Byline: BRANDY HILBOLDT ALLPORT, Times-Union home and garden editor
Here's the thing about rubber stamp enthusiasts: If you offer classes, they will come. Mark it down. In ink.
Paula Amari knows this. For nine years, she has owned Old Town Crafts in the historic district of St. Marys, Ga. Her cottage-cum-shop is filled with everything a rubber stamper could want -- paint, embossing powder, glitter, polymer clay, beads, handmade paper, pens, instructional videos and books, workshop schedules, magazines, stamps, ink and more, more, more.
The packed store serves as operational headquarters for Creative Palette 2004, a rubber stamp and accessories convention, scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 15. More than 60 vendors and teachers from everywhere in the United States will offer more than 90 workshops. A sampling of class topics reflects how varied artistic projects involving stamps can be: Faux Ivory Amulet, Photo Holders, Heart Pin, Chinese Brush Paintings, and Clay and Stained Glass Pendant.
"I hit 1,000 signups last week," Amari said. "That means we can expect about 3,000 people."
Class fees range from $3 to $95, and most fall into the $25 to $65 range. Workshops are held inside bed and breakfasts, shops, churches and other locations in the historic district. With the help of Carole DeGuire, who works with her in the store, Amari makes all arrangements, which includes everything from sending out 3,000 e-mails and setting up tables at the site of the seminars to booking reservations.
"It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun," DeGuire said. "We started planning this year's event during last year's convention, but since the end of January, it's been non-stop. It's so exciting. The phone is ringing constantly. Supplies are arriving, reservations are coming in from the West Coast, New England, Jacksonville, you name it."
This is the second year of Creative Palette. Amari organized the first convention last year, calling vendors and suppliers to ask if they would come to St. Marys to teach and sell wares. With a few dozen experts committed, Amari put ads in several rubber stamp and craft magazines. Then she strolled down the streets near her shop spreading the word to bed-and-breakfast owners and restaurateurs that rubber stampers were coming.
"They were like, 'OK, OK,' " Amari said. "Then, they were blown away; 1,500 people showed up."
By the second day of the event, CNN had posted an announcement on its bottom-of-the-screen crawl about the new craft convention. The St. Marys tourism board and mayor lauded Amari for her organization of the event. Business owners showed their appreciation with huge bouquets of flowers and baskets of fruit and other goodies.
"You should see them [the stampers] with their little wheeled carts and their lists of supplies they want to buy from certain vendors. This is a real top-notch event," Mary Neff said. She and her husband, Mike, own Spencer House Historic Inn, a bed and breakfast on Osborne Street.
This year, in preparation for Creative Palette II, restaurant owners extended their hours. And they're offering bagged lunches to conventioneers hurrying from one class to another. Amari and DeGuire maintain a Web site, www.oldtowncrafts.com, that allows people to sign up for classes and includes information about lunch specials, lodging, local attractions and more.
"Paula [Amari] nailed it last year, and the buzz went out over the Internet," said Roberta Altshuler, who owns ERA Graphics, a stamp company in Placerville, Calif. …