The Big Crafty is more than an art and craft show. Over the years, the event has become an opportunity for artists and crafters to catch up with their friends and fans, and to earn cash, too. It’s part party, part marketplace and part reunion. The winter iteration takes place on Sunday, Dec. 4, at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Husband-and-wife organizers Justin Rabuck and Brandy Bourne founded the biannual event nearly a decade ago. Rabuck and Bourne knew a number of Asheville crafters who were only selling their art online, and the duo founded The Big Crafty as a local venue for those makers to market their goods. From its inception, the show was a success, surprising Bourne and Rabuck with hundreds of visitors. The Big Crafty has increased in attendance annually, and vendors who return every year have seen their sales numbers increase steadily. Bourne notes that where early markets only drew local folks, now visitors come from all over the state, too. “[In the beginning] I think it was the novelty. Now, [the attendees] are the people who tell us that they’ve never missed one,” she says.
Though Bourne is quick to note the sustained relationships and familial feel of the Big Crafty, “We try hard to make it different every time, prioritizing emerging artists and established artists who are exploring new territory,” she says. “This event is about celebrating handmade ingenuity, so it’s important to us to always highlight some completely new and exciting work from the creative community.” Take, for example, lllilll Stitches, a new vendor at this year’s Big Crafty. Madeline Lippert, the Charlotte-based artist behind the company, creates intricate illustrations using thick black thread and hand-stained hoops. The images of plants and female forms are beautifully detailed.
Bourne’s fingertips rest firmly on the artistic pulse around Asheville, and she’s able to draw in innovative emerging artists, so that devoted attendees of The Big Crafty will always see something new, like the little wool woodland creatures created by Fair Isle of Cameron, S.C. Bourne also recognizes perennial favorites and invites some popular crafters back year after year, such as local letterpress 7 Ton Co.
The greatest variation between this year’s event and those of previous seasons is the transition to a new space. With the closing of the Asheville Art Museum for extensive renovations, Bourne and her team needed a new arena for the nearly 200-seller-strong craft fair. And an arena is exactly what they got, in the form of the U.S. Cellular Center. With twice as much space available as at previous winter markets, The Big Crafty will officially go big.
The larger space opened opportunities for dozens of new artists and crafters, like Fiber and Threads from Marshall, makers of neutral-colored macrame, a type of woven wall tapestry; BabyCreep from Memphis — the company will bring its sculptural porcelain housewares; and Echoview Fiber Mill, creators of fine knitting and felting supplies, all crafted in Weaverville. Return vendors include Black Black Moon jewelry, So Stoked pottery and In Blue Handmade leather bags and goods, all of which are Asheville-based.
“Moving to the U.S. Cellular Center means we’ll have more room to spread out,” Bourne explains. “We always have a long artist waiting list, and this move means including more artists, and that’s the most exciting thing.” That wait list is shorter this year, as this holiday market doubled in size. Though it’s a juried, competitive show, Bourne and The Big Crafty team carefully consider every applicant (independent artist or collective) who provides descriptions and photos of their art.
“The flourishing of the creative community really warrants that additional space,” Bourne says. “The work we’re seeing being prepared for this event really has our hearts aflutter.”
Along with the trademark “Craffle Giveaways,” AshevilleFM will provide festive music, and the U.S. Cellular Center will bring in The Hop Ice Cream and Highland Brewing Co. to sell refreshments.
The Big Crafty may be growing, but its intention is still simple: “Our aim is always to bring community back into the holiday shopping experience,” says Bourne. “Buying to support creative microentrepreneurs and coming together to affirm our personal connections and our commitment to community building through maker skills.”
WHAT: The Big Crafty
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St.
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 4, noon-6 p.m. thebigcrafty.com