ARLINGTON, Va. -- Friendly visitors sometimes stop by plushie artist Beth Baldwin's first-floor, glass-walled studio to make small talk about the felted wool soft sculptures that she is making and selling while she is Artisphere's Artist In Residence. This is not always comfortable for Baldwin.
"I'm happy to talk to people when they come in. Mostly," she says. "But I get a lot of questions like 'Is this wool and do you felt it?' And I'm like 'Yes, I do. You know I do, ma'am.' I feel like a lot of the conversation is they want to make conversation and I don't know what to say sometimes. I try to smile and look clean. They just want to bond."
Baldwin, who lives on Capitol Hill, started making "little monsters" in 2007. Knitting projects aside, she's turned primarily to felted animals over the years, since she loves animals and customers love animal plushies. She sells her work at Eastern Market -- where she says she's "even meaner" than she is at Artisphere -- and Crafty Bastards, and was voted D.C.'s "Best Local Crafter" in 2009 and 2010 (she came in third in 2012).
She says she and Artisphere are still "figuring out" exactly what it means for her to be their Artist In Residence. They have time; the residency began on May 16 and goes through November 11. And in the meantime, she's there, ready for customers and visitors, for about 20 hours per week, coming in after her day job as arts coordinator for a group that works with disabled artists.
This first month has been productive; Baldwin's gone through "20 pounds of stuffing" since starting the residency. With so much space to work, she's also made a gigantic stuffed anteater, with ants on its tongue, on top of her usual open-armed squirrels, big-eyed owls and soft versions of Eastern Market.
She'll be offering plushie design workshops, too. Baldwin is pretty sure she told Artisphere in her application that she's "really not a good teacher," but she's still excited to show people "it's not so hard" to make adorable things. "Though I am happy when people buy my stuff," she says. (Prices range for about $35 for stuffed squirrels to about $75 for plushie Eastern Markets.)
One month in, and despite having to make some small talk, Baldwin says she's happy with how the residency is going.
"It's been so cool having a place to work and being able to do bigger things," she says. "Like a huge anteater."
That anteater is displayed just outside her studio, next to a sign asking visitors to take photos of themselves with the anteater and post them online. (Tweet them to Baldwin at @Tigerflight.)
"I'm just glad he's still there," Baldwin says. "Not that a three-foot anteater would be easy to walk away with."
Baldwin is always looking for more sweaters to work with, and has set up a collection bin outside her studio. If you do come to visit, don't bring too nice a sweater to donate and please don't mention that the sign on the bin says she's holding a "sweater drive."
"That makes it sound like I'm doing something benevolent. I'm not," she says. "If you want to give me sweaters that's fine. I'd prefer they be really moth-eaten. If someone gives me something really nice I'm going to donate it to Dress for Success."