When is a spoon more than just a spoon?
March 16, 2014 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some art-world advice and/or a gimmick for selling beautiful handmade spoons at extremely high prices.

My dad is making these absolutely beautiful wooden kitchen spoons. They're unique and he makes them because he enjoys making them. People on Facebook love the photos of them. Right now they sell for $10-50 each because he had a friend who put some in her shop. He wants to send them to me and have me sell them for him. The spoons are usually the size you use for stirring in a pan and he can tell me what woods he is using. He uses found wood. There are probably 50-100 spoons at the moment. He's happy to do left-handed spoons, tines, etc. upon request.

I'm in Santa Fe and someone was saying that some art around here goes for $50k. I met a guy who made wood art a few years ago and sold it for thousands apiece in San Francisco. I'm imagining getting to this point takes some combination of luck and skill.

I don't have money to spend on this project but I do have some time at the moment. I am willing to call and email lots of places, take good photos, set up a basic website, etc. I wouldn't expect anything to happen overnight.

I know I can go around to stores in my area (Portland, OR) and get the spoons in the shops. Or I could put them some place like Etsy. But what I'd like to be able to do is sell these spoons for hundreds or thousands of dollars. How can I do that? What search term should I be using to find art galleries that show spoons and similar? Are there particular places I should inquire?

Some brainstorm thoughts I've had:
- Make a website called "the thousand dollar spoon" or something similar
- Figure out some way to tie the spoons into a statement about food. But what?
- Maybe a lot of the money could go to a cause or causes (nonprofits - food, minimum wages, living wages, fsc, etc.? fund building a similarly amazing studio building?)
- Ask Metafilter
posted by aniola to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Search on "Welsh love spoons".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:37 PM on March 16, 2014

Best answer: This guy does some over-the-top non-functional spoons. Perhaps you could contact him or just skulk around to piece together how he made it big.
posted by DrGail at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Build a relationship with the best gallery you can get into locally and then tap into that to get into other towns. This means hitting the street with samples and talking to lots of people to get recommendations for the right kind of gallery and for people who won't screw you over so tap into your friends-of-friends network.

Also, making spoons out of found wood- make sure he's explicit about whether they are food safe or not, my friends' dad poisoned the hell out of himself working with some exotic hardwood that was misidentified by the broker because it was scrap pieces. Like- hospital, some permanent damage poisoned himself.
posted by fshgrl at 8:12 PM on March 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in Santa Fe and someone was saying that some art around here goes for $50k.

Well, yes; my parents used to run a gallery in Santa Fe and occasionally sold paintings in that range. But -- and I am not being critical here, just descriptive -- they weren't arts & crafts objects made by hobbyists, but rather works by artists who'd been working professionally for decades and whose work was in major collections around the world. In other words, they could sell at 50k because there was an established clientele within the market who would buy their work at 50k. There's a measure of luck and skill to any art career, sure, but most of it really comes down to tons of hard work on the part of both artist and gallerist. (And, as an aside, the payment for any artwork that is sold in a gallery is split -- usually 50/50 -- between the artist and the dealer, since it's the dealer who markets, sells, and ships the work, pays the overhead for gallery space and labor, etc.)

What I'm saying is that the fact that there is artwork that goes for 50k in Santa Fe doesn't really say anything about what your dad's work should go for. (There's work that sells for hundreds of thousands and even millions in New York or L.A. or London, but that doesn't mean anyone in those cities can price their work in that range.) It's not about picking a price arbitrarily and figuring out a gimmick to "get" people to pay it. I mean, you might be able to do that a few times, but (IMO) that's unlikely to build a real clientele for your dad.

My advice would be to do some research into galleries that show similar types of work. When you find a few that seem like they might sync up with what your dad is doing, send a polite inquiry to see if they are taking on new artists, and if so, what their guidelines are for submitting work for consideration for representation. Once someone's interested, then you can talk about setting prices.
posted by scody at 8:36 PM on March 16, 2014 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Be famous in the first place. Spoon hand-made by Daniel Day Lewis=zillions. spoon hand-made by nice guy= $15.00.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:56 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another option might be to try to get the spoons picked up by a boutique-y chain. Anthropologie does this; I once rented from the library a short series that followed around their head buyer... if you can find it, I suspect you'd find it interesting.

For awhile Anthro had hand carved driftwood+ceramic spoons that they'd come across online. The maker has an Etsy shop, but I can't remember if that's where they found her.

There must be other places that do this too.

