In Sacramento, crafty entrepreneurs collaborate to raise the profile of the artisanal scene
During her first, freezing winter in Michigan, Mindy Jovanovic needed a hobby. So she started pouring soy wax creations, partly to pass the time and partly because she’d “spent too much money on candles.”
“I didn’t have any friends, and it was really cold, and I couldn’t go outside to find anything to do,” she said. “And when I moved back [to Sacramento], I was like, ’I’ve been doing it for long enough that I can start selling these.’”
Under the brand Peace, Love, and Soy Wax (a cleaner, longer-lasting alternative to paraffin), she wove herself into Sacramento’s tight artisan community, selling her candles at craft fairs and the Midtown Farmers Market alongside local muralist Jake Castro, who said he sells wallets and jewelry as a “side hustle.”
But Jovanovic strove for a bigger scene. So in 2015 she co-founded the River City Marketplace, a roving pop-up series that will start April 1 at Fremont Park, then migrate to Southside Park (April 30), McKinley Park (June 24) and Tahoe Park (September 23) before returning to Fremont on October 14. Inspired by visits to the French Market in New Orleans and Brooklyn Flea in New York, she figured Sacramento’s own, signature artisan market could help its art scene congeal.
“When you have all these creatives coming out and representing the city, it really creates its own culture,” she said.
Her craft fair isn’t the first of its kind in Sacramento, but it’s the largest, with more than 100 vetted vendors planning to show up at each event this year. These markets act as a meeting ground for makers to swap business tips and sell their handmade goods, though the indifference of passersby can take some getting used to.
“When you start making stuff and put it out, you’re very possessive of it,” said Omonivie Okhade, owner of the jewelry company tula in bloom. “Like, I love my things. And I love you. And if you hate my things, then I hate myself. It’s very personal. But the more [markets] you get into, the more you can step back and look at it objectively.”
In between fairs, artisans have informal potlucks to socialize, collaborate and exchange their wares with each other. Jovanovic said that she’s traded so many candles for earrings that she doesn’t “need to buy another pair for the rest of [her] life.”
As a like-minded community that meets every so often, there’s a “summer camp friends” bond among them, as artist and furniture designer Trent Dean puts it. Collaboration trumps competition because the local marketplace still has enough space for everyone, and most share the common goal of bolstering Sacramento’s relatively lethargic art scene—a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats sort of thing.
Dean started making furniture when he needed a coat rack but didn’t want to buy one. After garnering compliments and making a few more for friends, he decided to pursue furniture-making full-time. So he joined the Hacker Lab (1715 I Street), a DIY co-working space with tools for artists, techies and makers. Now, he teaches the same welding class in which he first learned his skills.
“I couldn’t do what I do without the Hacker Lab, unless I decided to go $400,000 into debt,” he said. “All the skills that I learned here I pass along to new members.”
Dean hasn’t yet sold at the River City Marketplace, but he visits to network and check out the arrangements of other vendors. He appreciates these events because they give artisans control over the presentation of their wares with minimal overhead and direct connections to the customers. It puts personality back into goods that can seem sourceless in the big-box era.
Okhade feels similarly about her pieces. She got into crafting after an unsatisfying stint in health care management, when she chafed at her restricted ability to express herself in the workplace. Now she loves when her creations resonate with her buyers’ personalities.
“Sometimes, it takes my breath away,” she said. “If it’s perfect for them, it’s like, ’Oh my god. This is meant for you. This is who you are. I’m so happy to coordinate this reunion.’”
Still, selling handmade goods in Sacramento can be challenging. Trisha Rhomberg knows. After moving here in 2001, she’s started multiple fashion lines (some pieces ended up on the teen soap-drama The OC) and launched the currently shuttered cafe-and-shop Bows and Arrows as well as the vintage boutique Old Gold in the WAL Public Market.
As a developing destination, Sacramento lacks the density of New York or San Francisco. That, combined with the city’s diversity, renders making a profitable product that appeals to all niches borderline impossible, Rhomberg said. She tries to stand out by designing pieces that are made by local artisans—including ceramicists, apothecaries and seamstresses—then making these goods exclusive to her store.
She also runs Makers Mart, a part of the R Street Block Party on June 24 this year, for which she carefully selects about 40 to 50 vendors. Despite Sacramento’s comparatively small size in the crafting world, many participants, including Dean, have told her it’s the best sale day they’ve had because of her meticulous curation.
“When you put something that’s rad next to something that’s just okay, then it makes the thing that’s rad look bad, and it’s not going to sell,” Rhomberg said. “We have a lot of really talented makers here; the hardest part is matching the maker with their market.”
But she hopes the success of events like Art Street and the Art Hotel will translate. Both events showcased the works of the muralist Castro, who sells at local and Bay Area craft fairs to supplement his fine-arts commission money. He hopes the sunny markets on R Street and in Sacramento’s parks will help the city’s arts-and-crafts scene to grow beyond the walls of abandoned warehouses and hotels.
“We’re all entrepreneurs and struggling as it is,” Castro said. “But once we get this nice following, it really helps us to stay at it. If you want the art to stay, you have to support it.”