Pop-up shop offers out-of-the-box gift ideas

Art market provides non-commercial alternative to holiday shopping

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The holiday shopping season is officially here — the trifecta of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday providing the fanfare. If the cacophony of mass consumption is too loud, though, there are places of respite. 

At the Out of the Box Art Market, 133 S. Oak Park Ave., the gifts are all handmade — from ceramic coffee mugs to kaleidoscopes made of fused glass — and all have their own backstories. 

"My wife had taken some classes and I thought she did real well, so I bought her a pottery wheel for Christmas," said Oak Parker John Putnam, one of the organizers of the market, describing his entry into pottery roughly 15 years ago. "It was a kick wheel. You had to cut out the base of the plywood. I was cutting out the base and she puts her head in the door and says, 'You know I'm not going to touch that.' So I finished cutting it out, put it together and I started throwing pottery," 

Putnam's stoneware and porcelain pots are among the wares on display at the market. He also brought along bottles of the raw honey he grows on land he owns in Westville, Indiana. 

Putnam, 71, is among at least a dozen vendors whose work is on display at the pop-up holiday market on weekends until Christmas. Putnam said that the vendors are members of the Out of the Box arts group, which has been holding pop-up markets for at least a decade. Putnam said he and his wife have been organizing the Oak Park pop-up art market for the last "two or three years." 

"About 80 percent of the artists in the group do this show year after year," Putnam said. "We have three potters from Terra Incognito [a pottery studio in Oak Park], we have photography, we have a lady who does cork art and her daughter does iconic Chicago scenes on tiles, and we have a lady who does fused art jewelry." 

Jessica Kreis, 26, makes ceramics she characterizes as "the opposite of traditional, really funky and out there," such as her feet cups ("cups that are standing on feet, some of them are simple cups on feet, some have curves, a lot have little butts on them"). 

Kreis, who also lives in Oak Park, said while she distributes in stores, most of her work is sold at the Out of the Box market — a platform that reflects her artistic philosophy.

"I make things that I would enjoy and that I like and other things that people suggest, but really my goal is to be out of the box," Kreis said. "I like to go beyond expectations. I don't want to sell mass products, but things that people will easily recognize as mine. I just like doing weird, fun and funky things. So a lot of my characters are from popular TV shows and movies." 

Donna Zommer, 76, makes the cork art, which she sells at the market beside her daughter, 55-year-old Denise Riesen, a photographer who makes gift items like coasters, ornaments and memo holders using her photography. 

"My husband tells me everything I see I cork," Zommer said. "I enjoy doing it and I enjoy making things that make people smile." 

Zommer gets her cork from customers who don't know what to do with their wine corks and welcome the prospect of them becoming "little cork people" or "Santa and reindeer." Zommer, who lives in Bartlett, said she has even corked a whole table. 

Riesen, of Schaumburg, said she's had fun selling her wares beside her mom and is a big proponent of artisan industry.  

"I'm a very big advocate of small business and handmade," she said. "I managed a handmade gallery space for 11 years. We had about 100 locally based artists and we've kind of become one big community, so we're always trying to promote small business and the arts." 

The Out of the Box Art Market, 133 S. Oak Park Ave. in Oak Park, is open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., until Christmas. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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