As someone who went to Art School, has a BFA, and have worked in a gallery... everything scody says times a million.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:07 PM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You have to find the community of people who make, buy, and sell things similar to what your dad makes, where the prices are hundreds or thousands of dollars.

I don't know if that community exists for wooden spoons. It sure exists for knives, though. There's a whole world of hand made knives that sell for thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. But the point is its a community, there are collectors, there are known masters whose work is coveted. Do that for spoons.
posted by alms at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Italy, people in the biz (and fanatical laymen) wear fancy spoons around their necks for sampling balsamic vinegars (the really fancy expensive stuff). If your spoons fit their needs (dimension, etc), that'd be a dynamite market to explore. Small-ish, but they'd pay.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:21 PM on March 16, 2014

Response by poster: Looks like balsamic tasting spoons need to be porcelain or silver. I guess the wood flavor might interfere with the flavor the casks give the vinegar.
posted by aniola at 10:46 PM on March 16, 2014

Response by poster: But I was excited about that!
posted by aniola at 10:47 PM on March 16, 2014

Response by poster: http://ljfceramics.com/artwork/2872143_Porcelain_driftwood_spoons.html these are the ceramic/driftwood spoons that got mentioned (for reference).
posted by aniola at 10:51 PM on March 16, 2014

Best answer: I'm imagining getting to this pointed it takes some combination of luck and skill.

Yeah respectfully this takes years and those prices are an investment not just for funsies. People who do this, it's a career and only a very few make it. Essentially you're saying "brad pitt got twenty mill to be in that movie, my dad only got a couple of hungie to be in the local repertory, he can act just as well as brad, so he's gonna start asking for that much".

My sister is a working, serious, artist who has won prizes internationally, and she would tell you that the worst thing a serious artist can do is put their prices up too high, too fast. Because you can't go back if you do. People who spend serious money on art expect, reasonably or not, that it will always be worth more. Also they tend to collect pieces by the same artist over years (and not for use in cooking if it's ceramics etc). If they buy a piece for eight hundred one year, and then a year later see a similar piece by the same artist for four hundred, they will be pissed, and they will not buy any more, and you lose a client and that's a big deal cause you lose enough and you will lose your gallery, too.

Taking it slow, one small gallery at a time, with appropriate increases in pricing is the road to success. Selling art is the worst get rich quick scheme ever. It truly is a career when you are talking serious money. How long does it take him to make a spoon? Etsy might be better. Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 12:06 AM on March 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Another avenue: market to food stylists and related magazines. A friend's stuff took off after one of her works appeared as set dressing in a photo accompanying an article in Martha Stewart's Living magazine. But first you need a website or at least an Etsy page to showcase the spoons.
posted by carmicha at 4:50 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look into 'fine arts & crafts' and 'folk art', both categories that your dad's work might fall into.

I'd like to echo the sentiment above that prices for art aren't as arbitrary as they might seem; you can't just pick a super high number and trick people into paying them. You need to sell something that people find attractive and exclusive - prices are set based on a blend of supply and demand.
posted by Kololo at 8:14 AM on March 17, 2014

Response by poster: No need to echo further. It was helpful information and I'm clear on that aspect.

More market ideas are definitely still welcome.
posted by aniola at 9:25 AM on March 17, 2014

Response by poster: I would love to see more advice around what alms suggests.
posted by aniola at 9:37 AM on March 17, 2014

Best answer: Here's an example of a handcrafted knife artisan. A quick skim of the site showed knives ranging in price for $450 to $2,500. There is a link to upcoming shows he'll be attending.

The thing that stands out to me about these knives is their utter attention to quality, detail, and uniqueness. Each one took hours (days, weeks, months?) to make. Each one is, literally, finely honed. The audience of makers and collectors understand this and value it. I've never held a knife like this in my hand, but I can imagine what it would feel like.

Now, it's clear that the knife community is its own thing. There's not going to a wooden spoon show next door to the knife show, with lots of crossover in between. But the question to me is whether there is a community of people who appreciate hand made wooden objects with this level of intensity.

Another thought that comes up: maybe your father could partner with a knife maker and produce custom handles, sheaths, or cases for their knives.
posted by alms at 11:09 AM on March 17, 2014

In case you were wondering, $10 to $50 is about what handmade wooden spoons go for in Santa Fe too. There is some art for very high prices in Santa Fe, but most of the art sold there costs far less.
posted by yohko at 3:29 AM on March 18, 2014

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