Sheila Casey made her way slowly around the tables at the Christmas Prelude Craft Fair at St. Bartholomew Church in Cape Elizabeth on Saturday, inspecting the handmade hats, wooden toys and jewelry.
An avid craft fair shopper, Casey, of Cape Elizabeth, said she does most of her Christmas shopping at them.
“I like to support local craftspeople. I can find things that are different and the prices are amazing,” said Casey, showing off the handmade silk purse she bought for $8 and a mitten puppet for $2.
For many, the holiday season brings out a yearning for handmade crafts that can’t be found in shopping malls or at online retailers.
With the holiday shopping season shifting into high gear, dozens of craft shows are taking place across the state each weekend.
They range from humble church fairs featuring homemade baked goods and knitted hats produced by church members to high-end shows where artisans pay to rent tables and charge hundreds of dollars for their fabric arts and oil paintings.
A holiday craft fair can help churches and nonprofits reach their fundraising goals.
Steven Boisvert, who raises funds for The Table of Plenty, a York County group that runs soup kitchens in Berwick, Kittery and York, said he considers the group’s first crafts fair on Nov. 2 in York a success.
The York First Parish Church donated its space for the event. Boisvert said about 20 craftspeople paid $25 each to rent a table – about half the going rate. Volunteers produced goods for the bake sale. Area merchants donated items for a raffle and hamburgers, soda and snacks for the food booth. The group effort paid off with $1,200 in proceeds.
“We were not looking to make a killing,” said Boisvert.
The Partners for Rural Health in the Dominican Republic, a Portland nonprofit, has made between $1,500 and $3,000 at two previous annual fine arts and craft shows put on by the Designing Women artisans guild at the Merriconeag Waldorf School in Freeport. The guild, which held its ninth annual Freeport show on Saturday, uses the event to showcase a nonprofit group. The guild donates the proceeds from the show’s food sales to the nonprofit and requires each exhibitor to donate an item for a raffle to benefit the nonprofit.
“It’s a fabulous donation,” said Whitney Lutz, a board member of the Partners for Rural Health in the Dominican Republic.
The craftspeople can also rake in money, said Lois Taylor, who runs the Portland Christmas & Craft Show, which celebrated its 20th year this past weekend. Taylor, who lives in Georgia and owns a second home in Auburn, runs two other fall craft shows in Augusta. She said on a good weekend a savvy crafter at one of her shows can make a couple of thousand dollars, which is why she can charge exhibitors $130 to $150 for a table.
She also charges $2 admission to help pay her own rental and advertising bills. Taylor, who once ran more than 30 craft shows a year in Maine, said she has to compete against all the school groups and churches that don’t have to pay rental fees.
“I can’t get anything for free,” said Taylor.
The craft shows are just one of many income streams that make it possible for some to turn their arts and crafts into a full-time job.
Artist Wendilee Heath O’Brien of Winter Harbor, who was at the Designing Women show in Freeport on Saturday, said craft fairs play a key role in allowing her to make her living as an artist. A former English teacher, O’Brien makes the equivalent of her former teaching salary with her Asian gold leaf paintings and other art. O’Brien said she may not sell many paintings at any one craft show, but the publicity is worth it because customers later show up at her studio.
“It is great for marketing,” said O’Brien.
Carol-Lee Maguire of Saco and her sister-in-law Linda Maguire spend their weekends at craft shows selling their handmade quilted bags and signature holiday-themed toilet seat covers, which rarely fail to win a second look and a giggle from shoppers.
Carol-Lee Maguire said she makes enough to cover her annual home heating costs, buy holiday and birthday presents for the entire family and put money back into her craft business, It’s in the Bag. Maguire said producing her crafts with her sister-in-law also brings her great pleasure.
“We have fun inventing new things and laugh hysterically,” said Maguire.
Beth Quimby can be reached at 791-6363 or at: