Thousands of people decided not to wait for Black Friday to get their holiday shopping under way. They got a head start on their gift list Saturday, the first day of the weekend-long 37th annual CraftWestport at Staples High School.
The event, presented by the Westport Young Woman's League, featured 167 artists and craftspeople from about 20 states and almost as many volunteers. Proceeds benefit local charities.
"All the money stays in lower Fairfield County," said Meg Himes, who co-chaired the event with Lynn Openshaw. Himes said there are many of the same vendors that people expect to see as well as a number of new artists, all coordinated through Artrider production company.
Two friends, who attend CraftWestport annually together, usually purchase Christmas ornaments for each other every year. This year, instead, they came up with another idea to brighten the spirit of another friend who is going through a difficult time.
"Our Christmas gift to each other is to purchase a gift for a mutual friend who is struggling," said Carol Birch of Southbury. Birch and Melissa Heckler of Cross River, N.Y., chose an inspirational, framed scrimshaw design with an uplifting message carved into the resin created by artists Kim and Katherine McClelland of Tree of Life Art Works in Ohio.
Not everyone had the holidays in mind. Many people were purchasing jewelry, pottery, paintings, etchings, glassware, trendy fashions, fiber arts, clay vessels, wood objects, and specialty foods for themselves.
Janet Bogardus of Norwalk made her way to the booth of Caitlin Burch, a long-time vendor of CraftWestport to buy glass earrings. "We enjoy the jewelry here, and they have new stuff every year, so that's nice," Bogardus said.
"We've been coming to this for 25 years. I love all the different arts and crafts," said Jill Koons of Darien.
"Even if you come with nothing in mind to buy it's fun to walk around," Himes said.
In many ways, the CraftWestport show resembled a casual museum where all the artwork is within easy reach.
Karen Center of Westport marveled at the level of talent required by Jeffrey Nelson to create his marquetry masterpieces. "It's unbelievable. This is gorgeous," Center said as she admired Nelson's nature-inspired inlaid furniture and mirrors. Nelson of Hudson River Inlay in New York shared information on his inlay technique with Center.
"Basically, I'm painting with wood and shells and minerals to render the decorations, the illustrations, on my surfaces," Nelson said.
Bob Stern of Cleveland, Ohio, calls the process he uses to create his whimsical crafts "up-cycling." He and his wife Patti use antique parts, some about a century old, to construct their artwork. "When you recycle something and give it more value it's called up-cycling," he said.
Stern said they have participated in the CraftWestport show for about 15 years. "We love coming here. It's a great area."
Ceramic artist Rosalind Shaffer of Weston participated in CraftWestport for the first time. "I like the idea that it's local and I like the idea that I'm supporting the community, and it's nice to develop a local base," said Shaffer, who is represented by a gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Jacki Baker of Mother Myrick's Confectionery in Manchester, Vt., had participated in the annual event for about 20 years before taking a hiatus. She returned after a six year absence to sell her award-winning butter crunch, tea cakes and chocolates, and many patrons were glad to see her back.
"We're so happy to see you back. We missed you," Ken Kristl told Baker. Kristl and his wife Theresa Swift travel from Landenberg, Penn. Every year at this time to visit friends in Westport but they make sure their visit coincides with the CraftWestport show.
"There's such a wide variety of artists and artisans. Every year we always buy something to decorate the house. It's a great show and a lot of fun," Kristl said.
"We have a lot of loyal customers here, some who come up to the store in Vermont. That kind of relationship is so important," said Baker, one of about a dozen food-related vendors who offered free samples of their goods.
Julie Tolkin of Whipped Up in Weston gave out samples of her Unbakeables egg-free raw cookie dough; at the Dutch Desserts people sampled berry an chocolate pies, and Bittersweet Herb Farm had numerous tasting stations of dips, sauces, oils, vinegars and jams. Patrons also got to taste Bella's Berries Compote, one of Oprah Winfrey's favorite things.