The semi-annual Picnic Music + Arts Festival in Portland’s Lincoln Park is known for its crafts. But don’t let any preconceived notions about craft fairs cloud your vision of what this free event is all about.
“It’s younger and cooler than your average church basement craft sale,” said Eliza Jane Curtis of Limington, who has sold her Morris & Essex wares at the summer and winter Picnic fests for the past three years.
“The quality of the design is excellent,” Curtis said. “One thing I really like about Picnic is that it’s not fabrics from Walmart sewn into basic patterns. At Picnic, it’s excellent quality materials turned into creative products.”
For her part, Curtis will be selling organic cotton silk-screened T-shirts, tote bags and cotton panties plus letterpress greeting cards — all featuring original designs — at Saturday’s Picnic.
Now in its fifth year, Picnic reflects a nationwide trend of indie artists, hipster crafters and vintage vendors banding together to host alternative craft fairs that emphasize modern design aesthetics over country kitsch.
One of the best-known is the Renegade Craft Fair, which takes place in Austin, Texas; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Los Angeles; San Francisco and Chicago.
Many of the vendors at the Portland event also travel to exhibit at Renegade and similar shows around the country.
In addition to all the artisans, the Picnic festival features a day-long lineup of indie rock bands hailing from Portland and New York City. A handful of food vendors will be selling lunch throughout the day.
Kate Chapin, author of “Grow Your Handmade Business,” and Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut, authors of “Improv Sewing,” will be at the event signing books and doing sewing demos all day.
But the emphasis will be on the 100-plus vendors selling everything from handmade bags and clothing to custom-made toys and vintage home decor.
Picnic’s high quality selection of goods is no accident. To get a spot at the event, artisans must apply and be vetted by a jury.
And it’s become an increasingly tough process. There were 130 vendors chosen this year, but organizers received double that amount of applications.
“When we announce that applications are opened, we get totally swarmed with these great vendors,” said Sean Wilkinson, who owns the design firm Might & Main and is one of the founders of Picnic. “It’s become an increasingly tough job for us to jury.”
Wilkinson said the jurors look at the quality of the work while also making sure the chosen vendors offer a wide diversity of merchandise.
“We’re trying to keep it eclectic and make it a really vibrant group of people who create great products,” Wilkinson said.
When it comes to selecting sellers of vintage goods, he said, “There are a lot of vintage dealers out there, but there are some who just do it so well. If there’s a gut feeling of ‘I want to spend all my money at this booth,’ that’s a good sign they’d make a good Picnic vendor.”
Wilkinson said his year’s vendors offer a mix of items that range from cheeky and quirky to elegant.
One of the vendors who falls more on the elegant side, with a hint of quirkiness, is Erin Flett, whose work has been featured in O: The Oprah Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens. The Gorham resident creates silk-screened pillows and bags using high-quality fabric and a water-based, solvent-free ink, with designs inspired by nature.
“It’s such an amazing opportunity to display your work and to sell it, for a person who doesn’t have a storefront,” said Flett, who has participated in Picnic for the past three years and travels to similar shows out of state. “This event is a little bit more sophisticated as far as design. It’s really artisans bringing a whole different level of art to community.”
While the event’s organizers have never attempted to count the number of attendees they attract — mainly because Lincoln Park has eight entrances — they have noted it’s growth over the years.
“We’re totally maxed out at size for Lincoln Park,” Wilkinson said. “That’s a great problem to have. It just makes the event all that much better.”
Flett described Picnic as having a “carnival aesthetic. It’s like back in the olden days when you used to set up your wares and sell your stuff. It’s a really romantic event.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: