A new type of crafting and artistry has become popular recently, and as a hub of creativity, Bloomington has a wealth of makers and opportunities to build and buy hand-crafted works.
By Erica Sagon
Bloomington has happily grown into a hub for indie, handmade goods — think along the lines of a quirky cross-stitch or a little crochet cactus for a window sill or a monster-shaped pillow.
But this isn’t just a place to find handmade goods for sale. Bloomington is also home to the artisans themselves, known as “makers” — independent artists whose work often falls somewhere in between fine arts and crafting. Shops, markets, festivals and collaborative work spaces allow the maker culture to flourish here.
The best-known spot to scoop up indie goods is Gather :handmade shoppe & Co:, inside Fountain Square Mall on the south side of the downtown square, with a fine-tuned mix of contemporary handmade pieces that have a modern, functional edge, mostly from the Midwest. Inside is the stuff of Etsy dreams, but in a brick-and-mortar shop. You’ll find a mix of merchandise from a cute illustration of Indiana to handmade soaps to pretty pottery, as well as other home decor, jewelry, wall art, toys, apparel and gifts, with a good dose of Indiana and Bloomington specific items.
Gather :handmade shoppe & Co
“You can take a little bit of Bloomington home with you, and find something you can’t get anywhere else,” says Talia Halliday, owner of Gather. “We’re a little bit different than other [cities]. I don’t like to use the words 'hip' or 'trendy,' but we have our finger on the pulse of what is 'right now.'”
Halliday opened Gather a few years ago after testing the waters with a pop-up shop. Gather is known for its monthly craft nights and bi-monthly “crafternoons.” “The makers in Bloomington really love our town,” says Halliday. “We really love our community, and we’re really active in our community.” Halliday is an artist herself who runs Conduit Press, crafting blank journals from recycled paper, reclaimed leather and found objects, and also hollowed-out hardbound books for storing various items.
Meanwhile, co-working spaces like Artisan Alley and Bloominglabs add a manufacturing and technology spin to the makers scene, and regularly open up to the public. Bloominglabs is a maker space where members and guests can meet up monthly to share tools and ideas, and socialize with other makers. There isn’t a certain type of “product” they build; it’s all about the creative process of making. They also produce the annual Makevention event, where attendees can see demonstrations, try their hand at making, and purchase items from makers.
Makers can also be found working out of places like the I Fell building downtown at 4th and Rogers. Bloomington preservationist Cynthia Brubaker restored a historic car dealership from the 1920s and turned it into a collaborative workspace that houses artists, including jewelers and painters. I Fell has 14 spots for artists to rent, plus a communal co-make space and two galleries that are open to the public on First Fridays, which allows enterprising artists and makers to sell their pieces. “It’s key to have art that people find accessible, in terms of looking at it and being able to own it, too,” says Brubaker, who is a watercolor artist.
Regular festivals and markets in Bloomington give shoppers even more variety from local and regional makers. Makevention is one, held in August at the Monroe Convention Center. Another is the Bloomington Handmade Market, a biannual indie craft show, started in 2009 to give makers a new kind of place to sell their work. Their goods — say, a cross stitch with a curse word — wouldn’t exactly fit in at a typical art show. The market now happens twice a year: once in the spring and again the second Saturday of November. The November market at the Monroe Convention Center is the larger of the two, with 70+ vendors and 4,000+ shoppers. Halliday, of Gather, was a vendor from the start and now is an organizer. “Much like the farm to table movement, the Handmade Market introduces people to the people who make their things,” Halliday says. “It’s even better to meet the artist and shake their hand and really know that you’re supporting someone.”