Galleries : A show of talent: Labor Day Artisans Festival
This Friday, approximately 85 Island artists, artisans, and craftsmen will be unpacking their wares at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, in preparation for the 14th annual Labor Day Vineyard Artisans Festival, which opens on Saturday. They will be setting up their booths both inside the hall and in tents on the lawn outside.
"It's a great show," says Carol Tripp, as she sits behind her spinning wheel. "There are lots of people, and they're all very supportive. The Labor Day show feels really big."
Vineyard Artisans Festival, an outgrowth of the former Vineyard Craftsmen shows, consists of a series of shows from Memorial Day to December, including twice-weekly shows at the Grange during July and August (weekly on Sundays from June through Columbus Day Weekend) as well as holiday weekend events at the Agricultural Hall. The festivals are organized by Andrea Rogers, who worked with the Craftsmen shows for several years, taking over the administration of their scholarship fund around the time she started managing the Artisans Festivals. The $2 parking fees collected at the artisans events at the Agricultural Hall go towards a scholarship for a graduating Martha's Vineyard Regional High School student who is pursuing a career in art. This year, the artisans will also sell cotton shopping bags, with the proceeds also going to the scholarship fund.
A participating artisan herself, Ms. Rogers grows lavender on the Island and uses it in potpourris and decorative arrangements. "I take a small stipend from the rents," she says, "which mostly just cover expenses, but I make my living selling the things in my booth. I love working with my hands and gardening, always have."
Like many of the other artisans, Ms. Rogers began working at her craft before this show had its start in the mid-90s. "I started out at the farmers' market on Wednesdays behind Up-Island Cronig's," she says.
Dan Waters, printmaker and former Poet Laureate of West Tisbury, has also been with Vineyard Artisans since its early years. "The shows are worth doing because you get to have conversations with the people who are going to buy your art," he says. "You feel like part of the family."
The economic slow-down has had some effect on local artisans, but they remain optomistic.
Mr. Waters says, "Business is definitely down, but I don't think it's down as much as it would be if we lived in, say - Ohio. People appreciate that they are getting something locally made and high quality that they can't get anywhere else, but they are going for smaller-ticket items. Our customers are loyal. They'd probably do without something from Walmart before they'd do without something from the Artisans Fair."
"We have dedicated customers," Ms. Rogers says, "but times aren't what they were. People are still supporting us, and we're grateful for that."
All agree that selling art is an unpredictable business.
"It's kind of like every year," says photographer Debra Gaines. "You never know how it's going to go."
In the face of that unpredictability, the artists and artisans have developed a sense of community among themselves over the years.
"We're like a big family," says Ms. Rogers. "You know how a well-oiled machine works; it's like that. The show would go on, even if I weren't there - they're almost at the point where they don't need me. They're so good."
John Duryea, a relative newcomer to the show, makes end-grain butcher blocks. He says, "The Vineyard Artisans group has been extremely supportive, in a good and nurturing way. The visitors have been wonderful, as well."
This year's newer participants include artists working in a variety of crafts. Billy Hoff, of Lamplighter Corner, will be selling copper and brass lighting fixtures. Whitney Moody makes hand-knit and felted bags. Bill Moore creates beds shaped like ferry boats for children's bedrooms. Ms. Rogers's daughter, Jamie, a blacksmith, will have her own booth at the Labor Day fair for the first time. There will be ceramics, furniture, leather work, paintings, photography, cards, poetry, fiber arts, and more, ranging from small items to major works.
"There's really nothing like selling locally," says Mr. Waters. "It's simply a better model for my business."
The 14th annual Labor Day Artisan Festival is Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 5 and 6, from 10 am to 5 pm, Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. Kevin Keady and the Cattle Drivers will provide musical entertainment, and John George will bring his horse cart for wagonrides, weather permitting. Food provided by Sweet Life Café. $2 parking fee; free admission.
Amelia Smith is a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury.