artists on display and give shoppers the opportunity to get creative and one-of-a-kind gifts again.
“Our upcoming 50th Anniversary Holiday Pottery and Art sale proves once again that original art is always in style, tax free in Rhode Island, supports artists and doesn’t depend on the supply chain,” Carland said with a laugh about this year’s show.
“We have the best stock ever because they’ve been making them for two years,” she added. The event runs from Nov. 26 to Dec. 19 at the association’s studios in Kingston.
SCAA’s annual Pottery and Art holiday sale, a local tradition for the Kingston gallery held for three weeks gives shoppers opportunities to buy hand-crafted pottery, mugs, bowls, teapots, sculptures, paintings, jewelry, ornaments and other goods on their holiday shopping lists while supporting local artists and other artists from around the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic last year put this sale on hold as well as an actual celebration of the event’s half-century birthday because of a variety of pandemic-related restrictions that stopped people from gathering.
How It Began
The reason for the sale focused on the association needing money. As a non-profit, which it still is today, the SCAA relied on membership dues, donations and an occasional grant.
The costs of running the association were beginning to exceed its revenue. Potters, who 50 years ago made up the majority of the association’s members, met to see how they could help.
They agreed to hold a sale with a portion of the profits going to the association and the rest to the artists, including John Cardin, a potter and original member who helped to start the event.
Potters were able to market their work and the association gained some needed funds. Advertising was simple, just some signs along Route 138 in Kingstown and word-of-mouth from fans of the association, said Paula Guida, association member, Who researched the history of this event.
Tom Ladd, an artist whose work has been on display for several years, reflected on the beginnings in Guida’s detailed research.
“Tom remembered how crazy-busy the sale was in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. In those years, the sale was limited to just three days and folks were anxious for its opening. The line to get into the building ran down the sidewalk, with customers waiting patiently for their opportunity to get in,” she said.
Former board member Susan Shaw noted in the history how the event went from a few days to a few weeks.
While on the association board of directors, she concluded that it didn’t make sense to do all of the challenging work of setting up the sale for just a 2 or 3 day event.
So about 30 years ago, a time frame not exact in the Guida’s history, the association decided to start the sale on Black Friday and continue it for three weeks. It provided the community a greater opportunity to attend the sale with many repeat visits by customers, a factor that helped to drive up sales and revenue.
This Year’s Sale
The sale this year at the association’s headquarters and studios, 2587 Kingstown Road in Kingston, will feature more than 90 artists from around the state, Carland said.
On Dec. 9, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the association will also sponsor a special meet-and-greet with many of the artists. More details can be found at on the association’s website at southcountyart.org
Again this year products will range from everyday household items such as bowls, mugs, teapots and platters to more creative sculptures, jewelry, wood carvings and other art pieces, according to Carland.
The large and ever-changing quantity makes every shopping experience at the sale unique, she added. “Everything is one-of-a-kind,” said Carland. She said that Nov. 26, so-called “Black Friday,” and that weekend is the association’s busiest time for the sale.
Carland says the planning and preparing for it is a year-long process, with a committee beginning to organize the event nearly 12 months before it actually happens.
All of the artists who participate do so voluntarily, taking on such tasks as decorating and setting up the sale to selling their own pieces.
In 2019 — the last time the show was held — Lynn Moulton was committee chairperson. The sale first brought her into the SCAA when she came to the area several years ago.
“I joined the South County Art Association,” she told The Independent two years ago, “to participate in the sale because I was new to being an artist who sells and a friend of mine said this is a really good opportunity.”
“It’s sort of low pressure but it’s a great community of supportive artists, so I joined the association, which was kind of a win-win for me because I joined this association of great artists and learned a lot from them,” Moulton said.
She called her first sale a good commercial experience and one that inspired her to take on a bigger role within the organization.
This year, due to continuing COVID-19 concerns and with colder weather sending more people indoors, only about 35 people will be allowed indoors at one time, she added.
Masks are required for the unvaccinated and others should wear them if they feel more comfortable when being indoors around others without them, she added.
Carland said that the 50 years that this event has occurred is a testimony to its popularity and Rhode Islanders enduring interest in locally-made crafts, which are the showcase pieces sold.
It’s a sentiment that was best explained many years ago by Jean Cotton, an another association member.
“It’s like the best kept secret down here. It’s like a jewel,” she said. “Once you start coming, it’s addictive. It’s easy to get hooked.”