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Hand-made fun: Old Deerfield Arts and Crafts Festival offers something for all

  • Carla Press of The Meshugenah Hat Co., operated out of Troy, N.H., helps Barbara Granlund from Hardwick try on a hat during the 41st annual Old Deerfield Fall Arts and Crafts Festival. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Kathie Ziobrowski of Averill Park, N.Y., and Joshua Gentile of Halifax, Vt., admire the artwork of John Houle, a wood-burning artist with 40 years experience and owner of Burnt Offerings Art. Ziobrowski purchased the cabin scene wood burning to the far left. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE



For the Gazette
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

OLD DEERFIELD — As guests to the 41st Old Deerfield Fall Arts and Crafts Festival wandered past Kristen Blaker’s vibrantly colored vegetable sculptures and into her booth last Saturday, they would frequently find a reason to smile.

Blaker’s unique art pairs wordplay with simple images such as “Keep on the sunny side” alongside a sunflower, or “Oh just muck it,” with a pair of muck boots. Chuckles abounded in her tent during Blaker’s first time at the Old Deerfield show.

“People just want to have a little sense of humor in their life,” said Blaker, 38, who operates KristenB Studio in Bennington, Vt. “That’s really what this artwork is all about—– bringing some humor into someone’s life.”

If not Blaker’s prints and lunch bags, there was a little something for everyone at the eclectic festival, which featured pottery, jewelry, baskets, leather, painting, dolls, sculptures, woodworking and more.

Ella Colton, director of the Old Deerfield Fall Arts and Crafts Festival, said craft vendors come from all over the country, citing vendors from Tennessee, Texas and California.

She expected approximately 10,000 guests during the festival’s hours, which continued Sunday.

While adults perused the shopping booths or enjoyed lunch at the food tent, children could take part in free dinosaur and traditional crafting activities at the new Children’s Activity Hall.

“We’re trying to make it more of a family event as opposed to just a shopping experience,” Colton said.

Some of the art forms on display were entirely new to guests, according to John Houle, 69, who creates wood burnings through his business Burnt Offerings Art, located in Hamden, Conn.

“A lot of younger people, especially, have no idea what (wood burning) is,” he said. Despite signs that state the artwork is wood burned, Houle said people continue to ask if his pieces are, in fact, paintings.

The walls of Houle’s booth were covered with wood burnings on pieces of birch wood both large and small. Sometimes Houle added color using light-wash acrylic paint. Many of his pieces featured exotic wildlife, inspired from Houle’s trips to natural parks, reservations and foreign countries, while others featured well-known lighthouses and landmarks.

Many of the artists and craftspeople shared a drive to create unique pieces unlike anything guests to the festival had ever seen before.

“They’re fresh,” Blaker said of her prints and lunch bags. “That’s what I’m going for.”

Debi Hitter, 59, owner of Ms. Sticks Walking Sticks out of Castleton, N.Y., agreed while discussing how she is inspired to create her handmade walking sticks and key chains.

“I know what I keep in my booth, but I want to make something different,” Hitter said. “Sometimes I just need to walk around with a stick.”

For Hitter, who has been making walking sticks for 20 years, her business is less about making money and more about making memories for others. Hitter crafts what she calls “Life History Sticks” featuring a person’s significant life events.

“Some guys will just be crying on the phone,” Hitter said, describing a common reaction after receiving a life history stick as a gift. “To touch people like that is just a great feeling.”

Perhaps above all, the festival gave craft vendors an opportunity to share their passions — and talents — with the world.

“I love what I do and I think the world needs more of that,” Hitter said.