The 6 Things I learned Organizing a Holiday Craft Boutique

1. A little holly goes a long way to deck the halls.

some found Christmas ornaments made 5-year old discarded centerpieces into something new. That's right Martha, watch out. There's a new kid in town.

My task: create a joyous, festive backdrop for a local artisan craft boutique. My operating budget: microscopic. My best friends: the dollar store and our building’s basement.

After a morning of rummaging through ghosts of openings and Christmases past, my assistants and I took $10 worth of dollar store ribbons and transformed discarded gala centerpieces from 5 years ago into brand-new ornamented decorations. A few bows, a wreath, a string of lights, and a bippidy, boppedy, boo were all it took to transform a white-walled gallery was instantly a winter wonderland.

2. There’s no crying at the holiday boutique.

At 11AM the morning of our opening, I was still rolling on the final coat of paint over freshly-patched walls. My artists were strolling in, looking for tables that still needed to be built (yes, BUILT) and the floor needed vacuuming. My team of 3.5 had been working round the clock for 4 days straight, de-installing our New York Times reviewed exhibition, finishing paperwork, and turning over the gallery. Had I been a different girl, this might have been the point when I sat on the floor, cried, and screamed “I don’t want to play anymore!”

A sample of the hand made goods we had

But as I helped the designers and painters unload, I couldn’t help but smile.

“Are you in the union?”

“Head of the teamsters! Would you like some mulled cider?”

3. Being a gracious/fun-loving hostess gets you free stuff.

A mini-holiday-themed-top hat + Sequins galore + A sense of humor made up my daily uniform at the craft fair. Before long, I was a walking mannequin for all my vendors, donning everything from a tailored red silk blouse to silver bracelets to knitted hats and scarves.

a little flare and a sense of humor gets you free stuff.

“You need some sparkle,” one of my jewelers proclaimed as she handed me a pair of crystal earrings to wear and keep. How could I say no?

4. A watched pot of mulling cider never simmers. An unattended pot of mulling cider, on the other hand, leaves you with a cinnamon-scented gooey mess.

I thought it was a good idea to pass out hot mulled cider to shoppers. It was a good idea…until one of my assistants called in sick, leaving me short-staffed on our busiest day.

A lot of cider was mulled that day… but not a shopper saw a mug.

5. Just because you have a degree in economics from an Ivy League University and a talent for shopping doesn’t mean you know shit about working in retail.

None of this prepared me for working in retail.

Adam Smith never taught me how to do basic book keeping. Neither did Maynard Keynes. And getting an A in Calculus 4 doesn’t make you an accountant and while I know how to swipe a credit card, don’t ask me how to work a cash register.

Luckily, I’m a quick study…

6. Never put Mistletoe over the cash register.

‘Nuff said.

nuff said
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The True Confessions of a Young Gallerist

The front page of this weekend’s NY Time’s Sunday Styles featured an article called “The Young Gallerists.” The piece by Laura M. Holson highlighted a handful of young, ambitious go-getters who are making waves in the contemporary art world as they run their own galleries and curate shows of marked significance.

Clearly, I was out of town when she called.

Behind every gallery opening is a mess a young gallery director needs to clean up

Ms. Holson’s article points to the economic uncertainty of ventures in the art world, but focuses on the glamor of exhibition openings. Behind the glamor is a gritty story of a gallery director, a drill, and a large bottle of advil.

“ADAM! HELP!” I screamed as the 8 foot ladder under my feet began to tip.

Before my assistant could swoop to my rescue, I made a Lara Croft style dive for the lighting track, letting the freed can and blub crash to the ground.

I was in the midst of installing my gallery’s fall exhibition – a show of large-scale contemporary sculptures – and my near death experience while adjusting the gallery lights was just another almost catastrophe in a week ripe with artwork-induced calamities.

Before my assistant could rescue me, I made a Lara Croft-style dive for the lighting track. I sense a new cult video game: The Young Gallerists

In the wee hours of the previous night, I offered to serve as the human vice for an artist while she sawed the head off a bolt. The saw only slipped twice, and unfazed, I watched the corner of my recently manicured index-fingernail shoot off. Luckily, the artist stopped before we had a chance to see if my new health insurance covered partial amputations.

