Bring on the holiday craft fairs: artisans embody the holiday spirit

Nov. 15—The season of gift-giving and decking the halls is upon us, and what better way to tackle those gift lists and decorate your home than with locally-made arts and crafts.

The tide of holiday craft markets has begun to roll in — with the Christmas Elves Craft Show being first on the docket this past weekend. From hand-painted ornaments to decorated yule logs, 30 vendors with the Blue Ridge Artists and Crafters Association toiled for months to prepare for the seasonal show.

"I think it's neat that a lot of people now want handmade items to give for Christmas, and they have their list and they get so excited when they find that right thing for the people they're looking for," said Leslie Massie, Blue Ridge Artists and Crafters show chair.

For customers like Marti Bowman, this was certainly true. She was able to find the perfect gift for her friend's granddaughter, an avid baker. Nestled in the gift bag was her newly purchased cookie mix and a pot holder with the saying, "I just want to bake stuff and watch Christmas movies."

Bowman comes to the Christmas Elves craft show every year to get speciality gifts and even some take-home trinkets for herself.

"This is an event I love to enjoy every year," Bowman said. "I got this wonderful little handmade pendant that I love, marked down to only five dollars. Isn't that beautiful? I've had a good day."

Like Massie, most of the crafters "don't ever stop" cranking out their specialities and work hard to craft their bounty for the holiday season.

Deborah Sampson is now the oldest founding member of BRACA and comes from a family of crafters, all with their own specialities and all with a passion to share their art.

"I like people saying, 'Oh, I just love this, this will look beautiful in my home' and just seeing them enjoy what I do makes it worthwhile," Sampson said.

Sampson's speciality is painting — especially old Coca-Cola jars handpainted with Christmas imagery.

Her sister, Connie Gregory, who shares a booth with her, relishes the connections with customers.

"We make friendships with the people who come back every year for us. That's my favorite part — getting to see those people we see every year and building friendships," Gregory said.

Like most of the crafters at the market, Gregory wears many hats in the crafting field, from crocheting towels and mastering plastic canvases to a line of uniquely made wreaths with her sister.

Across the craft fair, Nancy McKenzie was standing in front of a wall of quilts, each one equating to 10 hours of dedication and sewing.

"You have to think of materials, the concept, and, to work with something that big on a regular little sewing machine, it's kind of tough," McKenzie said.

At a booth beside her, Darlene Buesing specializes in shadow boxes and wall decor.

"I think it's important that people who are creative share that gift with the world, because you are creating something that wasn't here before," said Buessing, who just had her initiation into BRACA this year. "You're also providing people inspiration, so that they can go home to their tables and say 'Okay, how do I make it my own?' I think that's important."

Buessing said it's important that people support crafters, come out to markets and share that gift.

Keri Clearwater and Sarah Flanagan came to the market to browse the crafts, and ended up taking home some one-of-a-kind trinkets.

"Handmade ladles and spoons, so that's pretty cool and unique — something that you couldn't get anywhere that I know of," Flanagan said.

"I got one thing for myself, a hand-painted cat ornament," Clearwater added.

For Trista Crawford, president of the BRACA, crafting with her mom is a double win, as she gets to spend valuable time bonding with her mother over shared interests while creating gifts for the community. Along with her crocheted garments are wooden ornaments, cut out on her mother's porch and hand painted.

"Just seeing the joy of the people's faces and the ideas that they're getting as they buy gifts for others," Crawford said, when asked what she loves most about crafting. "Just knowing that we've handcrafted our products and then they're giving them to someone who will enjoy them just as much as we did when we made them."