North Bay holiday arts and craft fairs offer one-of-a-kind gifts
During the first official weekend of the holiday shopping season, millions of Americans will flock to stores for doorbuster deals or flit around the vast cybermall in search of fabulous finds.
But it could be an exercise in faith and luck. Just as vaccines have made people feel less timid about venturing into stores, there are new worries. Kinks in the supply chain, shipping container shortages, price inflation and a lack of labor to man warehouses and registers mean it will be a lot harder to fulfill holiday wishes this year.
But one niche of the market that is back and thriving after a year on hiatus is craft fairs. The COVID-19 pandemic has given crafters and makers more time to build up inventory and experiment with new ideas. People hungry for human interaction, a tactile shopping experience and a chance to buy local at a time when people are still hurting economically from the pandemic are surging to handmade markets. Every weekend until Christmas there is a craft, artist or makers fair somewhere along the North Coast offering handmade, one-of-a-kind gifts.
One of the biggest fairs is the Handmade Holiday Crafts Fair. With more than 90 vendors spread throughout the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa on the first weekend in December, it draws serious shoppers who love the emporium atmosphere and huge selection. But many come not just to browse but determined to land a piece from a special artist or maker.
“We actually have to do a map at the gate when people come in, to help them identify which vendors are in which room, so they can go straight to their favorites,” said Al Pritchard, a recreation coordinator for the city of Santa Rosa, which has put on the event for 47 Christmases.
Janet Ciel, manager of the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market, said the city has expanded the market not only by the number of vendors but the number of days. Typically, the market rules allow for only six crafts vendors, but as the growing season winds down, more artisans are welcomed in. Instead of shutting down after Thanksgiving, it will remain open on Saturdays through Dec. 18 for holiday shoppers who like to buy gifts, as well as their food, from the source.
“By the time December happens, if the weather holds, we’ll probably have 35 craft vendors, plus the Farmers’ Market,” she said.
The market decided to stay open an extra three weeks last year during the pandemic, providing a safer outdoor place to shop. It went so well that they decided to do it again this year.
Among the vendors is Jennifer Utsch, a former Utah sheriff’s deputy and firefighter who now makes “signs of love” out of powder-coated sheet metal, each with individual messages in English and other languages. Her signs can be strung together to create prayer flags or vertical mobiles, each with bells. Utsch also brings a limited amount of her tin can lamps, memo boards, picture frames and flower boards.
A lot of craft-fair followers look for practical gifts and functional art for home and garden. They are drawn to artisans like Laura Sandoval, who studied floral design at Santa Rosa Junior College and makes dried flower wreaths that she sells at the Healdsburg and other farmers markets. She gleans many of her materials from her own half acre of property. Keeping it completely local, she makes her wreath bases mostly from manzanita wood harvested from the land of another Healdsburg resident, who offered his trees after her previous sources were burned in the Kincade fire.
“I think people are craving more fundamental connections to have things that are handmade and meeting the person who made them,” said Jacqueline Formanek, a longtime potter from Bodega Bay who was set up at the West County Craft Faire at the Sebastopol Grange on Sunday.
“I love working farmers markets. You get your beautiful organic food; you meet the farmer. And ... I made these bowls that you can eat your salad out of,” she added.
As she talked, another woman spotted a tiny, sage-green dish. Formanek rolls doilies, lace, plants, ginkgo leaves, crabgrass and other objects into slabs of wet clay to leave delicate impressions in the decorative pieces where one might place a ring or a cherished pair of earrings at the end of the day.
“It’s just so beautiful,” said Joen Madonna, who didn’t hesitate a minute before handing over $20 for the piece and tucking it away in her bag.
“I’m into the arts, and I support artists and crafts” said Madonna, who runs the arts organization Artspan in San Francisco.
“I only ever buy from local people. I don’t buy mass-made stuff. I just know the people who do this for a living have put in so much energy to make something. That’s where I’m going to put my money.”