Visual Arts

Berea Craft Festival is a resounding success

A mixed-media piece by Rebecca Miller Campbell of West Liberty
A mixed-media piece by Rebecca Miller Campbell of West Liberty

Organizers of the Berea Craft Festival can't imagine the event getting much larger. There are no spots open in the space it uses at the historic Indian Fort Theater even as calls from prospective artisans and craftsmen keep coming in.

It's not a bad problem to have for Lila Bellando, the coordinator, who has been part of the Berea Craft Festival since it started 30 years ago.

"What has happened is that the reputation has grown. The reputation has spread," Bellando says. "People tell us it's too good to miss, and we believe that."

But just because the festival isn't any bigger doesn't mean that, three decades in, it can't get better. Even the most frequent festival attendees will notice a few changes at the 30th annual Berea Craft Festival this weekend.

This year's festival will feature the usual slew of artists, craftsmen and vendors. There will be 120 exhibitors from 20 states, showcasing painting, wood carving, jewelry, stained glass, leather, sauces, soaps and almost any other specialty you can think of.

Bellando said that about 25 percent of the people displaying at Berea Craft Festival are new vendors and that she expects as many as 8,000 to 10,000 people to visit during the weekend.

Connie Colten, a metalsmith and jeweler from Austin, Texas, plans to sell her work at the festival for the sixth time. Like many who travel to Berea, she keeps coming back because of its outdoor environment and pleasant patrons.

"It's a knowledgeable crowd that comes out and appreciates art," Colten said.

George Brosi, a vendor who has become a festival regular, sells books on Appalachia and the region's crafts. Brosi said the festival's continued success as one of the best craft fairs in the country is a testament to the high quality of the work being shown and sold.

"I think of any show I've been to, it's the most artistic," Brosi said. "The people that she draws in are people that have an artistic layer."

Aside from any artistic layers, this year's festival has amped up its entertaining layers.

Children will get the benefit of a record number of educational demonstrations in crafts as varied as pottery, beading, blacksmithing and vegetable dyeing, and in making brooms, rocking chairs and musical instruments, including harps and dulcimers.

"It could have a long-term impact upon their lives," Bellando said. "If they know about crafts and they're educated about art in every way, including crafts, it enriches their lives."

Also, the festival will feature more live music and dance than in any previous year. Musical artists including Mitch Barrett, Peach Pie Jazz, Sofa King Deluxe and dance groups Squash Beetle and None-such will rove through the crowd, performing. Bellando said it might spawn the occasional impromptu collaboration but definitely will make the event more festive.

"It's almost as much of a music festival," Bellando said. "We tried to have a variety of music, so there's something for everybody."