A Country Church Craft Show

The rabbit warren-like labyrinth of rooms leading off the main hallway and dining area of the church basement were filled with ten foot tables laden with cottage crafted wares. From cat toys to candles and Christmas décor to carefully framed photos, and carved wooden roses, the facility served as a microcosm of the mainstream business world. Citizens from varied backgrounds had set up shop, their mini stores stocked with custom-designed creations or offerings from Avon, Watkins or other major corporations they represented.

Held at churches, clubs, and schools across the country most often from October through Christmas but sometimes also in spring and summer, craft shows can be a fun way to spend a day, shopping for special items for ones-self or great gifts for friends.

The view from behind the table, just as in any retail store, is a bit different from the shopper’s experience—a study of human nature and the rules, or, rather, sometimes, random effect of merchandising.

Some general guidelines are important, like providing a neat display with prices clearly marked. Other than that, customer preferences can be difficult to predict. For example: scarves flew off my table at earlier shows this season, so I spent the past week making more. Today, they lay glued to their position, the only interest in them shown by a young girl, who waved a loop design, leopard patterned scarf, proclaiming how pretty it was and emphasizing it’s five dollar price tag. The girl’s mother was long gone, and was waving her to “come on”. The scarf was returned to it’s place on the table.

Comments from lookers can be entertaining over the long hours spent hoping for crowds of customers. The top one today was the lady who said she couldn’t purchase a catnip toy as a Christmas present for her cat, because, “Shakespeare would be jealous.” Upon inquiry it was determined that Shakespeare was a turtle—and after all, as the lady stated, “What can one get a turtle for Christmas?”

And there’s always one irresistible item that everyone who walks past picks up and examines in great detail, offering words of praise. Yet no one wants to own it, even if the price is miniscule. On this day, mine was a two dollar  light bulb shaped bottle filled with baubles and embellished with the  words, “You light up my life,”. I thought it was a unique gift idea, and indeed I did sell one at the last show, but apparently not too many people are enlightening the lives of others these days.

Many times a customer will mull over an item for some time, ask to know it’s entire life history, return repeatedly to admire it, then never purchase it.

But then there are customers at the opposite end of the spectrum. Free spirited impulse buyers, or those who see something they’ve been seeking, or simply must have. Two stood out today, renewing my spirits as I sat in the doldrums of a long sale-less spell.

First, from out of the blue, a customer shouted “I’ll take this picture!” She stood around the corner at the other end of my table, where I hadn’t even noticed her. She was requesting my largest framed photo and the one I was most proud of. I had given up hope of finding it a home. The lady told me of her plans to renovate her family room using a barn theme. She was delighted with the barn’s beautiful reflection in the water, and the lovely pond scene overall.

A few minutes later I heard, “There it is,” as a lady looked down lovingly at my table. “My daughter told me to look for one of these,” she said, as she touched a berry patterned pouch for holding plastic bags, and happily handed me a ten dollar bill.

There’s likely a buyer for nearly every offering, but the difficulty lies in luring a large enough crowd  of serious shoppers to each venue.

Such is the life of a craft show exhibitor. Significant profits seem rare, in these days of cheap imported items, seeming lack of appreciation by the general public for unique, handmade goods, and the underemployment of many in today’s economy, leaving little disposable income. Then too, some shoppers focus on the internet.

Peddling crafts at community events today is quite unlike thirty years ago, according to veteran crafters who tell tales of having nothing left to pack up at the end of the day. Some shows do bring reasonable gains, unfortunately others fail to support the ever-increasing fees charged for table space.

But there’s always the camaraderie with other crafters and customers, the traditional lunches of shredded chicken, sloppy joes, or hot dogs, and most of all, the opportunity to showcase the results of one’s creative self-expression, and the ability to be a business owner without the cost of overhead on an ongoing basis.

That’s why we who are compelled to create stay up late painting , sewing, knitting, potting, or pasting, practicing our chosen craft, then rise at five on Saturdays to set up our space and await the day’s fate.

 

So Long at the Fair

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Gazing across the show floor and out the door of the arena, I spotted the lights of the food trailers powering up as dusk fell over the fairgrounds on that mild September evening.

The curly fry concession just across the way had been the center point of the view from this seat a decade ago, the last time I had attended the pony pull, still held on the Friday of the fair at seven.

Tradition is one of the things I find most trilling about county fairs. I’ve been coming to this one since childhood, and I never tire of climbing the steps to “The Coliseum”, still my favorite building, the best asset of our local facilities.

From the bleacher seats, or from the sturdy wooden chairs set in a row along the rail, visitors can view horse and livestock shows while seated in complete shelter from rain, sun, or, in times past, even the occasional skiff of snow.

I’m always in awe when the crowd stands for the Star Spangled Banner as events begin, faces turning toward the big American flag which hangs over the east doorway. Red white and blue bunting is suspended from each section of the rafters, brightened by shafts of sun shining through the rows of windows set high on the walls, or by the blazing lamp lights if the event is held at night.

