By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Nov 17, 2007 at 5:22 AM
Forget the holiday shopping rat race. You jockey to get the last parking spot at some big box store. You scrimmage over the last size-small cashmere sweater on the rack in red. You fight with your own pocket book when one of your kids wants the 16 GB iPod Touch, and you know you can't get it for him without getting it for the other one, too.

It's exhausting, but you do it. You have to -- no one wants to be the family member that skipped out on gifts this year. The good news is, the shopping doesn't have to be as bad as you remember it. There can be hundreds of cool, creative, one-of-a kind gift ideas in one place. There can be free swag bags. There can be glasses of wine.

The fully stocked bar isn't the single most appealing thing you'll find at Art vs. Craft this year, but, let's face it, it certainly helps.

Round seven of Milwaukee's independent craft fair is three weeks away -- Saturday, Dec. 8 -- and it's nestled into in a new location at the Scotish Rite Masonic Center, 790 N. Van Buren St.

Fair founder Faythe Levine, who also co-owns and operates Paper Boat Gallery & Boutique in Bay View, has selected 75 D.I.Y. vendors from Milwaukee and across the country to showcase some of the best in handmade items.

"(Our) vendors are a young, new-breed of emerging artists, crafters and designers representing the New Wave of Craft sweeping the nation," says Levine, who is working on a documentary and book about the rise of D.I.Y. art, craft and design called "Handmade Nation." The money raised from this year's gift-wrapping table support the film, which should be out in 2009.

Per usual, Art vs. Craft serves up a mighty fine selection of traditional handiwork with a modern twist, including textiles, toys, paintings, pottery and photography. There is truly something for everyone.

"We support our local talent, as well as many out-of-state vendors who have never shown work in Milwaukee," says Levine. "The combination of local and national participants sets Art vs. Craft apart from other local shows. Shoppers can spend freely with a clear conscious knowing their money is going directly into the pockets of the creators."

Here's just a few reasons to scope out the ever-eclectic show:

Dwellephant  -- Anyone remember Dwellephant's adorable little birdhouses from the last Art vs. Craft? Word on the street has it that they'll be back, this time with little painted wooden eggs. You'll also find a savvy selection of affordable, framable drawings and paintings that, as always, give new meaning to the words "sickeningly cute."

Ex Libris Anonymous  -- Jacob Deatherage is bringing his recycled journals all the way from Portland, Ore. Here's his deal: He salvages old books from thrift stores, garage sales and library sales, "guts" them, keeps selected pages and re-binds them into amazing little bookjournals. Well, they're not all little -- each one is one-of-a-kind they come in different sizes.

Little Friends of Printmaking  -- The Little Friends have a bunch of new artwork -- screen-printed art posters, including the work they did for the "Comedians of Comedy" tour -- and a button vending machine with some new designs. If you get there early, you might even get your very own Dingus Dog toy, of which there is a very limited supply.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”