Crafty man that he is, Contributing Editor, Ron Carmean, takes over today’s blog to tell us about his trip to the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival. I felt it was the fair thing to do…
My wife and I have been going to craft fairs for 35 years. This past weekend, we went to our favorite: the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival. It takes place twice a year, Spring and Fall in locations from Northern New Jersey through Philadelphia to Maryland, Virginia, and the Washington,D. C. area. Two hundred fifty artisans offer their creations in a large exhibition center at each location.
The crafts themselves provide a wide range of medium: jewelry, pottery, clothing, metal work, leather, glass, photography, wood, etc. Since the crafts are juried, the quality is top notch. Demonstrations of pottery, woodworking, and jewelry making take place on the hour. They are a reminder of the skill, patience, and love of craft that are necessary for a prson to be working as a craftsperson.
We arrive early in the day, trying to beat the crowd. We love the atmosphere: relaxed, comfortable, no time restraints. Both the craftspersons and visitors dress casually, no two alike. Even dressed down, some people look like they’ve come from an Orvis catalog. But no one flaunts their attire. Most people wear jeans and a shirt, sweater or sweatshirt with a wide variety of foot ware. Hairstyles vary tremendously. Age ranges from 30s to 70s. Young children and teenagers would be bored stiff and, accordingly, are nowhere in sight. A slight majority of craftspersons are women; a significant majority of visitors are women. Occasionally, a person’s combination of attire, hair style or length, choice of words in a conversation, and chosen profession transport you, briefly, back to the sixties –without the protests. For them, it was a wonderful time, and they refuse to leave it even if the calendar tells them it’s a new century.
If you are in a hurry, this is not your place. In 3 hours, I never heard a cell phone. No one texted, took a picture, or adjusted their their ear phones to better isolate themselves from their environment while always being accessible to those not present. People’s feet moved slowly, but their eyes were in constant motion. The color, shape, and type of craft in the next booth drew them forward. Periodically, they stopped and examined the artist’s wares with other senses. Touch was as important as sight. Did the clothing fit correctly? Did the ring, or pin, or necklace look as good on someone as it did in the display case? How was the feel of the leather? Is this handbag the right size, shape, color, have enough pockets, hang correctly? People lingered. They enjoyed the process of choice, not just the purchase. There was no haggling. The prices were clearly posted and fair. Conversations took place. More than 140 or 160 characters were necessary. Sometimes the talk was about what was being offered or considered. The best conversations, for us, were with the craftsperson about their craft. What drew them to it? How long has it been their passion, not merely profession? Did they live near their workshop? What’s the next stop on their tour of craft shows? Are they doing as well as they hoped? Would they return in the Spring? These exchanges were as enjoyable as the crafts themselves. They were conversations you could not have if you were talking about a home or car or flea market item. This was the main reason we came. And it always feels the same. The best artisans have the best stories. And the best crafts. And give us the best times, the very best of times.
But did we buy anything? Yes. We have a method for our craft fair visits. We go through everything once, sometimes renewing old acquaintances. Then we eat. The food is average. I think it has one purpose: give us energy to continue our short vacation from “real life.” Plus, we can pause and reflect on what and whom we’ve seen. Did we come for something specific? Did we see anything we want to give a second look?
Today, we returned to the “Specialty Foods” booths. I buy a carrot cake. Donna buys a small package of chocolate chip cookies. Then, our most certain purchase of the day: treats for Jake, our dog. They look like health food bars. We buy a half dozen, different flavors: peanut butter, ham, sausage and bacon.
I saw no mug that I must add to my collection today. But Donna wants to look at purses. She wants something small, finds it, and it goes in the plastic bag provided by the Craft Fair. She wants to see a specific jeweler. David Nugent from New Hampshire. Evensong is the name of his enterprise. She has admired his work for 2 or 3 years and bought a pearl ring when we last saw him. She has stained the ring somehow and hopes he can make a repair. Unfortunately, she has lost her voice today. She writes a note describing the situation and hopes he can help. At his booth, she presents him with the note and her ring. What happens next? He responds to the note. He talks; she writes another note; I stand back from the action; he invites me to join; more talk and notes; laughs by all of us; good news is received. He can clean the ring and will return it to her in 2-3 weeks. We give him our home and email addresses. Problem solved. While he does the paperwork, she gazes at a lapis ring. She looks elsewhere. Then returns to the ring. Pauses. She tries it on. Puts it back. A second try. After another pause, a third try. What remains is a decision: she will buy it now or say we cannot afford to spend the money. In that case, we will separate, giving each of us a last look at some other items –and I will buy the ring and surprise her later. But she surprises me. “I know we can’t afford it. But I really like it.” She hesitates and I say the obvious: “Then buy it.” We laugh. David returns. Another note is written for him. He helps her determine the proper size. We will have the new ring in 2-3 weeks as well. A sale and purchase are made. More smiles and laughs. A bit more paperwork. Handshakes all around.
The Fair has gotten crowded. Our “business” is completed. It’s been even more fun than looking for a bargain at Macy’s or a yard sale. We will do it again in 5 months, when the craftspeople return with the Spring. For now, we will drive home and give Jake a treat.