Why is craft show popularity expanding?

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Things made by hand meant to be experienced by hand

By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com (318-352-3618 ext. 218)

In America in the 17th century, just prior to the founding of Natchitoches, creators were making a living on one-of-a-kind goods. When machines took over, mass producing ceramic bowls and textiles, once exclusively by-hand industries, out went the handmade and the term “artisan” became popular. Today, support for handmade items has been on an upward turn for more than a decade.

Cheryl Pianoforte

Enter Cheryl Gianforte, the driving force behind this weekend’s Fleur de Lis Craft Show at the Events Center. It began in 2005 when some crafters and Gianforte wanted to offer a handmade only show.  The Events Center was being constructed so they used the Arts Center. That year, there were 15 vendors. In 2006, it moved to the Events Center and grew to over 60 vendors.  “A few years after that, we incorporated the lobby area and went to 75 and then absorbed the banquet/meeting rooms to finally reach capacity of 113,” she said.

The indoor show is popular because shoppers can browse at leisure in comfort unaffected by the weather. In this age of technology, why do craft shows thrive when things can be purchased online? Simple. Things made by hand are meant to be experienced by hand.

Steve Spires of Slidell is the author of Three Little Shrimp and The Oak Tree

“The obvious benefit of an in-person booth is the face-to- face interaction,” Gianforte said. “Customers love to learn about how an item is made and vendors love to share this information.  Sometimes there are stories as to where a particular medium comes from.  For example, I use wine corks as my signature medium.  When I do a Louisiana shape in wine corks, I always adhere the ‘Landry’ cork first in the northeast corner of the state, because that is where their vineyard is located.  When I point this tidbit of information out to customers, they are grateful to know this and it adds a bit more charm to the piece.”

Some vendors also demonstrate on site at a show. Craftsmen and women are seen painting, monogramming, doing leatherwork and creating jewelry in their booths. Seeing how something is made is often as important as the final product. “One of our vendors paints slates on site and personalizes them.  My husband, Fred, will often work on his rosaries or customize a rosary for a client. Burley Johnson is always demonstrating the making of fly fishing lures at his booth,” Gianforte said.

Susan Ahlersmeyer makes jewelry from vintage flatware

Besides the attraction of being indoors, booth cost is reasonable and the timing is perfect. “With the Christmas lights being turned on, we are fortunate to have large crowds eager to shop. Many customers tell me that they want to avoid the Black Friday crowds at the malls and can usually get most, if not all, of their gifts at FDL,” she said. Gianforte said there will never be direct sales items at the show and a Secret Shopper is hired to ensure that only handmade items are available.  “I think that, by my husband and I being vendors as well, this gives us a unique perspective to putting on a show.  We glean things we like from other shows we participate in and tweak when needed.”

When preparing for the show, vendors must consider the design and appeal of their booths to attract customers. “Most booths are 10×10 feet so crafters must be creative to maximize the use of the space. Vendors are encouraged to go vertical in their displays, using boxes and shelving to maximize space. Some vendors make their own displays.” One vendor, Dawn Celles, uses picture frames to display the 200+ pairs of earrings she has fashioned.  Others use old suitcases or crates to display items.

Handmade pottery  by Susan Rodrigue.  

Set up begins early in the day Saturday, with some vendors having left their homes at 3 a.m. Check in is at 7 a.m. They must unload their displays, inventory and other items then move their vehicle. A security guard is hired to expedite.

Marketing is also something the FDL has going for it. Gianforte has a presence in the Natchitoches Times and through other media to promote the show. Vendors are not responsible for their own advertising.

Most vendors accept cash and credit for purchases.

Burley Johnson makes fly fishing poppers

The show runs from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24 at the Events Center on Second Street. Featured items include jewelry, décor, soaps, quilts, toys, children’s clothes, pottery, homemade jellies and birdhouses. Admission is free.