November 15, 2012

Craft fairs hold buying local, unique appeal

This time of year, Mainers are mad about craft fairs – luckily, there are tons for them to check out.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Children hadn't even begun to trick-or-treat when the first notices of holiday craft fairs began to trickle into the GO email this year. Within a week, the trickle had become a downpour; within two weeks, a flood.

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FOR A LIST of this week's holiday craft fairs, see the Et Cetera Listings.

Every year in Maine, everyone and their Aunt Petunia are holding craft fairs, and Aunt Petunia is probably using her profits to buy more crafts. Churches hold them. Grange halls hold them. Schools hold them. Some organizations even reserve an entire city park for them.

Aside from craft-fair season providing easy fundraiser opportunities for sellers and unique gifts for buyers, the phenomenon doesn't appear to have a specific rhyme or reason.

It's just a part of Maine, like lighthouse tours, lobster bakes and a lack of street signs at intersections.

From now until December, Maine towns overflow with holiday craft shows. They range from fundraisers for churches and civic organizations that often feature baked goods, holiday greenery and craft items made by volunteers to juried shows where individual artisans must pass muster with the organizers to snag a table at the show.

Crafter Kate Savidge has experienced the gamut of craft fairs firsthand.

"I started out doing church fairs and things like that," said Savidge, who makes hand-knit mittens and gloves, and sells calendars and notecard prints of her pastels. "And one of the other crafters said, 'Your mittens are too good. You need to step it up.' She directed me to the Society of Southern Maine Craftsmen."

The nonprofit craft guild hosts three craft fairs featuring member crafters each fall, with upcoming shows this weekend at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham and next weekend at Scarborough High School.

"Our members are juried," said Diane Ford, director of shows for the Society of Southern Maine Craftsmen. "We look at product and aim to have high-quality crafts."

Over the years that she's exhibited at craft fairs, Savidge has noticed that food items and jewelry tend to be top sellers.

"People are looking more for little things that are under $25 or definitely under $50," she said.

Yarmouth resident Jennifer Hazard agrees that homemade food items are one of the attractions of craft fairs.

"I'm drawn to any food items," Hazard said. "Honey or jams from here to give to family and friends (from away). It feels unique and homemade."

This desire for unique gift items is one of the main reasons shoppers flock to craft fairs.

Judy Paolini of Long Island, Maine, seeks out craft fairs to find holiday gifts that are "local and one of a kind. The person you're giving it to isn't going to get six of them. You can find things that are personal to people."

Two years ago at the Society of East End Artists craft fair in Portland, Paolini found a clock decorated with pages from an Emily Post etiquette book. She bought the clock for her nephew's wife, who is the "great-great-grandaughter of Emily Post and works for the (Emily Post) Institute. Where else could you find a gift so perfect?"

Michelle Smith of Portland has also discovered unusual gift items at craft fairs. At last year's Big Chill show at Mayo Street Arts in Portland, she found a novel wood and glass item for her brother-in-law.

"I feel like there are more options at craft fairs than if I was to go to the mall, because people are hand-making these items," Smith said.

In addition to one-of-a-kind holiday shopping opportunities, Smith said attending craft fairs is part of the flavor of the season.

"It's fun," Smith said. "You go with a friend and spend the morning at the fair. You get coffee. It's a big outing."

But why stop with individual craft fairs scattered across the landscape when you can concentrate them all in one big area?

Or, say, a town?

That's what Yarmouth does. The first Saturday in December, the town transforms itself into a craft fair mecca, with shows at churches, civic buildings and North Yarmouth Academy.

For Yarmouth resident Hazard, it's a sure sign that the holiday season has arrived.

"It has a good feeling around it," Hazard said. "It feels like the kick-off to the season."

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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