League of N.H. Craftsmen Fair looks to the future

  • Young Craftsman Fair onlookers watch Richard Foye do a Raku demonstration at last year's Sunapee event. Photos courtesy of the League of New Hampshire Craftmen’s Fair

  • Fairgoers in the craft tent at last year's Craftsmen's Fair at Sunapee. Courtesy of League of N.H. Craftmen’s Fair

  • Craftsman Julia Bradis shows her work to fairgoers at last year’s event in Sunapee.

  • Craftsman Garry Kalajian (left) shows his blacksmith skills at last year's fair at Sunapee. COURTESY—Craftmens Fair

  • Michael Updike, Shana Brautigam and Alex Kalish, from left to right, blow horns to kick off a previous League of New Hampshire Craftsmen fair. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 8/3/2022 5:00:44 PM

 The boom of blowing horns will be heard throughout the Sunapee region this Saturday.

“It kind of sounds like a sick animal,” said Miriam Carter, a fiber artist and executive director of the League of NH Craftsmen.

But when the signature sound bellows at 10 a.m. on Aug. 6, the League’s 89th Annual Craftsmen’s Fair will officially kick-off.

“That’s a years-long tradition,” said Carter, a fourth-generation feltmaker. “And every time I hear it I get the chills because the wonder of the craftsmen and the work they create is being celebrated and enjoyed by the people going into the fair.”

The event, which runs through Aug. 14 at the Mount Sunapee Resort, is an opportunity for nearly 200 juried craftsmen to sell and showcase their work. There will also be live demonstrations throughout the week and many other hands-on opportunities.

It is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the League, bringing in around 20,000 people to the base of Mount Sunapee.

“We generally net over $400,000 for this event, and we really try to remind people at the gate that we appreciate their support because it’s more than just a shopping trip,” Carter said. “They’re actually supporting the organization, and the organization’s job is to support its members – the makers of craft. So it’s doing good.”

It started as an outgrowth of the Great Depression, when Gov. John Gilbert Winant encouraged people to make and sell handmade products. Many Granite Staters would set up outside their homes, leading to the establishment of a fair in 1933. Its lengthy history enables generations of families to come to what has become one of New Hampshire’s most iconic summertime events.

A key part of this year’s fair is a renewed focus on getting younger craftsmen into the industry. At the heart of this operation is Rachel Montroy, the League’s education and community outreach coordinator. A six-year juried craftsman herself, Montroy also teaches ceramics at Saint Anselm College and NHTI.

“As a teacher, I feel like kids need more opportunities to be creative, and they don’t always get those opportunities, especially when they’re not in school in the summer months,” she said. “One of my approaches is letting kids take everyday material and show them how they can be creative and make things and use their hands.”

The 89th Annual Fair will feature a “Craft Clues” scavenger hunt throughout the resort, as well as a “Kids Create” tent with different stations to allow kids to “just go crazy making stuff.”

There will also be a “Next Generation” tent where young demonstrators who have been working with Montroy will display skills in woodcarving, pottery or spinning. Each of them has been meeting with a member of the League since March to prepare for the big event and will get an area to showcase their work. 

“In the long run, it’s really important so we can continue the tradition of the league and foster new members at an early age and share with them the community that we have,” she said. “I’ve been making things since I was five, so I’m hoping to find those kids like me that want to meet their peers that are like-minded and give them an outlet and a place to learn and network with other craftsmen that are learning and also with those that are professional.”

This year also marks a return to complete normal following 2020’s virtual fair and 2021’s hybrid one. Fortunately, it was a largely successful pandemic period for the League as membership applications skyrocketed while everyone stayed home. The group also began to embrace technology more, which was occasionally a challenge for some older members.

“We offered lots of classes on how to build a website and how to manage social media, and, begrudgingly, many of them joined us that way for 2020,” Carter said. “And last year was actually the most successful fair for the organization as well as the individual artists in many, many years. There was a $400,000 increase of crafts being sold from 2019 to 2021, all on the side of a mountain in the middle of New Hampshire. That’s pretty cool.”

With tents pitched and vendors ready to sell, the last thing left is to blow the horns.

“It’s quite a huge job to do, but we take great pride in everything from the program guide that we hand out to the setup of the booths to the offerings of food and drink that we have here,” Carter said. “It’s all been well thought out, including how to get people quickly through the gates. We provide a really great experience, and we encourage people to come spend the entire day here to enjoy a day at the fair.”

For more information, visit nhcrafts.org.

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