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Putting the Crafts into Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival

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.

Work by Amanda Sew & Sooo

Work by Amanda Sew & Sooo

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.

delicate touch

Rings by Delicate Touch Jewellery

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.

Trevor MacKenzie trying out a Rosbilt TinCan Banjo/Ukelele at Summerfolk39

Trevor MacKenzie trying out a Rosbilt TinCan Banjo/Ukelele at Summerfolk39

Q & A with the Wareham Forge

The Artisan Village puts the ‘Craft’ into the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival.  Recently, we asked Darrell Markewitz of the Wareham Forge about his over 20 years of Summerfolk experience.

At how many Summerfolks have you vended?

“Over 20”

I think my first year was either 1992 or 1993. I’ve missed two years over the period to this year.

How would you describe your experience at Summerfolk to another vendor who has never been?

The atmosphere at Summerfolk is far more relaxed than a typical ‘just sales’ event. There are a large number of people attending who come for all of the three days, plus a large number who actually camp on site for the whole event. This means a lot of ‘browsing’, people typically will make several returns to an individual booth, after viewing the entire selection of artistic work available, before making a purchase. This also goes for people who return year after year, watching your work as it develops. Generally I feel that although this does mean more effort on my part, it does make for a ‘better educated’ customer.

The very relaxed ‘old hippie’ tone to the event, coupled with this return flow, does mean that booth security has never, ever, been a concern for me personally. If you wander off yourself for a half hour (to see a music set), nothing will be missing and any potential customers know they can just catch you later.

Balanced against this are the length of the working days. Typically 12 plus hours – longer when you consider the set up Friday and tear down Sunday.

 How does Summerfolk compare to other craft and music festivals you attend?

Honestly, I have cut back on other sales events in the last decade.

Partially because of the huge work involved in transporting and setting up the booth structure. My own work has been come more complex over the decades – with an increase in pricing related to this quality and scale increase. I don’t make $20 candle holders any more, and consider my presentation at Summerfolk more of a gallery setting – than any specific attempt to generate sales. This year Summerfolk is the *only* retail sales event that I will be taking part in.

One significant part of Summerfolk is distinctive : the Artisan Gallery.

The original intent of this was to allow individual artists to display work well beyond the scope of typical sales items. Supporting this effort with cash prizes has proved especially effective in encouraging this additional effort to produce more elaborate objects by the artists.

(I’ve won a good number of these over the years, and personally I can tell you this recognition has been very important in personally encouraging my own work.)

What is your favourite Summerfolk memory?

For me it comes down to the people.

There are a group of regional artisans who over the years I have come to consider my peers. Many of these people I only see at Summerfolk, but even still there is a warmth of seeing ‘old friends’ every year.

This extends to the ‘customers’ as well. I do have some regulars who have in effect been ‘collecting’ my work over the years.

Personally, my many years beside Jim MacNamara has had a major impact on my direction of work and outlook to the ‘way of the artist’. Over the years, the line between our individual work has blurred, with echoes of the influence on each other (or at least Jim’s on me) showing. Not to mention general inspired craziness. At its height, the two us where actually showing up early Thursday morning and hauling in several tons of rock to create the large garden style displays which themselves became one of the many Summerfolk traditions.

What should people know about your art?

I am distinctive in the depth of historical research that goes behind the work people see displayed at Summerfolk. Since 2001, I have been involved in a series of experimental archaeology projects, recovering lost methods of actually smelting metallic iron from raw ores, based on Northern European ancient technologies. This makes Wareham the centre for this research, most certainly unique in Canada, and perhaps the primary site in all of North America.

The bloomery iron produced by these ancient methods is a distinctive material, with properties different than modern industrial steels. My effort to create objects revealing the forms and textures of bloomery iron will continue with new work presented at Summerfolk this year.

wareham forge

Visit the Wareham Forge online at http://www.warehamforge.ca/ and in person at Summerfolk40

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