A 40-year Christmas tradition

Tara Bradbury
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Craft council’s annual holiday fair runs until Sunday

Local craftswoman Donna Clouston remembers the first Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Christmas craft fair at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. The St. John’s Santa Claus parade, which was routed down the parkway at the time, had been scheduled for the same day.

Artists Isabella St. John and Donna Clouston, along with Albert Rippurger, were the founding organizers of  the Craft Council Christmas Craft Fair 40 years ago. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

“Someone quickly made a sign for my van and joined the parade,” said Clouston, one of the founding organizers of the craft fair, along with Isabella St. John and Albert Rippurger. “It was a very cold day, so people came in to get warm and very quickly the fair was packed. The woman selling hot dogs in the kiosk sold out and had to run out for more. I’m sure we were over capacity for fire regulations. We had no idea how many booth holders were going to show up.”

“We just saw a video that was made at the first craft fair, and that was fun,” added St. John, a ceramic artist. “In the video, somebody asked me, ‘Did you pay for using the Arts and Culture Centre?’ I said, Pay? No, Mr. Perlin gave it to us, and so he should. It’s our building. We were two girls, so full of energy and youthful idealism.”

That first event was in 1973, and since then, the craft fair has become a tradition for many locals, marking the start of their Christmas shopping season.

The first show had roughly 30 or 40 exhibitors, selling everything from crocheted goods to pottery.

This year, on the fair’s 40th anniversary, there are more than 50 glittering and colourful booths, with craftspeople selling things such as books, chocolate, textile crafts, woodworking, soap and jewelry.

Clouston was a goldsmith and sold jewelry when the fair began. She eventually moved into batik and silkscreen printing, and for the past number of years has been selling cloth calendars, tote bags and other items created with her own silkscreening technique, as well as limited-edition prints done by hand. She hasn’t missed a year at the fair.

“I have to say, there’s a camaraderie among craftspeople and people who come to the booth, and I’ve watched people grow up through the years,” Clouston said. “It’s great fun to see them every year and see customers and what’s changed in their lives.”

Clouston said she still gets just as excited for the fair as she did 40 years ago, and enjoys the current consumer desire for locally-made items. Things have changed for the better during the past four decades, she said.

“The quality of goods has changed substantially. Over the years, we’ve all become more professional in the work that we do and, I have to say, I’ve travelled quite a bit and the crafts here in Newfoundland are equal to, if not better than, anything you will find anywhere.”

The 2013 Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Craft fair runs until Sunday at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, covering three levels of the centre. Admission is $2 (children younger than 12 are free).

On Saturday, author, actor and comed­ian Andy Jones will be on hand to sign copies of his books at the Running the Goat Books and Broadsides booth. As well, the craft council will host a festive open house at the Devon House Craft Centre Saturday, Nov. 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.



Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Craft, Devon House Craft Centre

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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