Austin, Texas is a town full of artists and craftspeople and people with too much education and too much money not to patronize their work. The result is the perfect environment for a rich selection of art and craft events all year long, but especially at Christmas. The most famous of these are the Spring and Fall Pecan Street Festivals and the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, which draw hundreds of vendors from all over the country. But probably more interesting are the many small events which focus mostly on select local artists whose work is unique and quirky.
For the last several years one of the most interesting of these has been the Blue Genie Art Bazaar which is held at the Monarch Event Center, a converted movie theatre in the Lincoln Village Shopping Center in North Central Austin at the intersection of Highway 290 and IH-35. It's scheduled for the whole month of December and stays open late (9pm and then midnight Christmas week). The unusual name comes from the Blue Genie Art company which is the main sponsor, a company which does large-scale art installations for advertising and signage — giant chickens, vegetables, jackalopes, dinosaurs and the like which have graced local establishments like Jerry's Artarama, Atomic Tattoo, and Hyde Park Grill.
In the last few years I've found the Blue Genie Art Bazaar to be a a far more interesting alternative to more well known holiday markets. Their vendors are juried and selected for the quality of their work and also to make sure there is a nice variety of types of work for sale. They also seem to be selected with a particular attention to the graphic arts and printed works, and an eye for the bizarre which I find particularly appealing.
The selection of vendors this year was a little different from last year, though there was a similar mix of jewelry, crafts, printed works, and original art. Some of the standouts from previous years were still represented. One of the most notable was Rory Skagen and his selection of unusual toys, faux retro products, posters for ad campaigns and movies which never existed, and other oddities. Another standout was Chia Hats which has expanded on their collection of furry hats with ears to add some cute original clothing designs. Also back with their soft bats and mice and other handicrafts for kids was Alicia Traveria.
Among the new vendors, or at least ones I haven't seen before, were several excellent graphic artists. My wife was particularly impressed by some of the anthropomorphic animal prints from Abi Daniel and prints by Dana Younger, especially a series of vivid prints of irises. My daughter liked the fanciful art of Nathan Jensen. I was more impressed with some of the creative printing projects, including Michael Schliefke's alternative comic book Really White Vigilante, Kristen Hagen's even more alternative comic Dead Squirrel Girl, plus I rather like Browns Arm photos of classic signage (and their website is very cool) and was impressed with the creative printing techniques of Bearded Lady Printing. There was also a small section of original drawings and paintings by legendary Austin cartoonist Sam Hurt of Eyebeam fame.
As always, the coolest things to me are the creative things which artists here in the Southwest do with skulls and skeletons in the tradition of Mexican Calavera art and Jose Guadalupe Posada. In this area two booths really stood out. One was the colorful sculptural art of Cindy Raschke with its over-the-top variants on traditional themes. The other was the prints and cards and especially the extra-fun paper dolls from Leila Hijazi of Illustrated Ink, who finds some very clever ways to use Calavera images and fantasy themes. I particularly liked the Calavera mermaid and tentacular siren paper dolls. She gets a special thumbs up for using my Asrafel font on her signage.
There was lots more to see, but I can't begin to remember it all. Cool knitwear and futuristic clothing and all sorts of interesting jewelry and knick-knacks. If you're in Austin or anywhere near Austin you should take the time to spend a few hours wandering around the show. Bring the kids and snap photos of them riding the giant Jackalope. If you're not in Austin, give some of the many links provided here to find out more about the artists. Either way you'll be on the right track for some unique Christmas gifts.