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Philadelphia has a long history of creative artists and crafters (don’t think that whole key-tied-to-a-kite thing was all for science). Craft fairs, which are extensions of that creativity, function on two levels—as a supportive forum for artists, and as a community event that brings people together.
Here's a round-up of highlights from two prominent Philadelphia craft fairs going on this weekend: Go West! Craft Fest in West Philadelphia and South Philadelphia’s Crafty Balboa.
Go West! Craft Fest
Since Morgan Jamison was a child, she's been taking treasures from the ground and turning them into jewelry. She carried that fascination with found art with her through studies at the University of the Arts Jewelrey/Metals program, and the launch of Old Blood Jewelry & Wears in 2012.
When pregnant with her daughter Olive in 2009, Lori Thomson quickly became tired of seeing blues for boys and pinks for girls in baby accessories. So she created olive + bo, an Etsy craft store that sells cotton rattle toys, quirky quilts, whimsical mobiles and gifts.
“I’ve always sewn my whole life,” Thomson says. The Lansdale, Pa., resident started with baby blankets and took a quilting class. Before long, she was creating unique, handmade items that reflected her take on the modern baby—like her black and gray skull quilt and gender-neutral yellow and gray pillow.
The “bo” part of the moniker comes from her Welsh terrier, Bo, and Thomson adds that she plans on selling dog items, too.
While Thomson says her Etsy shop does well, she tends to sell more at craft fairs, such as the Go West! Craft Fest, because buyers can feel the quality of her products. She uses natural materials for her wares—easily washable cotton and wool blends for her kid duds and quilts, wood that she cuts and stains herself, and hemp and canvas for the mobiles. So, it's perfect if you're looking to wow a mom-to-be with an unconventional baby gift.
“When people don’t want flowers and butterflies, they come to me,” she says, laughing.
To learn more about olive + bo, visit etsy.com/shop/oliveandbo.
No matter where she goes, StitchPrism owner KellyAnne Mifflin never stops looking for objects to integrate into her jewelry pieces. Because she lives in West Philadelphia, she takes advantage of the access she has to The Woodlands, Bartram’s Garden, and Tinicum Township in Delaware County. Some of her pieces are made using porcelain pieces she handcrafted herself, as well as driftwood and other found items.
“A lot of my work is inspired by nature and incorporates natural elements," she says. "I spend a lot of time walking around.”
In addition to jewelry, Mifflin also creates aeriums decked out with air plants; colorful crystal pieces; and she plans to unveil a line of potions and sprays made from flower essences and essential oils at the Go West! Craft Fest.
Because of her love for crafting and keeping things local, it was only natural for Mifflin to cross paths with Emily Dorn, owner of VIX Emporium, and to sell her wares not only there but at the Go West! festivals that Dorn helped to organize. “I do craft shows all over, but it’s always especially nice to get to do one in my own neighborhood,” she says.
To learn more about StitchPrism, visit stitchprism.com.
Ken Beidler’s love for pottery started young, when he was 7 or 8. While he and his Mennonite parents were working in Indonesia with a church, he would make objects out of clay and leave them in the sun to dry. Today, he creates porcelain and stoneware that reflects the joy of creating something with his hands again.
Beidler and his family returned to America when he was 14. In high school, he took art classes, but after graduation he ended up going to seminary, eventually becoming a Mennonite chaplain, pastor and youth ministry leader. While his wife was pursuing her Ph.D. and he was home taking care of their children, Ezra and Toby, he decided to try art again. Beidler began by taking ceramics classes and apprenticing for a year, turning that into a full-time gig. His primary influences are Chinese and Japanese designs.
“I’m basically self-taught," he says. "I found teachers and mentors along the way to help me grow my skill and craft."
Beidler creates most of his pieces in West Philadelphia at his studio space at the Cedar Works, a reclaimed warehouse that serves as a shared community and work space. Beidler also allows other ceramic artists to use his studio.
All of his functional pieces (mugs, bowls, serving dishes, platters and plates) are microwaveable and oven-safe. Beidler's wares can be found online, at Go West! Craft Fest,and at VIX Emporium, owned by Go West! co-founder Emily Dorn. It's work that keeps him content: “I’m happy to be doing this."
To learn more about Beidler Pottery, visit beidlerpottery.com.
Members of Tangle Movement Arts, an aerial dance and interdisciplinary performance company, know what it feels like to swing high above a captive audience.
The all-woman troupe based in Philadelphia blends dance, theater and circus arts, and was founded in 2010 by Lauren Rile Smith. In 2011, Tangle created tinycircus—an eclectic, family-friendly showcase that features dancers twisting, hanging and gliding using ropes, trapeze and aerial silk. Most of the members of Tangle participate in tinycircus shows, and Smith says she also invites performers from a wider community of jugglers and hoop artists to join for specific shows.
Tangle puts on two full-length shows each year, in addition to free, outdoor tinycircus performances, which have been a part of Go West! Craft Fest since the spring of 2012. “We love being part of the festival,” she says, adding that it allows the dancers to show off new movements.
“It’s a chance for us to experiment and to share what we do with a wide range of people,” she says. “[It’s great to hear the] excited shrieks of a child when they see us upside down 20 feet in the air."
To learn more about Tangle Movement Arts and tinycircus, visit tangle-arts.com.
Emily Dorn, co-owner of VIX Emporium, says that she and her fellow Go West! Craft Fest organizers were initially hesitant to move the fair to The Woodlands—and not only because it would be surrounded by gravesites. “It’s not like a park with walk-by traffic,” she says, adding that it took a bit more planning to carve out a space for the craft fest that would drive foot traffic. “But it’s historic and special, and … we ended up with a good outcome.”
On May 3, The Woodlands will host the semi-annual Go West! Craft Fest for the fifth time, bringing 120 vendors selling handmade arts and crafts to the site of the historic mansion and cemetery. The festival moved to The Woodlands for its spring and fall editions in 2012, after several years in other neighborhood locations.