Local League of NH Craftsmen members ready to return to annual fair

  • Shana Brautigam, owner of Rooted in Clay, center, blows a clay horn at the start and end of each day at the League of NH Craftsmen Fair. Courtesy photo

  • A fermentation crock by Shana Brautigam, owner of Rooted in Clay in Rindge.

  • Courtesy photo

  • A child’s coat made by Joyce LeBlanc, owner of JL Designs, of Rindge.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/6/2021 5:46:46 PM

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s 88th Annual Fair will return to an in-person offering in 2021, following a one-year switch to a virtual model due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fair opens Saturday, Aug. 7 on the grounds of Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury and will run daily through Sunday, Aug. 15. For the local juried craftspeople, it’s a welcome return to the traditional way of the fair. Because last year was “just really strange to miss” said Shana Brautigam of Rindge, owner of Rooted in Clay.

Brautigam did take part in the virtual fair, but said it was no substitute for being in her booth with a selection of her clay works out for all to see.

“You don’t get a chance to connect with people,” she said. “To see what pieces they’re drawn to, see what catches their eye.”

Brautigam missed the instant feedback that you get at a place like the League Fair and the connections she had made with other crafters.

“I think all of us are eager to get back out there,” Brautigam said. “Artists are isolated in their studios normally and even more so last year, so all the craftspeople are excited to see each other.”

Brautigam said she will bring mostly new work that she’s made since May and always knows to bring plenty of mugs simply because “they’re the most popular.”

Stephen Willette of Bennington makes fiber art tools so not only is his work a piece of art, but it’s also a functional tool used for practices like knitting, crocheting and weaving.

“The tools without being shown how to use them makes no sense,” Willette said. “People need to see it, touch it, try it out, know how it feels in their hand.”

Willette described the virtual fair as different, but a necessity.

“It was really no substitute, but virtual shows are how we survived,” he said. He missed interacting with people and discussing his work and can’t wait to return to the fair this weekend. He believes others feel the same.

“If they’re like me they’re chomping at the bit to get back to normal,” Willette said.

There’s also the financial impact the fair has on a yearly basis as “this is essentially where we get most of our income,” he said. He also draws inspiration by just being around other creative people.

Anne Behrsing of Francestown has been attending the fair for more than two decades with her handcrafted silver and gold jewelry and said the fair is like a little family as she has held a booth next to the same people for years.

“It will definitely be nice to see everyone in person,” she said. “And there’s something about being with someone face to face.”

Behrsing said over the years she has developed a lot of repeat customers who were very good to her during the pandemic last year, but she’s ready to return to the fair at the base of Mount Sunapee.

Behrsing got into jewelry making through a class at the Sharon Arts Center as a 22-year-old and then apprenticed for a maker before developing her own style and going out on her own.

“It was a funny path,” she said. “And it’s my job and I do work all the time at it.”

The fair represents anywhere from a third to a quarter of her income for the year.

Joyce LeBlanc of Rindge, who operates JL Designs and makes timeless children’s clothing with a vintage flair, attended her first fair in 2018 and described it as mind-blowing.

“I had nothing to compare it to so every sale was a gift,” she said. In 2019, her sales almost doubled. She participated in the virtual fair as well last year, but it just wasn’t the same. She said returning to in-person this year brings about the same excitement as her first year.

LeBlanc brings some clothing with her to the fair, but a lot of times the inventory she has on display leads to custom orders.

“What I love doing is working with a customer to put together a one-of-a-kind outfit,” LeBlanc said. “I put a lot of detail into my pieces.”

She has always enjoyed sewing and long ago decided her path would be to specialize in children’s clothing.

“It’s really important to me that children feel special,” LeBlanc said.

The craft booths will be spaced out a bit more this year to give fairgoers a little more room, but the event will have the same dynamic look and feel as previous events.

“Our members have spent more than a year working diligently and many have explored new ways to express their creativity. People will likely see things they have never seen before,” said Miriam Carter, Executive Director of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. “It has been a long and difficult path to get here. This past year has been deeply challenging for all of us, and the journey will be reflected in the passion of our members’ work. We invite everyone to reconnect with the League and rejoin a critical part of our state’s creative economy.”

The Craftsmen’s Fair is the League’s signature event and the biggest fundraiser for the nonprofit organization, which serves more than 650 juried members. This year, the Fair will feature more than 300 exhibitors, the Art, Craft & Design and Sculpture Garden Exhibitions, and opportunities to watch members demonstrate and learn more about the processes that go into creating beautiful handmade items in a variety of mediums.

Masks are optional for this event and attendees who have not been vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask. Tickets are available online at nhcrafts.org. Online ticket holders will experience a shorter time in line, and quick movement through the gates.

The fair will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, rain or shine with shopping, demonstrations, and food available throughout the day. Ticket revenue helps the League to support members by assisting in funding their efforts to learn marketing skills, continue to refine their craft and connect with the public.

“There will be plenty of tears, but they will certainly be joyful as our members, many of whom have known each other for many years, can finally gather again face to face,” Carter said. “This is a special group of people, who had to be innovative and resourceful to stay in business, just like others who weathered the pandemic. This is a way of life for so many people in New England and I am thrilled and honored to once again host this event.”

For more information and tickets, visit nhcrafts.org.

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