Art in the Park a feast for the eyes
Men have been known to grumble upon receiving the predictable necktie for Father’s Day. So you can imagine the look on Elmer Kutila’s face last month when his wife, Peggy, walked through the door with 2,000 slightly used ties.
Elmer never batted an eye. That’s because Peggy Kutila has been making and selling wearable art from vintage neckties for a decade now. Her silk skirts, hatbands, belts and purses will be available at Art in the Park today and Sunday in Lincoln Park.
Kutila recalls the evening when she resolved to turn her compulsion for collecting men’s neckwear into a business.
“I had always collected ties because I just loved them,” she said. “One night I got them out of the closet and laid them all out on the bed. Then I got out a box of Franzia White Grenache — the good stuff.”
From there, the ideas just flowed. She named her business “Somewear in Time.”
Make no mistake, Kutila has an artist’s eye for color and pattern. And she has good business sense. She cuts most ties in half and makes multiple fashion accessories. Using the narrow end of a tie, she installs small Velcro fasteners to make a hatband. The detail that makes them special is the decorative rosettes made from — what else — ties. Customers don’t hesitate at the price of $14.
In all of the art fairs she has exhibited at during the past 10 years, Kutila has never encountered anyone else doing what she does. That’s part of the explanation for her success.
“I think I’ve done pretty well because it’s unique,” she said.
Kutila also is a natural at chatting up her customers. If she had $1 for every time a woman has asked her, “Where do you get all of those ties?” she wouldn’t have to make things out of ties any longer. But she has a pat answer.
“They belonged to all of my ex-husbands,” she shoots back. Actually, Kutila bought the 2,000 ties for $200 at an auction. And she has been married to Elmer for 35 years.
Alex Naredo and Rick Thomas of the tiny Park County town of Como also scout auctions for the silver-plated silverware that forms the basis of their business, “The Cat and the Fiddle.” And both have well-honed business backgrounds. They make wind chimes and mobiles from silverware and antique kitchen utensils. The classy old silver-plated forks and spoons are bent and curled into fanciful shapes that please the eye and ear.
Naredo was a bookkeeper, and Thomas was a food and beverage manager for Marriott in Hamilton, N.Y., when they began experimenting with their traditional fine art craft in 1992. After three years, they had gained the confidence to pursue their craft full time. Today, they travel to art fairs from Florida to California.
“We started very slowly and learned the quirks of the arts and crafts show business,” Naredo said.
Naredo and Thomas understand that people shopping for gifts are looking for an item priced between $25 and $75, and their work resides in that niche.
“You need to find something whimsical, different or unique,” Naredo said. “Something artistic, but affordable.”
Their display will stand out from the crowd in Lincoln Park this weekend.
Steve Benson of Aurora expresses his arts and crafts fair business experience rather succinctly.
“I can sum it up for you real quick. We’re virgins,” Benson said, causing his wife, Karen, to blush.
Today marks the first time Benson has attempted to sell his singular gifts made from two types of sporting goods equipment — golf clubs and skis.
“He began thinking of this idea three years ago,” Karen Benson said. “It took him two years to get motivated.”
Benson makes mirror frames and large picture frames from sets of old skis and poles. Many of them he paints, either in patriotic or wildflower designs. He also makes plant stands from golf clubs and balls.
Benson recently captured first place at crafts shows in Aurora and Denver. He decided it was time to go for it.
New to the business, the Bensons can’t accept credit cards. But they’ll accept checks and cash in increments of $50, $75, $150 and $275.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, photographer Bob Lienemann of Frisco has learned to display a mixture of the nature and landscape images that are in high demand with those that are most satisfying to him.
His booth is labeled “Moonlight Photography.” Lienemann has refined, through trial and error, the difficult art of using time exposures to capture star trails behind prominent natural landmarks.
“I know what they want, and I can deliver what they want,” he said. “But if that’s all I do, it doesn’t satisfy my soul,” he said.
During 20 years in the business, Lienemann says he has learned to constantly adapt.
“It’s a constant learning process,” he said. “Styles change, and technology changes. I don’t think anyone can remain static. Artists have to grow.”
On the pragmatic side, Lienemann has learned that to survive the gusts of winds produced by a microburst, the stakes of his display tent need to be weighted down with lengths of PVC pipe plugged with concrete and suspended from nylon ropes. Allowing your tent to blow into your neighbor’s artwork is a big no-no.
Farr W. Hansen of Salt Lake City has been coming to Art in the Park for many years to sell his dramatic birdhouses, which are complete with metal roofs.
A retired structural engineer, he makes money from his business, “Bird City,” but doesn’t depend on it for his entire living, and is in the business for more than money.
“It’s a great retirement,” he said. “I get to get out and see a lot of people. And it keeps me off the golf course.”
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