Would you have been shocked or embarrassed while visiting this weekend’s Erotic Arts & Crafts fair at the Gladstone Hotel? The subject matter alone sets it apart from, say, a Christmas craft sale or a school fundraiser. But depending on your level of comfort with open discussion (or depiction) of sexuality, no, in general you likely wouldn’t have been shocked.
In fact, you’d probably have been delighted. Sexuality can and should be entertaining as well as pleasurable, whether that entertainment means feather nipple pasties or anatomically correct sock monkeys. When you have displays of everything from erotically embroidered handkerchiefs to thongs knitted from balloons to glass-blown cocks — well, you get the drift. You want vibrating underwear? It’s there. Explicit photography? You’ll find it. Literature? Yep. Chains? Oh yes. But only small ones.
“Wait — just a minute!” you interrupt. “Did you say ‘glass-blown cocks’??”
Yes indeedy. But don’t worry, they’re not meant to be used as dildos. (She says, shuddering.) They are definitely art pieces. When Catherine Hibbits heard about this fair, she decided to experiment and apply her glass-blowing talents to erotic art. She enjoyed showing visitors how the process evolved from more clunky, less detailed earlier pieces to later works that were not only creatively detailed but quite beautiful.
But since this was a new type of project for Hibbits, she faced a new problem. “I didn’t even know what you should charge for a blown cock!” she laughed mischievously. “I mean — it’s already blown!”
“Yes,” I agreed, “so I suppose there should be an automatic discount.”
What? You know some jokes are simply inevitable in this situation.
People’s crafts were displayed in several areas on the hotel’s second floor: a central room branched into two hallways lined with display tables, while a few rooms opened off the hallways. These could only contain three or four displays, but that created an intimate atmosphere that accommodated both the asking of questions or silent, meditative viewing.
The sock monkeys, made by Nicole Dawkins (whose business is called “Dirty Knitty Things”), began simply. The prototype was a cute gift for her boyfriend, but when friends liked it so much, she created more. Every time she makes a monkey, some new idea occurs to her, like using magnets in a two-monkey set, to hold certain body parts together. So every creation is unique.
Other enterprises at this fair began equally accidentally. The artist whose business name is “Boldax,” who embroiders erotic handkerchiefs, was a pregnant woman on maternity leave, with draining sinuses. And the handkerchiefs she had were boring. And she knew how to embroider, and so…
So she posted some photos online, just to get help with stitches, when suddenly the website BoingBoing took notice. Soon people were calling for interviews, or emailing to ask how to buy the handkerchiefs.
Margaret Saliba (of “Exotic Knitwear”) may not have begun her craft accidentally like Nicole or “Boldax,” but her specialty is just as quirky: she knits unused balloons into thongs. Yes, balloons. And yes, thongs that you wear.
But odd as this sounds, they are remarkably soft. Margaret treats them with special lubricant to make them durable and wearable, and customizes them for each client’s measurements. She acquires balloons from all over the world, in a multitude of colours. Her samples from Europe were almost satiny, coming in soft pearl colours we never see in North America. Apart from the thongs — I wanted those European balloons!
Do you sense an underlying theme? This was an erotic arts & crafts fair, certainly, but the actual craft involved in these artists’ work was just as important as the use to which their pieces might be put.
Two other artists were perfect examples: Arlen Gruszczynski (whose business is “All Dressed”) designs custom-made corsets. A trained costume designer, she has worked in commercials, animated projects, and fashion. But looking through her record of other projects, I was delighted to see photos of a wedding party whose members were costumed as super heroes! An awful lot of training and experience lies behind Arlen’s current work, making her corsets stunningly beautiful.
At the same table, the artist known as Lola By Design enthusiastically explained her glass-blowing method when creating her small, exquisite pendants. While she doesn’t concentrate exclusively on erotic art, the pendants she brought with her were both attractive and marvelously suggestive, consisting of small pearls or beads nestled within a voluptuously curved envelope of glass.
I wondered, exploring each display, if maybe the more hard core items were left behind and the fair toned down for public consumption. But on the other hand, in the fetish or sex toy world, really “hard core items” would be categorized more as “manufactured” than “crafted.” So they might not belong in a crafts fair with vagina pillows and hand-twisted rope.
What shone through all the exhibits was that artistry and creativity bring joy, variety, and pleasure into every area of life. And sexuality, being so vital, benefits magnificently from being treated to this playfulness, rather than always having to be a sombre, weighty matter.