You drive toward a big park on a hot summer day, anticipating a great afternoon. The first thing you spot is a sea of white tents, the identical peaked roofs betraying none of the treasures this makeshift community is housing. As you approach on foot, the cluttered bursts of colour reveal themselves. Whatever you’re seeking, whether it be small treasures like locally made treats and jewelry, beautiful things for your home made from glass or wood, a piece of art, or an unplanned discovery and an enjoyable walk, you’re likely to find something you love and meet some engaging people.
When I was setting up my tent at my very first outdoor craft show (the Cabbagetown Festival in Toronto, still one of my favourites) my first thought was “who are these people?” Some seasoned exhibitors came from far and wide with large trailers, traveling to a different community every weekend like creative nomads. Others seemed less sure of themselves, some showing their work to the public for the first time. I had rented my tent rather than buying one, not convinced this was the best place for me to be showing Red Thread, but willing to give it a try.
Five years later, I’m still doing outdoor shows (and my tent is nearing the end of its useful life). I love seeing the cast of amazing characters I’ve met over the years and seeing how their work is changing. Katie McLellan is a gorgeous textile and glass artist with a fantastic sense of colour, who makes whimsical wall collages from recycled fabrics. Rudy Kehkla creates stunning kinesthetic sculptures from wire, steel and rock, and has an infectious spirit and a smile to match. Robert from Henderson Farms has bright red hair and a great laugh, and makes the best jam ever (I lived my whole life hating jam until we met and I discovered his organic fig rhubarb marmalade) and also bakes delicious squares, which he generously shares with me when I need sustenance. Sandra Silberman, a great friend ever since we met at that first outdoor show five years back, makes stunning porcelain tableware that I use every day and covet at every show (and so does everyone else, judging by how busy her booth is!). I know it sounds like a cliché, but there really is something special about knowing the people who make the things you use and enjoy every day. If you take the time to chat with them about what they make and why, you’re sure to come away with some great stories, and a greater appreciation for the dedication that this kind of life requires.
The sense of community is quite strong at the craft shows I’ve attended over the years. There’s always someone willing to lend a hand if you’re in a pinch. And like sailors on a great ship together, our collective attention is focused on the skies. Rain is less than welcome, but the most destructive force at an outdoor show is wind. I’ve witnessed artwork damaged and tents crushed, and been amazed at how quickly people pull together to help. Putting yourself and your work at the mercy of nature may not seem like the wisest decision, but it’s worth it. At a time when we’re so disconnected from the makers of almost everything we own, it’s a great opportunity both for the customer and the artist to forge connections that benefit both of us, and make us all better appreciate the value of handmade.