“How thick is the plywood behind the plaster?” another artist asked as we tapped on one of the gallery walls, trying to decide if there was enough internal support for his work.

I shrugged and hoped for the best.

I inherited the gallery walls... I found out some of them were concrete the hard way.

After all, I inherited my gallery walls, I didn’t build them. I have no idea what they’re made of. As far as I was concerned, there was only one to find out: Drill, baby, drill.

When the anchor for his florescent resin tree branch began to tear a stripe through the plaster, we figured the plywood wasn’t the ¾” thick we had hoped for.

I pulled out the patching putty and we resumed tapping.

“Do you have a stud-finder?”

“I assume you don’t mean my Friday-night wingwoman?”

Apparently, a stud-finder is a small contraption that you run over a wall to find an upright post in the framework of a wall.

The exhibition will open. The wine will pour. The charm will ooze. And then... the gallerist collapses.

I count the number of causalities amassed during the installation – my fingernail, my olive-toned crepe silk pants, half an artwork, one intern – and consider what still needs to be done. Wall labels need to be mounted. Price-lists need to be finalized. Exhibition brochures need to be picked up from the printer. Wine needs to be purchased.

There are only 2 days left till the opening. The clock is ticking.

On opening night, I’ll be made-up and bedazzled in vintage couture. The wine will pour. The charm will ooze. And then, like I’ve done every day since the loan agreements came in, I’ll collapse into bed, hoping my eyeliner will still look fresh when I go back into work the next morning to start all over again.

I Don’t Own a Suit, or What in God’s Name am I Going to Wear to My Interview?

Going to the Opera? Come on, challenge me! There's a dress for that.

For only the second time in my life, I don’t know what to wear. What to don on a first date? No problem — got a top that hugs (and plunges) in all the right places. Gallery opening? Come on! Challenge me. Opera? There’s a dress for that. Job interview? Umm… (cue Jeopardy countdown music).

I probably should have asked for a suit for Christmas.

Every morning at 6:30AM, my mother would get ready for work. Hot rollers, St. John’s suits, and Farragamo pumps. I hated the St. John’s suits. Woolly, itchy, boxy garments that I associated with the things that took my mother away from me. Suits made you overweight. Suits made you come home at midnight and travel on weekends. Suits made you late to the talent show. I swore I’d never ever, ever own a suit.

20 years later, and I’ve stuck to the promise I made to myself. No suits. Plenty of dress pants, a cadre of jackets, but none designed to be worn together.

Is the Kate Spade dress with the color-blocking trim too much whimsy for a corporate marketing gig?

Which brings me to my dilemma. I have several interviews scheduled over the next two weeks and Nina Garcia says a “chic, modern take on the classic suit” is the way to go for  interviews. Eeeeek! I’ve never been at a loss when it comes to getting dressed, but given what my wardrobe surely lacks, what in god’s name am I wearing to meet prospective bosses?

The jobs I’ve gotten callbacks for are in a variety of fields — the art world, the corporate world, the non-profit sector — and the question I have to ask myself as I prepare for each meeting is: what version of “me” do I want to present?

Obviously, the goal of each outfit is to come off as professional, but is there more room for whimsy in an art job than in a corporate marketing job? Or would a marketing firm prefer someone with a bit of flair? Is the Kate Spade knit dress with the Mickey Mouse-esque buttons and red accents appropriate for an interview with a PR company? Should I stick to pants and a jacket? Can I wear pants without a jacket? How high a heel is too high? It’s winter still — do I wear the understated wine-colored coat or the show-stopping Diane Von Furstenberg green-gray-black mottled cashmere coat? Do I bring a handbag or a brief case? Which handbag — are navy and silver sequins too much?

My mother voted I wear the outfit on the left to my interview. Fashionista Nina Garcia, the one on the right. I chose a hybrid.

In some ways, I’ve shot myself in my farragamo-clad foot by making deciding what to wear to an interview more nerve-wracking than the interview itself. I know what I’ve done in the workforce, I know my education, I know my career goals, but gosh darn it, I don’t know if “individual,” “fashionable,” and “professional” can coexist in one outfit.

If you walked into my bedroom right now, you’d think they had just finished filming “Twister” in there. After an hour of trying-on and re-trying on, I finally settled on an ensemble. Since I have three interviews left this week and can’t get to the stores before the weekend, I just have to believe individual, fashionable and professional exist in the form of brown high-waist pants (a la Katherine Hepburn) and a tweed motorcycle jacket.

