VINALHAVEN — When Stephanie Crossman’s great-grandmother-in-law, Gram J, taught her traditional island netting over 30 years ago, Crossman was a stay-at-home mom. She thought she could use these skills to make a little extra income by making bait bags and selling them to local lobstermen. Never did she imagine that Gram J was starting her on a path that would lead her to crafting at the national level.
Crossman, 55, and her netted sculptures have been accepted into the Smithsonian Craft Show, April 25-28, in Washington D.C., touted as the premier arts and crafts show in the nation.
Crossman makes three-dimensional netted sculptures using traditional fish netting techniques. Her sculptures, primarily reflecting local flora and fauna, cross a divide between craft and art.
She began with a jellyfish and has since sculpted all manner of sea life as well as flowers and birds.
“I started taking my cues from nature,” Crossman said, and from the colors of thread she already has.
“I had pink thread, so I thought a lady slipper would be good,” she said.
Likewise, she had a light green variegated thread that inspired a Luna moth.
Crossman’s studio is filled with her creations: sea urchins, sea stars, sand dollars, lobsters, June bugs, a Chickadee, a Gold Finch.
“I could make a different bird every year,” she said.
When she first began “netting” her creatures, Crossman wasn’t sure what to do with the sculptures. Then she thought, “Oh, I could put these in a box.” Now all of her sculptures are framed in shadow boxes and hung like art. When she makes dragon flies, she leaves a pin in the fly, as a real fly might appear in a natural history museum.
Crossman had known about the Smithsonian show for years, but “a national show was out of my scope until now,” she said. Hitherto, she had been selling utilitarian netted shopping bags and purses at shows around Maine and New England.
“This past summer a friend said ‘you’re ready for a national show,'” she said. It took that friend’s encouragement, and the development of her sculptures, for her to decide it was time to give it a shot.
Applicants to the Smithsonian Craft Show are asked to submit five photographs of their work, a description of their process and an artist’s statement.
According to Crossman, applicants are judged heavily on their photos. The Smithsonian Women’s Committee sponsors the show. Members look for traditional crafts taken to another level. Of 1,200-1,500 applicants , only 121 are accepted.
Because Crossman’s work has never been featured in a national show before, she has no idea what to expect.
“I usually go into a show with low expectations,” she said. “I try to be positive and hope something good will come out of it. I don’t know what that is. There are no guarantees.”
However, she did say she is hoping galleries will be interested in selling her work as a result of the exposure.
She would like to do more national shows, she said, “if doing national shows keeps me relevant and out there and able to stay home more.” However, she also is cautious, as more national shows translate into higher travel expenses and overhead costs.
Besides, “I don’t want to cut off all of my local ties,” she said. “It is a Maine craft.”
To see more of Crossman’s work, visit www.stephaniecrossman.com. For more information on the Smithsonian Craft Show, visit www.smithsoniancraftshow.com.