Marge Gambow is walking testament to the beauty of American arts and crafts: She talks it, wears it, displays it … basically, lives it. Coming out to say hello from the historic brick multi-unit she occupies with her husband on a shady stretch of Evanston’s Michigan Avenue, Gambow sports a striped silk top by fiber-wearable artists Deborah Cross and Gordon Heinel, colorful bead and necklace from Evanston jeweler Valerie Hector and earrings by Christy Klug.
The hand she outstretches to take mine bears a large silver and natural stone ring by Terri Logan, striking and impossible to ignore. And upstairs, every table, mantle, bookcase and hutch are likewise tastefully adorned.
“Yes,” Gambow laughs when asked, “It’s all art I acquired over the years from the American Craft Exposition. Every year I can’t help but add more to the collection. My friends tease me, because I get stopped so often by people who want to know where I got this piece or that piece. It gives me a chance to talk about all of it—the artists, the exposition and the medical research at North Shore University Health System that the fair benefits. Three of my favorite things!”
Gambow’s knowledge and passion for arts, crafts, and philanthropy stem from a lifetime of art collection, and volunteering—the last 13 years for the American Craft Exposition. Happening this year September 15-17 at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, with a benefit preview kickoff on September 14, ACE is in its 33rd year. Launched at the pinnacle of craft fair explosion in the states, the exposition quickly differentiated itself from other fairs by setting the bar for jury-selected inclusion, very high—on par with the arts and crafts represented at the Smithsonian Craft Fair and the Philadelphia Craft Show.
Basketweavers, ceramicists, furniture makers, fiber artists, wood and metal sculptors, artists who work with mixed media, paper, glass—all of those participating in ACE—are highly sought after artisans, producing pieces that are valued collectibles.
But despite their fame, says Gambow, artists participating in the exposition are “incredibly accessible to visitors to the fair. They are so willing to talk about their medium and craft, to tell the stories that go into the design and creation of the art they produce.”
A muted mauve and green embossed leather floral purse by Michael & Michelle LaLonde, woven silk scarf by Randall Darwell and Brian Murphy, exquisite copper sculpture by Darlys Ewoldt, and coral-like gold-painted porcelain sculptural bowl by Jennifer McCurdy—one by one Gambow shows me the art in her collection, confessing that she’d love to add a wood piece this year.
“Ultimately the pieces you collect have some kind of resonance or personal connection that you make to your own life. Like these,” she smiles, setting out a row of whimsical bird brooches, “these are just a reminder to keep smiling. Aren’t they fun? These are the work of Lisa and Scott Cylinder—made of found objects and bits of old musical instruments.”
“And this,” she says, gently fingering a silver bracelet in her open palm, “was made by Terri Logan. She collected each of the natural stones from the Great Lakes. When I look at it, I’m right back on the shores of my childhood by Lake Erie.”
Likewise, Gambow has a personal connection to the philanthropic purpose of the event. “Before my mother-in-law died of ovarian cancer, I promised her I would do what I could to help fund research for the prevention of that disease,” Gambow explains. Since its inception, ACE has raised funds for medical research happening first at Evanston Hospital and then the NorthShore University Health System, “so all the monies raised stay right here in the Evanston research community,” she adds.
Initially, research funding was primarily focused on breast and ovarian cancer, but in recent years, the scope broadened to include other forms of medical research. This year’s proceeds will support research initiatives in pharmacogenomics at the Northshore Center for Personalized Medicine, and, orthopaedic regenerative medicine research at the North Shore Orthopaedic Institute.
For tickets to the benefit preview party Thursday, September 14 or to the exhibition and sale Friday through Sunday, September 15-17, call 224-364-7270 or visit americancraftexpo.org.