The pants and jacket only narrowly defeated the magenta bra and black tuxedo pants my mother suggested I wear when she saw me standing at the top of the stairs in a panic.

“That looks good. Why don’t you just go with that.”

“Mom, I’m not auditioning to be one of Madonna’s back-up dancers.”

I’m not entirely convinced she was joking, but if by next week none of these interviews have turned into offers, magenta bra and black tuxedo pants it is.

Love Letters Lost

His name was Simone Volpini and we met on a blistering August night in Paris.

The penultimate city of romance - Paris - an Italian architect and the promise of letters exchanged. It was too good to be true

I was dining in an over-sized bistro sandwiched between the tall, blond, brown-eyed Italian Simone and a handsome gay couple who had spent the day at the Musee D’Orsay. The couple and I quickly dove into conversation after one of the men compared my full pink cheeks and white skin to a Renoir — it was the only time I felt compelled to like and discuss Renoir. After they paid their check and bid me bonsoir, Simone asked me if I was American.

Simone was from Rome and was the only son of an Italian architect. He drove a white Vespa and was studying to take over his father’s business. He spoke little French and equally minimal English. I read Latin but spoke no Italian. We giggled through a conversation of muddled pig-romance-languages while we sipped our coffee. He called me his American Beauty and walked me out into the street to help me find a taxi. As I slipped into the car, he handed me a piece of paper.

“You will write me. Your letters will teach me English. I will teach you Italian, and then you will come stay with me in Rome.” A kiss on the cheek and we were both off into the Paris night.

Back home in the states, I wrote Simone a letter. His handwriting was atypical for an architect — messy and non-linear — and I could barely decipher the address. His letter was returned to sender.

Alas, I would not get to play the part of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

The sole letter I've received from a friend, celebrating our graduation from college 4 years ago. I still have it.

It had been years since I had thought about the love letter exchanges that never were, but then a chat with a guy I’d met early last week reminded me why I found the idea of a pen-pal romance so appealing.

“You’re working very hard to get me to go out with you,” I typed in the text box of gchat after having received a handful of flirty texts and emails over the course of the week.

“There’s nothing hard about sending you a text message or an email. I sent them on my way to lunch.”

Clearly, he wasn’t a smooth operator, but Chad had made a very good point: sending a one-line message while you’re working on other things is not very hard.

In the age of texting and sexting, we’ve come to expect constant and instantaneous messages of love (or lust). On the one hand, there’s something extremely romantic about receiving, at any time of the day, a note that lets you know your beloved is thinking of you. On the other, one wonders if this communication blitz doesn’t lack of bit of sincerity. If it’s so easy to key in an “I think I’m in love w u”  when you’re on the go, then do you really mean it? Texts don’t necessarily demonstrate commitment… sometimes I wonder if they might even be a sign of over-commitment.

Writing letters are hard. They require time and thought. They lack that benefit of instant on-screen editing and spell-check — your flaws are more evident. And it seems that sitting down with pen and paper is something we only do these days when we’re taking notes, that is, if we haven’t forsaken a legal pad in the name of an ipad. It was not so long ago that a letter, composed with pen and ink, was our primary means of communicating from afar.  We’re out of the habit of letter writing.

Call me old-fashioned but “Ever thine, ever mine, ever ours” reads so much better when it’s scrawled on paper.

I kept the letter I wrote to Simone and every time I travel to Rome, I stuff it in my backpack. It wasn’t a love letter, but just in case I run into a tall blond architect riding around the Coliseum on a white Vespa, I’d like him to know I didn’t take the easy way out.

The Progress of Love? The Stages Stay the Same, It’s the Content that Gets the Update

45 minutes after meeting each other, they were off in the corner of the lounge lip-locked. A few days later, text messages inquires attempted to arrange a proper date — neither had the time and the exchanges ceased. A week passed and she awoke to a Facebook friend request, a miracle considering she never game him her last name. As she clicked “accept,” it occurred to her that they might have done things totally out of order…

Back when I was a bright-eyed student enrolled in Art History 101, I was given an assignment to write a short paper on a painting housed in New York’s Frick Collection. I settled on a series of 18th century baroque panels by the French artist Jean-Honore Fragonard entitled “The Progress of Love.” Floral-ridden and chocolate-box-esque, the 4 tableaux track love from its uncertain beginnings to a happy ending. Beginning with “The Pursuit”  the artist takes us through “The Meeting,” “The Lover Crowned,” and “Love Letters.”

