Craft Fairs: History & Inspiration!

Hear Me Roar: Craft Fairs in Western Massachusetts

Let’s Get Crafty!
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle

It’s that time of year again! Autumn in New England is prime time for attending the many craft fairs, harvest festivals, and art shows that are abundant in our area! Artists and creators of all kinds gather their wares and set up shop in church basements, on town greens, and in community halls, showcasing their talents to the local community. I was fascinated to learn that the first wholesale craft market in the United States was held at the fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, NY, in 1973. I imagined much earlier roots, as the nostalgia and connection found at these fairs have that “old soul” vibe. Ten years after the establishment of this first craft market, founded by Carol Sedestrom Ross, she discovered that approximately 90% of the exhibitors were able to make a living selling their craft! In the decades since, craft fairs have gained popularity and remain one of the most direct and accessible ways for an artist to sell their work to the general public.

Craft fairs are more than just a place to find unique, one-of-a-kind, handmade products. They’re a place to gather inspiration and begin to discover which art form or craft speaks to you. I remember walking through a craft fair years ago, where I purchased the most delicious homemade peach jam from a woman who told me the recipe had been passed down from her grandmother. Selling the jam made using that recipe was her way of carrying on the tradition and remaining connected to her roots. Knowing families were sitting down at their breakfast tables with a jar of peach jam, she said, was her way of keeping her grandmother’s spirit alive. This interaction then inspired me to dig into my family recipe book and recreate treasured favorites. I have since attended a host of craft fairs, where I was able to share my creations with others the way this woman had shared with me.

Inspiration is everywhere. In addition to the jam, the items I’ve purchased from craft fairs over the years include jewelry, a handcrafted wooden flute, handmade soaps, stoneware mugs, knitted hats, and much more. I believe craft fairs are one of the best places to find and share inspiration.
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5 Featured Culinary Art Resources in Western MA

Hear Me Roar: Culinary Arts in Western Massachusetts

Art You Can Eat
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle

Food is fundamental. At its core, it is our life source; something required for survival. But anyone who’s ever bitten into that perfectly balanced bite, or those fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon rolls knows that it’s so much more complex than that! Food has always been a cornerstone of our traditions, as we pass recipes down from one generation to the next, sharing age-old secrets and creating memories across the dinner table. For example, if a dish tastes like it’s “missing something” and you can’t figure out what it is, I was taught that a pinch of salt most often times does the trick (the art of a simple fix!).

To talk about cooking in a column about discovering artistic inspiration feels only natural. I grew up in a family rooted in culture, where food was honored and appreciated. When we think of food as art, it goes beyond just tossing some ingredients in a pan and stirring. The act of preparation is an art within itself. Whether it’s learning proper knife skills, allowing the dough to proof long enough to create the perfect loaf of bread, or knowing the difference between minced, chopped, and julienne, the culinary artist has as much to learn about their medium as does the painter or sculptor.

I’ve spoken to individuals who have a desire to increase their culinary creativity, but feel overwhelmed in the kitchen. They don’t know where to begin, or doubt their ability to create something they can truly be proud of. We live in a state rich in culinary history – the first culinary arts school was founded in Boston in the 1800s. This month, I encourage anyone who has ever dreamed of joining the ranks of Julia Child to let the inspiration lead. Our Western Massachusetts community offers abundant opportunity to connect with local chefs who are passionate about sharing their secrets with you! Here are a few I recommend: Read the rest of this entry »

5 Featured Pottery Studios in Western MA

Hear Me Roar: Pottery Studios in Western Massachusetts

Getting Your Hands Dirty
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle

Pottery, one of the oldest forms of art, has been in existence since before the Neolithic period, dating back to 29,000 BC! These ancient artifacts have been discovered by archaeologists across the world, most notably in Japan, China, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. The origins of pottery are purely utilitarian in that they were made to serve a specific, useful purpose – cups, plates, and bowls are among the most common items found. Because clay is inexpensive, abundant, and adaptable, it was an ideal medium for creating these necessary items. Beyond its practical use, clay was also used in early cultures to create figurines and vases as a form of artistic expression. Today, pottery remains a timeless and valuable art form. Read the rest of this entry »

Blackout Poetry: The Creative Process of Deconstruction, Reconstruction

Hear Me Roar: Creative Ways to Connect with Your Inner Artist

A Unique Twist on Poetry
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle

Last month, I asked readers to begin considering which forms of art they’re drawn to. I was delighted when a woman named Hannah reached out to say, “I enjoy reading poetry and ideally, I’d love to create my own. But writing isn’t exactly my ‘thing.’ Any suggestions on how to break through that barrier?” Yes! Hannah’s inquiry is the inspiration for this month’s column where we will dive into the unique and creative concept of Blackout Poetry!

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The term ‘poetry’ is often synonymous with the likes of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman and Sylvia Plath. We think of poetry as brief story telling using profound and melodic words. While all of that is true in the traditional sense, blackout poetry allows you to create beautiful, aesthetic works of poetry without writing a single word. I was introduced to the concept a few years ago when my daughter came home from school, excited to show me a new art project they’d done in class. I’d never heard of blackout poetry but as she explained the idea, I was hooked. So many things about this art form fascinated me! Beyond the ability to create a poem without actually writing anything, blackout poetry also transforms itself into stunning visual art. Furthermore, I learned that blackout poetry has been used by writers to help them push through writer’s block and to get those creative juices flowing! How had I not heard of this before?! Read the rest of this entry »

New Column Debut: “Hear Me Roar”

Hear Me Roar: Creative Ways to Connect with Your Inner Artist

An Introduction
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle

From a young age, we’re taught that play is just for the young, that we are either artistic or we’re not, we’re told that art is something that cannot be trained for, only possessed through some twist of genetic fate. The purpose of my column is to silence the noise and doubt that robs us of our ability to draw out the Picasso, Shakespeare, or Tchaikovsky lying dormant inside each one of us.

I am a writer, playwright, and poet. Any art form that contains words is where I find my deepest and most inspired creativity. But it’s only been a few years since I began identifying myself as what I’ve always been – a writer. It felt so foreign. I felt like a fraud. How dare I put my self in the same category as Oscar Wilde, Virginia Wolfe, or Edgar Allan Poe? How dare I think my work holds the same weight and significance as theirs? But as I started to develop my own voice, I realized that every story, every perspective has its own unique value. It was then that my narrative began to shift from “how I dare I think my story holds the same significance…” to “why would my story not?” That shift, as simple as it sounds, was life-changing. It’s the shift that allowed me the courage to write a feature-length play that went on to become a fully staged production this past January. The difference between remaining stuck in perpetual self-doubt and having my work showcased in front of an audience was simply shifting my perspective on what it means to be an artist. Never underestimate the power of believing in yourself.  Read the rest of this entry »

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