Craft Fairs: History & Inspiration!

Hear Me Roar: Craft Fairs in Western Massachusetts

Let’s Get Crafty!
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle

It’s that time of year again! Autumn in New England is prime time for attending the many craft fairs, harvest festivals, and art shows that are abundant in our area! Artists and creators of all kinds gather their wares and set up shop in church basements, on town greens, and in community halls, showcasing their talents to the local community. I was fascinated to learn that the first wholesale craft market in the United States was held at the fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, NY, in 1973. I imagined much earlier roots, as the nostalgia and connection found at these fairs have that “old soul” vibe. Ten years after the establishment of this first craft market, founded by Carol Sedestrom Ross, she discovered that approximately 90% of the exhibitors were able to make a living selling their craft! In the decades since, craft fairs have gained popularity and remain one of the most direct and accessible ways for an artist to sell their work to the general public.

Craft fairs are more than just a place to find unique, one-of-a-kind, handmade products. They’re a place to gather inspiration and begin to discover which art form or craft speaks to you. I remember walking through a craft fair years ago, where I purchased the most delicious homemade peach jam from a woman who told me the recipe had been passed down from her grandmother. Selling the jam made using that recipe was her way of carrying on the tradition and remaining connected to her roots. Knowing families were sitting down at their breakfast tables with a jar of peach jam, she said, was her way of keeping her grandmother’s spirit alive. This interaction then inspired me to dig into my family recipe book and recreate treasured favorites. I have since attended a host of craft fairs, where I was able to share my creations with others the way this woman had shared with me.

Inspiration is everywhere. In addition to the jam, the items I’ve purchased from craft fairs over the years include jewelry, a handcrafted wooden flute, handmade soaps, stoneware mugs, knitted hats, and much more. I believe craft fairs are one of the best places to find and share inspiration.

Here’s a list of some of the local craft fairs happening in the Valley this fall. Keep an eye out in your local communities as well, as churches and other community centers often run their own smaller fairs throughout the season:

Barrington South Arts & Crafts Festival is being held Saturday, November 2 at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center. This curated event brings together Berkshire crafters, bakers, growers, weavers, artists, photographers, jewelry-makers and artisans of all types to offer their products to our community just in time for the holidays! Great Barrington, MA

The Old Deerfield Craft Fair is being held at the Eastern States Fairgrounds November 16-17. Yankee Magazine has named the craft fair as one of the top 20 events in New England and as the top 3 in Massachusetts! Sunshine Artist Magazine, a leading publication for the arts and crafts movement in the United States, has also ranked the Old Deerfield Fall Craft Fairs among the best for many years. A juried event, this fair selects its exhibitors based on the quality of their work. The variety of crafts includes wood workings, pottery, decorative painting, photography, jewelry, fine art, sculpture, fiber and apparel, specialty soaps, mixed media , specialty foods and more. This fair is organized to benefit the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of crafts and the history of our surrounding area. West Springfield, MA

Holiday Fair at the Hartsbrook School will be held November 22-23. The fair will feature hands-on crafts, such as candle making, jump rope making, cookie decorating, and more! Artisans will have booths set up where visitors can browse and purchase an assortment of beautiful, handcrafted gifts. Hadley, MA

Country Folk and Art Show will be held November 29-December 1 at The Sturbridge Host Hotel. This juried show features top quality handcrafted folk art and crafts by hundreds of outstanding artisans from across the country. Includes Primitive and French Country, Americana, Chabby Chic, Victorian, Northwoods Rustic, Traditional, Contemporary Folk Art and Fine Art. Sturbridge, MA

The Fall Harvest Bazaar will be held November 28 at the Cedar’s Banquet Facility. This fair is known for being a local prelude to all holiday craft fairs! There will be over 50 crafters on hand selling a wide range of items. This year’s event will also feature raffle prizes that include craft items from select vendors! Springfield, MA

About the Author

Cheryl Allan Carlyle ♦ Cheryl is a native of Western Massachusetts who was introduced to theater at a young age, and whose love of performing arts has only grown throughout the years. Cheryl is an accomplished playwright whose feature-length play, The Weight of Silence, made its world premiere in Cape Cod. Her work has also been showcased at local theaters and festivals throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. Whether it’s local stages or the bright lights of Broadway, Cheryl has a deep appreciation for theater arts and the amount of work and dedication that goes into each performance. Cheryl is also Hilltown Families’ Theater Bulletin Board Manager, where she provides our readers with a bridge that connects our local community with the magic and wonderment of live theater.

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