It’s been a long time since I thought about these paintings, but as I compared dating notes with a few girl friends who recently acquired/deactivated boyfriends, I decided the scenes set among the frilly, baroque gardens of earthly delights needed a 21st century make over…

The Pursuit (the attempt at seduction):

She's out with her girl friends, but that doesn't stop him from making his approach.

In Fragonard’s day, when masquerade balls were probably the 18th century’s closest approximation of OkCupid, The Pursuit really only happened in the flesh. Today, technology grants us endless ways to approach (stalk?) our future lovers, but at the end of the day, we still prefer a good chase in the real world…

Much Like Fragonard’s leading lady, today’s heroine is out with her girl friends when He makes his approach. He catches her off guard — the last thing she had on her mind tonight was getting lucky. He nonchalantly slips in next to her at the bar and leads with a corny pickup line because he figures  it’ll make her laugh.  It does. The usual questions are asked and answered. He offers to buy her a refill. She accepts. There’s an occasional arm touch or shoulder tap. Her friends drag her away – they have places to go! She won’t give out her number. But shouts back her name, spelling it out for him. If you want to find me, you’ll find me, she tells him. Lucky for him, he has a good memory. He tracks her down on Facebook. A friend request. Accepted.

She’s out again with her friends, a drink down the hatch when they convince her to message him and find out what he’s doing that night. The doors are wide open. Messages fly back and forth for the next few days. He’s busy. She’s busy. He’s busy. She’s busy. Radio silence. A week passes, then finally he tries again. They agree to a proper date…

The Meeting (the moonlit assignation)

The Moonlit assignation, or the First Date

First dates don’t happen on weekends anymore. Weekends are reserved for real friends. Weekends allow you to behave out of character. Weekends have consequences.

They agree to meet on Tuesday night, after work, for drinks and dinner. She has a 9AM meeting Wednesday morning with a big client — the perfect built-in out for when things start to go rough. He’s decided she’s worth impressing and takes her some place upscale but understated. By now, they’ve both forgotten what the other person actually looks like in real life, and are surprised to find they’re attracted to each other.

He’s nervous and spills her drink. The ice is broken, literally and figuratively, and the subsequent conversation is lively. Before they know it, the maitre d’hotel is kicking them out — it’s closing time. He wants to kiss her. She’s sorry it’s a Tuesday, hugs him instead (what restraint!) and they agree to meet again.

Love Letters (the continuation of a happy union)

after the meeting comes the love letters... or love texts

In Fragonard’s series, this actually comes last — the happy couple send letters to reinforce their eternal love for one another. Today, I’m not sure how many people exchange handwritten love letters any more. However, the exchange of love notes in 2010/11 take on many forms, thanks to BBM and text messages. Fingers shoot across miniature keyboards in rapid-fire, concise exchanges. “Wanna come over?” “what r u wearing”  “;)” NC-17 camera phone images strengthen the lust, while the occasional “i miss u” or “dinner 2nite?” tug at the heart strings.

The Lover Crowned (they finally get it on)

When she was 18, her mother gave her a copy of “The Rules.” Recently, she’d been watching “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Both advocate waiting until a relationship turns monogamous before sleeping with the guy. She always felt this approach got her into more trouble than it was worth, but she’s been trying to stick with it. They’re a few weeks into things and out to dinner when he asks her if she’d like to join him at his sister’s wedding next week. Gulp!

“So..um…what’s up with us?” she asks, knowing that she’s about the meet his whole extended family. Is she “a friend” or “the girlfriend?”

The verdict? She’s the girlfriend…

They go back to his place. Clothes fly off — in the morning, there’s shirts in the kitchen, pants in the living rooms and trails of random garments hanging off the furniture. Thank goodness it’s a Sunday morning.

Finally, she gets to close the book on The Rules.

Next stop? The Swing?

Fragonard's "The Swing"... I don't think this one needs an update 😉