For League of New Hampshire Craftsmen members and staff, July and August bring about some of the busiest days of the year.
On these days, crafters are either prepping for the annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair in Sunapee, finalizing inventory and cramming in last-minute details, or they’re selling the hundreds of items they’ve been working on all year. Newly appointed League Executive Director Jane Oneail expects constant activity at the 2015 fair, happening Aug. 1 through Aug. 9.
“For everybody on staff, it’s all hands on deck. We all have radio walkie-talkies at Mount Sunapee, as I understand it’s a lot of running around. I’ve been told to wear comfortable shoes,” Oneail said via phone last week.
This year’s event boasts work by 350 juried artists, with 200 individual craft booths — though, Oneail said, “booth” might be the wrong word. Rather, each is a work of construction with walls, floor and lighting, set up like an individual room underneath big white tents.
“Each booth has been carefully curated. Some of [the craftsmen] spend the whole year getting ready for the Craftsmen’s Fair, and they might make their whole year’s salary while they’re there,” Oneail said. “It’s a very important event in New Hampshire’s creative economy.”
Those weeks leading up to the fair are especially challenging for new booth holders, many of whom have to worry not only about making sure they’ve made enough to fill a booth, but also that their booth itself is suitable for the prestigious fair.
Erica Walker, a North Sutton silver jewelry artist, was picking up panels for hers during her phone interview less than two weeks before the fair’s start. She became juried into the League last year, too late to participate in the 2014 event. She’s shown in fairs and markets all over, but none so high-scale as this.
“I see [League membership] as a kind of feather in your cap. The fair, for me, is one of the highest-end shows I’ve ever done,” Walker said. “These are the artists and craftspeople I’ve been looking up to the past 20 years. … It’s a milestone of sorts in my career.”
Erin Moran, a clay artist from Portsmouth, spends the better part of the winter bulking up inventory. Her pieces are inspired by contemporary and folk art, with bright colors and whimsical details. This will be her first time at the fair.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some of the exhibitions. Some of them are set up like living rooms, and it’s always nice to see different artists’ work put together in a cohesive setting,” she said. “I think it will be nice to experience all the aspects of the fair … seeing what other people are doing as well.”
Lisa DeMio — a Hampstead artist who makes wallets, totes, cosmetic and traveler bags from canvas, cotton, linen and leather — is another new booth holder, excited to get in-person feedback at the fair. She finds this particularly refreshing, as she spends most of her working time alone in a studio.
“I love being with customers and getting that one-on-one feedback. They give me some great ideas,” DeMio said.
She learns how to alter her products to better suit buyers by talking with them and watching them interact with her work. They’ll show her whether a carrier strap is too long or too short, or what the demand is for a suburban tote vs. a bag with zippers. She’s spent the better part of her career meandering around the Massachusetts arts and craft fairs and markets, but she’s looking forward to connecting with shoppers from New Hampshire and beyond.
“[The League] gets such a good following. They don’t just draw in for New Hampshire; they draw from all over the country,” DeMio said.
After a two-year hiatus, the New Hampshire Art Association returns to the fair with member artwork on display in the Spruce Lodge. This year, the Leaugue also hosts an educational fiber arts tent, sponsored by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, with sheep, rabbits and traditional fiber art demonstrations (like weaving and quilting).
Also at the fair, you’ll find a sculpture garden and a “CraftWear” (stylish art-to-wear clothing and jewelry) and “Living With Craft” exhibition (showcasing handmade furniture, wall hangings and home decor). There are numerous workshops in all media — printmaking, leather working, clay, glassblowing, felted jewelry — and also guided tours, seminars, fine craft demonstrations, caricature artists and puppet, juggling and music shows.
For the kids, there’s an all-day pottery school, a “Next Generation” tent that gives budding craftsmen the chance to showcase work and gain entrepreneurial experience (interacting with customers, making sales and processing transactions) and a “Tools for Kids” tent run by retired League craftsman Dave Emerson.
Kids can stop by this tent at any point during the day and try out woodworking tools with adult supervision. If they so desire, they can make and take home a wooden spoon.
Emerson said the kids love using these items — coping saws, egg beater drills, miter boxes and shaving horses. He especially enjoys seeing what he calls their “I can do this!” facial expressions.
“I think we’re always really concerned about making the fair as appealing to audiences as possible, particularly multi-generational audiences,” Oneail said. “I hear so much of, ‘I’ve been going to the fair for 20, 30 years,’ and, ‘I started bringing my son or daughter here since he/she was a baby.’ Attending the fair has always been a multi-generational activity, and we try to have workshops and demonstrations and all sorts of programming that will appeal to all ages.”
As seen in the July 30th 2015 issue of the Hippo.