American-made products at CraftWestport make for good holiday gifts
Margaret Alston and Martha Fox look forward to exhibiting their fine gifts of lavender and vintage textiles at CraftWestport because they usually do well in sales. The two business owners from Petersburgh, N.Y., have been part of the fine handcraft fair for seven years.
At their booth Sunday afternoon, several shoppers were perusing an inventory filled with purse organizers -- one of their most popular items -- lavender pillows made from vintage textiles, eyeglass cases and handmade aprons.
Mitzi Hayes of Newtown purchased a linen drawer liner as a holiday gift. This was her first visit to CraftWestport, which has been sponsored by the Westport Young Women's League for the past 35 years. Hayes said she was having a great time getting a jump start on holiday shopping. She also bought a small ceramic dish that she said she would most likely give away as a holiday present. However, a one-of-a-kind shawl that she had packed away was for herself, she said.
Hayes traveled with her friend, Laurie Perry, of Fairfield, for her first time at the Westport art venue. Perry purchased an eyeglass case from Alston and Fox.
For the past two years, the Westport Young Women's League has partnered with Artrider, a company based in Woodstock, N.Y., in producing the event which, along with the Minuteman Race, is the club's major fundraiser.
"We teamed up with Artrider and changed the name of the art festival to CraftWestport to give the show a boost," said Dot Baliban, WYWL craft fair chairperson. "We wanted to explore even more avenues. It`s always been a success, though."
Last year, the WYWL was able to donate almost $70,000 to numerous regional and local charities.
This year, Stacey Janit and her assistant Laura Kandel of Artrider were responsible for selecting 160 artists to showcase mixed media, wood, leather, fine jewelry, clay, fiber, textiles and specialty foods for the juried show.
"Everything here is made in North America," Janit said. "The people who come to this show get the chance to talk and meet each artist. They are able to buy directly from them, which is not often the case. Even at the big art festivals, you have other people selling the artists' work."
Some of the innovative, contemporary handcrafts exhibited this season included those made by Westport artist Karen Ford. Although she is known for her original ceramic pieces that contain melted glass pieces, Ford also displayed ornate silk scarves that featured nuno felting techniques. A Westport resident since 1992, Ford works out of a home studio as well as a larger one in Port Chester, N.Y. All of her ceramic pieces are functional, she said.
"I want people to use them," Ford said.
Ford enjoys working in clay because, she said, "it forces people to be patient."
"We're all so attached to our cell phones and other technologies," Ford said.
Another Westport resident, Michele Albano, owner of Michelle's Pies, was also one of the exhibitors at this weekend's CraftWestport. A WYWL member, Albano offered scrumptious pies, holiday cookies and breads that she also sells at her Norwalk retail store. Albano's recipe for maple pumpkin pie with pecan streusel is featured in Chef Bobby Flay's recently published cook book, Throwdown.
"She is a great friend of everyone in our club, and we all love her delicious pies," Baliban said.
Along with its "cohesive, symbiotic relationship" with Artrider, Baliban explained that the WYWL also reaches out to other community service organizations for assistance. Volunteers from the Westport EMS and the Service League of Boys, a philanthropic group of young men from Staples High School, help with setting up and breaking down the art festival.
"We also have people from the organizations that we support -- such as Bethel Recovery Center and Project Return -- help us out," Baliban said.
WYWL members and their families are also on call throughout the two-day event to help out wherever they are needed. Eight-year-old Ella Bayazik, a third-grader at Coleytown Elementary School, spent all of Sunday afternoon selling baked goods for Project Return. Accompanied by her mother, Deborah, Ella took people's money as they purchased Rice Krispie treats, an almond and cranberry mix and coffee cake. By far the best-selling item, though, were the chocolate chip cookies, Ella said.
Thousands of people attended this weekend's CraftWestport. WYWL member Lauren LoFrisco said people were waiting for the doors to open when she arrived early Saturday morning.
"These people take their shopping very seriously," she said.