Spying on Craft Fairs

5 Sep


Paper clay beads, by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Here, I am experimenting with making beads out of paper clay for some kind of wall hanging. Because the world is so lacking in wall hangings.


The other day I went on a reconnaisance mission to two street/craft fairs. I was curious about what kind of items people sell, how much they sell them for, if they make any money at it, and if they like it. As I recently have been dabbling with art in a crazed fashion (making eight art journals, drawing patterns, weaving a basket, splatter painting tissue paper, making layered collagey things, trying designs with fabric paint on cheap bags from Michael’s, making garlands with papers cut in one inch circles from a crappy Martha Stewart hole punch that broke after a couple of weeks, making papier mache pulp bowls and  “rocks,” creating beads of various types from paper clay, weaving coasters from old magazine pages and decoupaging tiles, among other things), I wondered what people sold.

Well, the two fairs I went to were not too impressive. The first fair had the crafters in one hot tar covered area surrounded by a chain-link fence. Basically, the crafts that people were selling were lots of jewelry and soap. Three venders were selling their own beautiful homemade soap. I loved talking to them about soapmaking because they all got this gleam in their eyes that reminded me of a scene in Moby Dick. In this scene, the sailors have captured a sperm whale and they are all handling, if I recall correctly, Spermaceti from the whale’s head–were they breaking up chunks. Something about this process was incredibly sensuous. Then one of the sailors (was it Queequeg? Sure wish I had a computer or something where I could look it up.) I ended up buying $25 worth of soap, including two that had loofas built right in. The jewelry-makers also had nice things. One woman made her own jewelry and sold it for a very cheap price. I bought a handmade necklace and pair of earrings for ten bucks each. And I spent a long time talking to a charming late middle aged black woman who made bracelets and earrings out of beads that she hand-picked–they were a very interesting selection and I bought six pairs of earrings at $2.50 a pair. That price is crazy! I don’t know how she made any money at all. But she was nice to talk to and said at the end, “I am blessed, because I’m a happy person and I love people. I’ve been on the other side and now, I know how lucky I am.” Something about that touched me so much I had to reach out my hand and hold hers for a minute, to–I don’t know what exactly–send my blessings to her? Receive that positive energy back? I could tell she meant it. Also at this fair was a crappy caricaturist, a very good maker of small stained glass items, and a mother-daughter pair who made table runners and pot holders, but unfortunately in a country-whimsy type of pattern that gave me hives. Still, I admired their sewing skills.

I headed over to the next fair. That was even worse. The vendors of creative or decorative items were interspersed with guys and gals who wanted to sell you some kind of magical gutters and life insurance. I snagged me some free pens, a bag, a notebook and some other completely unneeded swag, but I also had to listen to their spiels. Yuck. Gutters be damned. Most of the jewelry that was for sale was expensive and made in some foreign land by oppressed workers. One booth sold some hideous quilts. But at the end of the fair (it blocked off one street), I ended up talking to a guy who was working for an organzation that promoted organ donation. He told me a long story about how he was alive today because he got a liver transplant from a young man. He got tears in his eyes talking about how this experience had changed his life and made him take fewer unnecesary risks, because each day was a gift–and he was the caretaker of a young man’s generous gift. He had to live on because the young man couldn’t. I got tears in my eyes, too.

In short, I did not see any reason why my crazy crafts wold work for this kind of hybrid street/craft fair, alas. And sittting under an ubrella on a hot day looked like helll on earth. But the people I met reminded me of the value of doing what you love, of being joyful, and of remembering that every day of life is precious. So all in all, I think it was, at least for me, a success.


Writing prompt: What would you buy at a craft or street fair?

One Response to “Spying on Craft Fairs”

  1. Julie Goldberg September 5, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    If you’d prefer to have your mind blown by excellence rather than by crappiness, look for *juried* craft shows. There’s a fantastic one at Peter’s Village we can go to soon! http://www.petersvalley.org/html/annual_fall_craft_fair.cfm

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