PORT TOWNSEND — During the two days after Thanksgiving, Port Townsend’s Community Center becomes a hive of creative energy with the Annual Holiday Arts & Crafts Fair.
The energy is still going strong after 27 years.
More than 60 artists and artisans from the North Olympic Peninsula and beyond offer their work for sale to those eager to start the holiday shopping season.
Founded and organized by Port Ludlow’s Donna Harding and the Port Townsend Arts Guild, the juried event brings together a wide range of makers who work with wood, metal, leather, gems, fibers, glass, clay, pine needles and more.
“We started this event with 20 people when my baby was 6 months old. All of us were young and recipients of the Food Bank’s generosity. We wanted to give back to them for their help,” Harding remembered.
“The first year we raised almost $400. Each year it’s grown and we donate 5 percent of total sales. Last year we gave them $2,600.”
Harding estimates that over the decades the event has contributed more than $25,000.
Returning shoppers will find familiar faces and some new ones, too.
“Many artisans have been here before; some from the very beginning,” Harding said.
“However, it was different this year. As soon as we made a call for entries, each spot went really quickly.”
“We decided to expand into the lower level of the center and make room for 16 more artisans,” she said.
“I’ve known many of these artists for a long time. It is like a family gathering. We get to know each other and see children and grandchildren grow up. That’s how we mark the years.”
Listening to the conversations taking place around the booths is quite enlightening, almost a learning experience. If one tunes in carefully one can learn how to weave a basket, make a candle, create a felted garment or understand how honey is made.
Michael Townsend explained how he makes a hammer using white oak and forged steel to a group of interested onlookers.
Mike Mason brought his 6-year-old son Finn to the fair and found Townsend’s work inspiring.
“I appreciate the work that goes into these tools,” Mason said.
“It’s encouraging to see this level of true craftsmanship and it’s important to meet the people who make these pieces. In this digital age when a click on a computer brings you something created by a nameless entity, it’s refreshing to meet the person who actually made what you’re holding.”
Katy Levenhagen from Edmonds was looking for a holiday gift for her twin sister. It’s a tradition for her to buy a pair of red earrings. Hayden Starbuck had the perfect pair and she was gleeful to have made the purchase.
“I visit friends for Thanksgiving in Port Townsend and I always support local artists and craftspeople when I’m here,” Levenhagen said. “I’m anti-mall.”
“All these items are well-designed and well-crafted and have immediate eye appeal,” she said.
Starbuck has been participating in the event for 10 years and said her first day of sales was brisk.
“This is my full-time job and how I pay my bills,” she said. I’ve seen steady sales throughout this year, and it continues to be strong.”
George Stanley just retired to Port Townsend from Missoula a couple months ago and was happy to find a special collar featuring Christmas trees for his rather large dog.
However, he was even more pleased to find Jenny Preston and her selection of leather belts.
“I need a belt and there’s so much variety here. I like animals and these designs remind me of Montana,” Stanley said.
“They are beautifully made. I’m impressed with the number of talented artisans represented here.”
Preston is one of the original artists 27 years ago and has been a part of the fair every year since.
Margaret McGee of Port Townsend and Wanda Frederick of Seattle were on the hunt for gifts. They prefer to purchase them from artisans.
They were checking out Pieter Muller’s repurposed clothing. A designer and pattern maker from Seattle, Muller “has been doing this show for multiple years.”
“I like to buy original handcrafted items and talk with the people who make them to understand what they do,” McGee said.
At the end of the day, coordinator Donna Harding smiled.
“I can’t think of a better place to hold an event like this because of the type of people who are attracted to this town,” she said.
“They are arts-centric. They are knowledgeable about making. And they appreciate and happily support our artists and artisans.”