Profiles

Making a Living- The Artists of Eastern Market

Eastern Market. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

Eastern Market. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

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On weekends, outside its gorgeous Victorian building, Eastern Market is buzzing with activity. Hipsters, tourists, Capitol Hill residents and young families all stroll the grounds, many bringing dogs and children in tow. Eastern Market is the heart of Capitol Hill, and as such, it is essential to the community.
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Like the rest of DC, Eastern Market has taken on various adaptations since the late 1800s, and just like the city, it has managed to not only survive, but to thrive. Along with it, vendors have formed a community of their own, offering not only produce and flea market bric-a-brac, but also original artwork.
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Though there are many to choose from depending on the weekend, I spoke with four artists, three of whom have been pillars of the market for over a decade. They all have in common that the art they sell is designed and created by them, and that they make a living from their artwork.
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Donna Boozer ([email protected], website in progress) started writing poetry when her daughter was born, and, in the process of looking for a way to “package” her writing, discovered bookbinding. Curiously, her two-decade career at Eastern Market began when she showed a small collection of these hand-bound books to the market’s then-manager. In turn, he showed her the space where she was to set up, and by noon that day, she had sold out.
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Through this mix of serendipity, vision, ingenuity and natural skill, Boozer has been able to build a livelihood from the works she sells at the market, which currently focus on handmade paper collages. Her bold colors and abstracted figurative shapes are reminiscent of Jacob Lawrence, yet diverge through her chosen medium of textured paper, and through her lighthearted themes. Boozer explains that inspiration comes from “her head,” often as a clever play on words. “Checkered Past,” for instance, depicts the back of a male figure wearing a checkered coat, just as “Colored People” shows abstract figures whose bodies and heads come in all colors of the rainbow.
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"Colored People" by Donna Boozer. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

“Colored People” by Donna Boozer. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

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Reflecting on her co-vendors, Boozer often refers to them as her “extended family,” which is not surprising after two decades of seeing many of the same people. Wishing for more variety and more handmade offerings, Boozer nevertheless appreciates the community aspect, the ability to meet lots of new people, and the affordability of being a vendor at Eastern Market.
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Jamie Langhoff (www.seeinginfabric.etsy.com) also cites the benefits of community support. However, she refers specifically to the community of newcomer vendors who, like her, have only been around for about a year. Langhoff’s work is a type of collage, too, though she uses recycled fabrics to create cityscapes with visual depth and graphical perspective. She does this so well that she has to have signs in her booth stating that “these are not paintings.”
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A former philosophy student at University of New Hampshire, Langhoff studied art through various channels, including her high school art curriculum, a few college courses which she deemed too traditional to nurture her, and, interestingly, through listening to instructions while working as a figure model at the university. She taught herself to work with fabric, first by creating appliqués for clothing. But these clothes were difficult to market, and not very satisfying to make.
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"Reconnecting to the Umbilicus." Photo Courtesy of Jamie Langhoff.

“Reconnecting to the Umbilicus.” Photo Courtesy of Jamie Langhoff.

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Instead, two years ago, she began making the fiber works she refers to as “wall hangings,” using only fabric from vintage or second-hand clothing, and from quilting scraps. She enjoys finding the right colors and patterns to cut out and assemble in such a way that they create the illusion of depth. “Painting is too messy,” so she opted for this technique instead. Jamie draws her inspiration from the mundane objects often found adorning architecture and landscapes, such as electrical wires and satellite dishes, finding “bizarre beauty in things we don’t notice.”
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Architecture is a central theme in Thomas Bucci’s (www.thomasbucci.com) work as well, in fact, he is a former architect. For the last 17 years, however, he has been a full-time artist at Eastern Market. “Most people know me as a watercolorist. I actually have worked in oil, printmaking (monotypes), pencil drawings, sculpture and furniture design.” In contrast to the other artists I spoke to, Bucci has an undergraduate degree in fine art, though he refers to himself as “the ordinary person’s artist, not really connected to the highbrow world of art.” He explains that a big benefit to selling at Eastern Market is the ability to cut out gallery owners and curators while working directly with his clients.
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"Union Station Loggia." Photo Courtesy of Thomas Bucci.

“Union Station Loggia.” Photo Courtesy of Thomas Bucci.

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Bucci’s striking watercolors and intricate pen and ink architectural studies are visually complex, yet easily accessible to the public. He uses a lot of local imagery, but does so in novel ways, using interesting angles and cropping views. When asked what inspires him, he is quick to respond, “Architecture! Cities. Specifically the social aspect if cities, how cities are the built embodiment of society.” How appropriate for a city like Washington, DC.
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Joel Traylor’s (www.joeltraylor.com) scenes of Washington DC are iconic in their character, yet full of color and vibrancy. That said, Traylor’s subject matter can vary quite a bit; cats and butterflies are fair game, with mainly “the spirit of curiosity” as his inspiration. A self-taught painter, he was originally destined to become an author and going to college as an English literature major. “When words failed to adequately express my feelings I started making art virtually overnight. That was in 1996.” Four years later, Traylor set up at Eastern Market and made it his full-time gig.
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"Cat Pose." Photo Courtesy of Joel Traylor.

“Cat Pose.” Photo Courtesy of Joel Traylor.

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Being at Eastern Market can bring challenges, including lost sales and inclement weather. According to Traylor, the big fire of 2007 turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Though it brought a tremendous amount of hardship to the vendors during the restoration it ultimately led to better organization, better pedestrian accessibility, and ultimately, better sales.
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Traylor loves the community aspect of Eastern Market, but what he finds most rewarding is the satisfaction he gets from being in charge of the entire process: “It takes a lot of fortitude to show up, create a gallery in what was an empty spot, fill the gallery with things made by my own mind and hands, be a sales person, and then, at the end of the day, make it all disappear. I am the CEO, the janitor, and everything in between.”
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You can find these four, and other great artists at Eastern Market on Saturday, 7am – 6pm and Sunday, 9am – 5pm (check with the artists if you are trying to see them specifically, as their days and times can vary).

For more information on the market, go to www.easternmarket-dc.org.

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Zofie Lang
Authored by: Zofie Lang

Born in Poland and raised in Germany, Zofie Lang came to the United States in 1998 to study psychology at UMBC in Baltimore. An unexpected 8-month-exile in Germany in the year 2000 became a calling to create art. Immediately following the completion of her bachelor’s of psychology in late 2002, she pursued an art education at Towson University, Baltimore Clayworks, and at The Art League. For five years she operated her own ceramic studio, Zofie Lang Ceramics, creating functional and sculptural work. She also studied interior design at MICA and exhibition design at The Corcoran, and spent six years working in the interior design field. Since 2012 she is once again active in the visual art realm, creating mixed media work based on psychological undercurrents in fairy tales and superstitions. She is also teaching a class at Sitar Arts Center on Narrative Collage, and is a co-founder of Catalyst Projects, a new arts venture with a mission to present the DC arts community to the world beyond the DMV.