I’d been at the fair since early that morning, and on another day that week as well, each time walking the midway alone for the first hour, past dormant rides, quiet game booths, and shuttered food stands.

A tent serving home cooked food operated by a local church group, and a donut and coffee vendor are the sole proprietorships open at that early hour.

Clutching my coffee, I sat in the coliseum those mornings too, awaiting the start of the days’ first shows and communing with six ponies and several bulls that were for sale, lined up in stalls along the wall.

Between events, I checked out the displays in the women’s building, of bright dahlias, roses, and other blooms beautifully suspended in an array of blue bottles. Intricately pieced quilts hung on walls or were folded neatly upon tables, unique antiques sat upon stepped shelves behind a protective barrier of chicken wire.

In the Hobby Building, I focused on photos and paintings, marveled at an extensive display of matchbooks, smiled at collections of comic books, cook books, and glass animal figurines.

I’m not as much into fair food as some, but I have my favorite treats, most based on what I enjoyed as a child, while I pleaded for rides on real ponies and marveled at the merry-go-round.

Another rewarding aspect of the fair each year is the opportunity to visit with friends I haven’t seen in some time, catching up on the news of their lives as we stroll the grounds, or sit watching the shows.

The last day of the fair sometimes seems like a living room on Christmas afternoon, wrapping strewn about, the anticipatory drama and mystery over for another year.

So I decided not to go on Saturday, preferring to end my week of horse shows, tractor pulls, and pig races that Friday evening, in the jam packed Coliseum, the building vibrating to the crescendo of applause as the husky ponies, stars in their own right, pulled fully loaded sleds of stone, putting their hearts into the performance.

Mapped Out

Remember those wide pull-down maps that hung in rolls at the top of chalkboards on classroom walls of our childhood?

Word has it, vintage versions from the nineteen-fifties can fetch hundreds of dollars. Many old maps are worth exploring as they showcase the history and art of their times.

Styles sought by collectors include:

Pictorial: The famed tourist maps of early to mid twentieth century, with colorful cartoonlike portrayals of prominent features of the spotlighted region.

Outdated Boundaries: Displaying obsolete borders of country/state lines from earlier times.

Decorative: Accented with ornate borders by famous artists.

Statistical: Showing the distribution of features such as townships, postal zones, and railroads.

Prominent Maker: Created by top cartographers.

Birds Eye View: Aerial panoramas of prominent places.

Topographical: Displaying features of a region’s terrain.

Railroad: Maps from nineteenth and early twentieth century detailing the large number of lines crisscrossing the country at the time.

I’m not an official collector, but I do love to pick up an occasional unique road map at a rummage sale. They used to be a staple handed out free by every corner filling station. I wish I still had The Wonderful World of Ohio one I poured over as a child, choosing which of the glorified destinations portrayed in the colorful pictures I would travel to that day on my pretend journey behind the wheel of our family car.

Would I boat on Lake Erie, enter a subterranean cave in Southern Ohio, or toss pennies into the bottomless Blue Hole in Castalia?

Many today see maps as simply something to collect as relics or toss in the trash, opting for the advice of their GPS. I can still tell north from south and prefer to choose my own routes. I’ll admit any wrong turns I make, rather than blaming them on a machine (from what I hear the machines make many more).

It may be the new millennium, but maps, for me, are still the most practical guides, whether  for real trips or for imaginary journeys like the ones of my childhood.

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Easy Elegant Garden Art

An array of arrow shafts impaled the ground at an artistic angle, glass tails sparkling in the sun above a bountiful flowerbed. The picture popped out at me from the pages of a favorite magazine several summers ago. I was hooked on the idea of using wine bottles as garden art.

Never able to part with the thoughtfully crafted vessels after imbibing, my basement had begun to resemble the refuse bin of a busy bar. Oops, perhaps I shouldn’t go that far. I only partake of one glass per week, but still, over time they tend to accumulate.

I’d seen wine bottle trees before, wire poles with branches upon which to display bright bottles. They just weren’t to my taste. I liked better the idea of using simple garden stakes (the green plastic ones work well) to make sparkling yet subtle glass sculptures to shine above bright beds and accent green herb gardens.

The bottles can be placed singly, or used in groups of three or more. Colors can be chosen that work with the principle hues displayed by the plantings in each plot. I must admit I’m partial to cobalt blue. It’s beautiful in nearly any setting. Green works well for most sites too.

When scanning the wine shelves, I now find myself drawn as much by the bottle designs and colors as the wines themselves, ignoring even the enchanting tales I love of the wine flavors and interesting history of the wine makers.

So don’t stress out about your garden this spring. Relax, enjoy a glass of a favorite wine, and you’ll soon have a great vintage ornament to grace your garden and inspire your creativity throughout the summer. Salu’!

Green Debut

Green Debut

Each year there’s a morning when spring really begins. Not the date on the calendar, but the date when the chlorophyll begins to flow. As the sun rises, a halo of pale green hugs the hills. The color wasn’t there last evening. Not even a hint. It’s a reward for early risers who witness it’s emergence as the sweet spring sunshine dissolves the early coating of dew. The season of enchantment is here. Life has begun anew.

