Building an artistic community locally |

Building an artistic community locally

Admit it.

When most people hear the words “craft fair,” they think of tables full of country geese and doilies crocheted with polyester yarn.

But the resurgence of interest in handcrafted items by younger generations, and the proliferation of online marketplaces for those goods, has altered the concept almost beyond recognition, with alterna-fairs like Bazaar Bizarre and Renegade Craft Fair popping up everywhere.

Now the movement has spread to Nevada County, with local craftspeople organizing the first Nevada City Craft Fair. Today marks the inaugural event, complete with food, beer and music, at the Miners Foundry (see box on Page A8).

Instead of geese, think below-the-shoulder-length, coral-colored feather earrings.

“The idea behind it was to make it sort of – to use a cliche – not your grandmother’s craft fair,” said jewelry artist Leora Holbann, one of the organizers. “The crafters at this fair are younger, vibrant, with a rebellious spirit.”

“There are a lot of artisans and craftspeople locally who sell online, but there was no venue for younger artisans to showcase their work,” co-organizer Sara Zahn said. “It’s also about community and local goods. We wanted to invite people to celebrate what’s happening locally.”

The DIY (do it yourself) movement, in Zahn’s view, has grown exponentially in the last few years because of online websites such as Etsy, which launched in 2005 and now features hundreds of thousands of vendors. Etsy reported $130 million in sales in 2009.

Holbann – who will not show at the craft fair due to time constraints – is an Etsy success story.

The jewelry-maker was exposed to Etsy – which she calls “eBay but with everything handmade or vintage” – by a friend, but it took her six months to list her work for sale.

“Immediately, I had this amazing success,” Holbann said. “I tapped into a particular niche, and … it supports me,” she added. “I’m not getting rich, but it’s worth it not having to work for someone else.”

Even with online success, organizers still felt a need for a brick-and-mortar venue for local craftspeople and a way to solidify the craft community and provide more exposure.

“It’s really about a desire to graduate the younger people into a more prominent place,” Zahn said.

“We tried to make it so that everyone who wanted to be a part of it, could be,” Holbann added.

Entries were solicited in a very grassroots fashion with lots of word-of-mouth networking.

“We didn’t do a lot of jurying,” Holbann said. “We wanted to make it accessible.”

Some vendors did not make the cut this year, not because of quality but because of a desire for diversity, she said.

Rising popularity among younger people for handcrafted items also stems from a desire for a more sustainable lifestyle, Holbann and Zahn said.

“People are becoming more and more aware, as far as keeping their dollars local,” Holbann said. “They’re starting to reject massively marketed corporate culture.”

“People recognize that every dollar you spend is power,” Zahn added. “You can choose to feed it to your local economy.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail or call (530) 477-4229.

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