ARTISANS – Eighty-eighth annual Craftsmen Fair set for Aug. 7-15

NEWBURY – Art lovers rejoice. The in-person extravaganza for all things creative and crafted is back.

From Aug. 7-15, some 20,000 people will converge on the Mount Sunapee Resort to celebrate art with the 88th annual Craftsmen Fair presented by the League of N.H. Craftsmen.

Attendees will be able to shop in-person at nearly 200 booths of juried craft from league members and invited guest artists in a wide range of media areas.

N.H. League executive director Miriam Carter said that as this is their 88th year, and last year’s event was virtual, she expects great things from this year’s “live and in-person” fair.

“It’s interesting,” she said. “One of my challenges as executive director is to change the perception of the league in people’s eyes because in some ways, we’re the best kept secret in New Hampshire. But in other ways, we’re really well known.”

Folks in and around these parts know either the seven fine craft galleries around the state (there is one in downtown Nashua, in Concord and in Portsmouth), or they know the league from the fair.

“But one doesn’t necessarily know the other,” Carter pointed out. “And then some people don’t know about us at all, which is curious. But go out of state, and people know all about us. It’s very funny.”

The quality, uniqueness and beauty of what the league of craftsmen represents is what draws people to the galleries or to the annual fair. The league itself, Carter explained, began in 1932 in the North Country.

“It was basically a relationship with the state,” she said. “It was after the depression and Gov. Winant wanted to support handmade goods, so back then it was candles and wood carvings. Basically, we wanted to find a way to monetize these beautiful handmade crafts.”

Gov. Winant worked with the individuals and that collaboration eventually led to the League of N.H. Craftsmen being born. Carter said it all began with people selling their artwork on picnic tables.

“Over the years, it evolved into a jury process and refined handcraft,” she said. “And then we became leaders in the fine craft movement, especially in the ’50s. That’s when we started to attract a lot of talented artists to the state of New Hampshire.”

With over 650 members who are involved with the league, Carter estimated that 300 – 350 artists will be bringing their work to the event, either at a booth that they’ll have for a period of days or by participating in exhibitions.

“We have a big, central event called the Art Craft and Design Exhibition,” she said. “And we present awards for individual pieces that are judged. We also have an event called Shop at the Fair, which is basically a group of league artists who create a store. It’s for the folks who don’t have the ability to have a booth but want their artwork represented there.”

Carter said there are often requests from potential members who wish to belong to the league. That process is only done every six months, according to Carter.

“We’re really fortunate,” she said. “Our job is to always be attracting new talent and we’re coming out of the pandemic, so our jury process slowed down a bit. We generally process between 30 and 40 candidates every six months and not everyone makes it.”

Carter figured there are about 50 – 60 new artists added to the league each year. The league has a fall jury and a spring jury.

“The artists come and meet with a jury of their peers,” she explained. “And these folks who are jurying are masters of their craft. And they meet with artists to see what their work is all about, whether they have the technical expertise and equally important is the spirit of the maker, meaning their individual voice, that it’s not work that is repetitive or reflects the work of someone else.”

With a very active, ongoing process, Carter said that the league strives to find new artists who are original in their art and their approach.

“We want to represent lots of different craft media,” she shared.

The goal of the league is to expand its creativity with all types of art – well – most types of art. Carter stated that there are some things that are not considered for representation by the league or its galleries.

“I’d like to think the field of craft is open for creativity,” she said. “We tend to represent traditional crafts, but we’re always trying to educate ourselves with what’s happening currently in creativity, especially with kids coming out of school.”

The league is having discussions, Carter said, about what teens are creating in the STEM and medical fields. She said they’re always trying to keep their hands on the pulse of what is going on.

“We’re always open to new forms of craft,” she said. “But more often than not, there is some kind of link to a traditional craft. There may be a new take on an old favorite.”

Carter cited the example of artist Becky Sawyer, who makes a beautiful line of earrings called “shrinky dinks,” by taking her amazing drawings and putting them through the shrinky dink process to create exquisite jewelry creations.

“We could put her in a category of a non-metal jewelry or we can put her in a category of mixed media,” Carter said. “We have various categories that become inclusive, but we are open to all forms of creativity. At this time, we don’t represent fine art, but Becky draws beautiful monarch butterflies and makes earrings out of them. That’s fine art but then she shrinks them and puts them into a craft form. She goes one step further.”

At the fair, attendees can especially have the chance to meet the maker of their favorite piece of jewelry or a crafted bowl that they’re fond of.

“You get to hear the story and make that connection,” Carter said. “So that when you drink that cup of coffee, you think of this wonderful memory of meeting the artist and we had this great conversation. That’s what I like about living with craft.”

Folks interested in attending the 88th Annual Craftsmen Fair should visit nhcrafts.org. Please note that parking at the event is free, and there are no pets allowed on the Fairgrounds. All single day admissions are valid for any one day of the event, and any two day admission is valid for any two days – they do not need to be consecutive. If you are currently a juried or supporting member of the League, you are entitled to free passes to the Fair, based on your member level. You will redeem these at the Member/VIP line at the Fair gate. General admission tickets are $16; children under 12 are free. Senior (over 62) tickets are $14; two-day admission is $24.