Where Creativity and Community Come Together by Cheryl Silver
Where might you find a handmade tie, a wooden cutting board and a hand-beaded necklace that, at first glance, looks like flags, but, upon closer inspection, is really a laundry line of clothing, complete with underwear? If you’re looking for the perfect gift – and maybe you don’t even know what that means – you’re sure to find it at the Bizarre Bazaar. The annual event takes place from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at The Woodland in Maplewood on December 2.
Studio B, a non-profit organization based in Maplewood and South Orange, produces this hyper-local event, bringing together area artists to share their talents, their goods and their holiday cheer.
“It’s a celebration of creativity, and it’s made that much more exciting because so much of it is locally made,” says Marcy Thompson, Studio B Honcho and co-founder. (Thompson and fellow co-founder Jenny Turner Hall call themselves “honchos” instead of “directors” or “bosses” because, Thompson explains, “The world needs more women honchos.”)
Studio B developed the Bizarre Bazaar to offer an outlet for the work of local visual artists and crafters, allowing attendees to purchase great art in their own back yard.
“Your neighbor might have made an absolutely gorgeous quilt or a pair of earrings,” says Thompson. “That connection to place makes this event so special.”
Thompson estimates nearly 80 percent of the vendors call Maplewood or South Orange their home, with another 15 percent coming from nearby Essex County towns such as West Orange and Montclair. The remaining live in the greater New Jersey region.
Each year Studio B accepts 40 artists to showcase and sell their work at the Bizarre Bazaar. A panel of reviewers dedicated to the event painstakingly pores over the applications, striving to strike a balance between bringing back favorite artists year after year and making room for new ones.
“We’re really just trying to make as little space as possible between great work and those who appreciate great work,” says Thompson.
Elizabeth Sarkisian works with Studio B to recruit, select and coordinate the vendors. She’s been a vital member of the Bizarre Bazaar team since the event’s inception in 2013. “We take great care to make sure there is something for everyone,” she says. A successful bazaar, she explains, includes a well-rounded, unique group of sellers, in all genres and at all price points.
Kari Capone has been a repeat vendor for the last four years. She creates one-of-a-kind knitted and crocheted winter accessories using natural fibers, such as wool, alpaca, silk and cashmere. She says she knew she wanted to be a part of the action when she attended the first year of the bazaar as a shopper.
“All ‘my people’ attend the BB,” Capone says. “My target customers and my favorite friends and people overlap to create the BB attendees.”
Capone said she no longer participates in other fairs because the Bizarre Bazaar “is right here in my back yard! [It] is better curated, highly anticipated, and selective,” she says. “It’s basically nonstop sales. It’s the best sales day of my year.”
And, according to Turner Hall, everyone knows it’s a good time. “The bazaar is a highly-attended, well-curated event with a charming holiday atmosphere to boot,” she says.
The Bizarre Bazaar mascot contributes to that holiday cheer. Crafted by Thompson and Turner Hall, the Snowman is friendly, nondenominational, and willing to pose in pictures for $5 a shot.
“Our vendors pay for their tables, but we don’t take any percentage of their sales, and we don’t charge admission,” Thompson explains. “The event does cost us money to produce, so the Snowman was a great way to offset some expenses and make a visual aspect to the show.”
The Maplewood Office of Cultural Affairs, Fringe Salon and the Able Baker sponsor this year’s event, and both Able Baker and Cedar Ridge Bakery and Café will be selling food.
Thompson says the day is filled with amazing exchanges. “You get your photo taken with an adorable snowman,” she says. “You grab a coffee, or a delicious cookie from a local bakery. You meet the artist that made the thing that you fall in love with. You are directly supporting their work.”
And that’s what Studio B does – connects artists to audience and to each other.
Thompson and Turner Hall created Studio B in 2009 in response to what they saw as a void in spaces where musicians, actors, dancers, writers and filmmakers could find satisfaction in their work away from the chaos of the city. Each an artist in her own right, Thompson and Turner Hall hope Studio B brings these creatives together in interesting, multi-disciplinary ways.
With events like the Speakeasy Series (a vaudeville-style variety show) and Story Slam (a five-minute storytelling competition) as well as live, serialized podcasts, music performances and comedy shows, Studio B keeps area artists active and audiences entertained. Thompson credits Studio B’s success to the deep well of world-class performers in the area.
While audiences may see another Speakeasy or Story Slam this winter, for now Studio B’s main focus is the Bizarre Bazaar, which Thompson says has increased in attendance each year. In the recent past some artists have sold out of their pieces.
“In terms of holiday shopping, I’d say that it’s a hundred times better than going to the mall,” she says. “And a thousand times better than shopping online.”
Cheryl Silver is a mother of three, theater enthusiast and runner who previously worked as a journalist in central Illinois before moving with her family to South Orange in 2016.