Sunlight on Stone

On early spring strolls I am especially drawn to several favorite outcroppings of rock where I sit soaking in the warmth reflected off the smooth surfaces of the uniquely shaped forms.

Though inanimate objects, the stones seem to teem with life-giving solar energy. I can sense and nearly see the rays of sunlight dancing about, filling souls of all life forms with the strength to grow another year.

Penny M

The Road to Spring

Shrouded in a thick mist, the landscape flickered past as frames of a silent film, the brightness flaring then fading as the ribbon chattered from reel to reel.

Familiar landmarks seemed strange, distorted by the mirrored moisture droplets into alien artifacts.

Driving into the darkness it was difficult to find my way, but I trusted my sixth sense and managed to negotiate most of the curves correctly.

In addition to the visual difficulties, my car’s joints were jarred by the potholes which popped up unexpectedly into my path.

I was glad to finally find myself safe at home, surviving another day’s journey away from winter’s wrath toward the solace of spring.

Charm of the Celts

There’s something about a lilting rhyme

That lifts my spirit and makes my heart shine—Penny M

 

Poetry in it’s many forms has lost popularity if indeed it was ever truly appreciated by much of the population.

But it is highly valued by those of us who celebrate creative thought and emotional expression. And some verse is simply fun.

As I make my way through the days of March, waiting for the warmth of spring,

I am reminded of the Irish Blessing.—Penny M

 

Also the wise proverbs and whimsical limericks crafted by citizens of the Emerald Isle throughout it’s history. I love the light verse which wishes us well, and which is all about happy homes and pleasant paths, simple things which make life special.

The rich heritage of the people of ancient Ireland, their wisdom, endurance, and spiritual beliefs are forever captured in the magical verse passed down through the ages.

I especially cherish the little pocket card my friend Cindy gave me for St. Patrick’s Day some years ago, with it’s special Irish wish:

May you always have . . .

A sunbeam to warm you,

Good luck to charm you,

And a sheltering angel

So nothing can harm you,

Laughter to cheer you,

Faithful friends near you,

And whenever you pray,

Heaven to hear you.—Author unknown

Whenever I look at the little card, covered of course in four leaf clovers, I not only think of Cindy, but I feel as though I am sitting in a cozy cottage kitchen, a kettle warming on the stove for tea, gazing upon a sea of spring green hills and valleys, a fresh-scented breeze wafting through the white-curtained windows.

We are indeed all a bit Irish at this time o’year.

May spring bring to you and yours an abundance of good cheer—PennyM  

Fun Fabulous Felting

We sat in a circle, baking pans in our laps, pummeling the pieces of wool with our fingertips. Soaked by a spray of soapy water, the fibers began to fuse together into what we hoped would become change purses, Kleenex caddies, eyeglass cases.

I had always been interested in felting, so when a class was offered at our local library, I quickly signed up. Here I found myself on a frigid winter evening, huddled in a cozy room with about a half-dozen other new students of the fiber art.

Our friendly instructor-storyteller Marie passed around some finished projects, then explained the craft further as we worked. It seems that felt is very simply, matted fiber (traditionally carded wool). Moisture, heat and pressure combine to compress and entwine the fibers. Hot soapy water makes the wool slippery and causes scales to open up. The scales keep the fiber from backing up, so they get hopelessly tangled together. When they are cooled and dried the scales close and lock the wool into a tough, durable material.

We used a pattern of bubble wrap for the items we were making that day. The fibers completely encased the wrap, then the wrap was removed once the items were finished, by cutting in the appropriate spot and pulling the wrap out.

As usual when learning a new hands-on skill, I was way behind the rest of the class. They were turning their creations over, lifting, squeezing, rolling their material fearlessly, while I tediously waited, uncertain when to proceed to the next step. I was certain my project would be a complete failure.

Surprisingly, as the class came to a close, Marie helped me cut a slit in my new forest green change purse (never one to think like the crowd, I had unwittingly been the only student who hadn’t chosen purple wool for the project). All I needed was a cute button to sew on for a closure. My purse had turned out quite successfully for a first try (actually better than some of the others if I do say so myself).

I look forward to checking out more ideas for projects for this fun fiber craft as soon as my schedule permits.

Final Blast of February 2015

The day was sunny. Then suddenly it wasn’t.

As I drove homeward, a dark triangle of cloud covered the northwestern sky, led by a top layer consisting of rows of wind-flattened mare’s tail cirrus.

This morning the temperature had hovered at minus twenty one, but it was now a comparatively balmy plus nineteen. For all practical purposes it didn’t matter as a wicked wind had just moved in, making the real feel a great deal less.

Wispily drifting snow snaked onto the finally cleared, but still salt-whitened road. An inch of new fall is predicted for tonight, then yet another temperature plunge to last into next week. What sort of weather will March winds blow in?

We can only wait with the faith that each year spring has come again, though we never know precisely when.

Posting by Penny