By Jon Farmer
When the first Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival was held in 1976, organizers intended to promote folk music and folk arts. They filled the space between musical stages with crafts people demonstrating and selling their wares. The artisans didn’t have electrical access in 1976 and instead used candles and lanterns to light their booths at night. Forty years later, the Artisan Village is still a bright spot at the festival.
I discovered the magic of the Artisan Village one night at my first Summerfolk. I was heading back to the amphitheatre, following my new favourite artists between stages. Part way through the Artisan Village some acoustic music caught my attention. A group was jamming in a vendor tent ahead of me. I lingered at the entrance watching a handful of people in the dimly lit space, some sitting on the ground, some on chairs, all playing the handmade instruments from the displays. When the song ended someone greeted me and handed me a guitar that I couldn’t have afforded as a fifteen year old. I played Folsom Prison Blues and someone pulled a harmonica out of their pocket for a solo. I left the jamming artisans with a smile on my face. I’ve forgotten whether that booth belonged to Ron Belanger or Outside Instruments, but both are returning for the 40th Anniversary Summerfolk.
Becoming a Summerfolk artisan is a competitive process. Aspiring crafts people apply through a discerning jury. The criteria are fixed: crafts must be handmade and of superb quality. After that, it’s anything goes. Seventy artisans applied to fill just 46 spaces. This year they’ll bring everything from hand forged metal and carved stone, to jewellery, clothing, instruments, and longboards. The juried process ensures a healthy mix of new and returning vendors. Each year 25-30% of the booths are new. Artisans are invited to submit their best works to the juried craft show over the weekend for the chance to win judges’, artisans’, and people’s choice awards.
Amanda Cuffe came to Summerfolk for the first time in 2014 with her Amanda Sew & Sooo booth, full of colourful handmade coats and sweaters. Amanda grew up surrounded by art in her grandfather’s Tobermory studio. Although she’s created art for her entire life, she only began to sew eight years ago when she inherited the contents of her aunt’s sewing room. She describes her sewing process like painting with big unrestricted strokes of colour. After a quick visit to her website, I she what she means. Her coats are colourful fabric collages that look decidedly spunky and warm. Amanda doesn’t use patterns. Every piece is truly one-of-a-kind. She made a good impression in 2014, winning the People’s Choice Award. She’s back for Summerfolk40.
Mark and Shelli Eisenberg brought their Delicate Touch Jewellery to Summerfolk for the first time in 1977 and have been back almost every year since. They use a soft saw technique to create beautifully intricate designs in gold and silver. If you’ve seen silver earrings shaped like the Georgian Bay Folk Society logo, then you know their work. Over their own 40 year career, Mark and Shelli have vended at hundreds of fairs and festivals but Summerfolk is their favourite. “We come back every year because we enjoy it and we do well,” Mark said on the phone from their studio in Hamilton. “It’s kind of like coming home”.
Summerfolk is a family affair for Mark and Shelli – in fact, their family started at the festival – and they brought their children every year after. One year the kids set up a face painting station to make a little money. “They ate like kings all weekend”, Mark said.
Artisans camp behind their booths during Summerfolk, a tradition that helps the Artisan Village live up to its name. Richard Cox started to make wooden flutes a decade ago and has brought them to Summerfolk for almost as long. You’ll find him at his booth through the day, in the Down by the Bay tent enjoying the music at night, and cooking breakfast behind his booth in the early mornings.
Vince Bowen brought Rockrose Pottery to the festival in 1979 and hasn’t missed a year since. He’s known for fine porcelain ware with classic, simple forms, colourful glazes, and an eye for function. He has a history of winning the juried competition. Vince has shown his pottery at festivals across the country gathering a following of patrons, volunteers, and well-known musicians. Summerfolk is close to both his home and his heart.
Over the weekend, festival goers wander through the Artisan Village like treasure hunters. They chat with artisans, linger over pieces, and circle their favourites, deciding whether to carry them home. It’s not uncommon to see young and old walking the festival grounds showing off their newest souvenirs whether it’s one of Joel Brubacher’s Banjo Puppets or Lisa Spalding’s henna tattoos. The art, like the festival, is easy to get attached to.
You can find out more about all 46 of the artisans at www.summerfolk.org and meet them for yourself at the 40th anniversary Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival at Kelso Beach in Owen Sound, August 21-23rd.