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November 19, 2018

A Handmade Tale

With PBS, a gallerist puts artisans in the spotlight.

Maria Neuman
  • Weaver Kay Sekimachi at the loom in Visionaries

    Carol Sauvion
  • Carol Sauvion

    Richard O. Stahl
  • Silversmith Randy Stromsoe spinning at the lathe in California

    Denise Kang

In Hollywood you often hear about actors who become directors or reality stars who segue to serious acting.

Gallery owner Carol Sauvion expanded her career to include producing and directing.

Since 1980, Sauvion has operated Freehand, a West Hollywood, California, haven for American craftspeople and artists. After years of sharing her love of the handmade on a local level, she set about creating a series, Craft in America, and like all good things, it took some time.

"The idea came to me in 1996, when I took my son Noah on a cross-country road trip to visit the people whose work I had been selling in my store," recalls Sauvion, a Philadelphia native who arrived in Los Angeles in 1977. "When we got home I said to myself, 'Why is this under the radar? These people are smart, talented and dedicated; more people should know about them.'"

Since its debut on PBS in 2007, Craft in America has generally aired two episodes a year, but reruns are frequent and full episodes are available on The series, which won a Peabody Award in its first year, highlights the history and culture of all things handmade — by blacksmith, beadworker and beyond.

The show's latest installments, California and Visionaries, will debut December 21.

While it took 11 years from idea to air, the road was still fairly smooth, thanks to Sauvion's loyal clientele. "I first approached Coby [Jacoba] Atlas, who was a v.p. at PBS at that time, as well as a customer, with my treatment and she thought it was a great idea," Sauvion says. Atlas took the project to PBS and shepherded it to its premiere; she remains an advisor on the series.

Craft in America was funded through a challenge grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — and generous private donations.

"I remember going to my mailbox one December and there was a check from one of my customers with a note that read, 'Why wait till I pass away?'" says Sauvion, whose Craft in America nonprofit organization presents rotating exhibitions of artists and conducts outreach with local schools. "Raising the money is what makes everything take such a long time."

Since the second episode, Sauvion — who shares executive-producing duties with Patricia Bischetti — has also been in and out of the director's chair.

"From the beginning I knew what I wanted, and I often had a previous relationship with the artist we were featuring," she says. However, you'll still find her inside her beloved retail spot most weekends. "Everything that has happened is directly related to Freehand. It is all about the love of the handmade."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 11, 2018

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