Narwhal night lights and nutria note cards

Craft fairs, despite the deceptively straightforward name, sweep the spectrum from the cutesy (macrame owls! crocheted toilet paper covers!) to the quirky (monster dolls! recycled metal buckles!); from the high-end (handmade books! blown glass!) to the down-home (strawberry preserves! coffee mugs!).

And rightly so: There's a craft aesthetic not just for every maker, but also for every buyer. And as the DIY (from zine publishing and pirate radio to Stitch ‘n Bitch circles and upcycled clothing) movement continues to grow, a new craft-buying public — folks who may never have set foot before, in either a granny-populated community-center craft sale or a pricey, boutique-y craft gallery — is finding that there are craft shows out there that speak them.

Enter Asheville's Big Crafty. It's been voted (by Xpress readers) best arts/craft fair in WNC. It packs two levels of Pack Place with over 140 indie-crafters, musical acts and activities. And the event's popularity — though well-deserved — was not hard-won. The first Big Crafty was a mere two summers ago, at The Grey Eagle, with 35 local artists. That humble (but super-successful) beginning quickly blossomed into the juried, eco-minded, twice-annual, not-to-be-missed shopping extravaganza.

Plus, there's beer. Okay, yes, the beer usually goes quickly, but the point is, it's that sort of a craft show. One where you'll probably see more body art than cat art, more arm warmers than pot holders, more subversive stationary, offbeat ornaments, bottle cap jewelry, one-of-a-kind crockery, must-have hats, edgy tees and darkly ingenious paintings. In fact, with such a big selection and so many talented crafters vying for booth rentals at the Big Crafty, this is one craft fair worth trawling for the pinnacle of odd, anomalous, sui generis crafts.

To help you on your search, Xpress checked out some of the unique crafters who will be represented:

Peculiar Pets. Raleigh-based toy-maker Michelle Lyon fashions stuffed animals from "repurposed damaged vintage bedspreads." The bad parts of the fabric are removed and the remainder finds new life in the shape of a bear or a monkey or an owl. Nubbly fabrics and unusual colors add to the charm of the creations and Lyon's pets, while cute, each boast a homemade asymmetry. But none of this — or the fiber fill made from 80-percent recycled water bottles — is what makes these toys truly "peculiar." Lyon's wicked sense of humor skews the projects: Each animal comes with a sewn-on accessory. Some are pedestrian enough: A bear with a tree, a monkey with a banana. But then there's the Dachshund-shaped dog wearing a hot-dog bun, the fish with a slice of lemon, the pinwheel-eyed sheep paired with a jar of mint jelly. And if those aren't subversive enough, Lyon also offers a line of “Problem Pets." A purple rat with a rick-rack tail wears an exploding a bomb, a pink-and-white gingham dog smokes a cigarette and a plaid rabbit, its red eyes slanted angrily, wields a spear.

Southern Pest Prints is the brainchild of illustrator Sara White who, according to her bio, "makes prints, drawings, and other strange creations in the Upper Ninth Ward in New Orleans." While White's portfolio shows a wide range of inspirations, her recently-debuted line of letter press stationary focuses on the one part of Southern living that most people would like to forget: bugs. But nutria, moths and palmetto bugs, rendered in hand-carved linoleum block prints, are strangely lovely. (Though still maybe not quite right for wedding invites. Then again…)

• It's festival season (of course, in Asheville, when is it not?) — time to don alter-ego-enhancing accessories like Sculpey horns and butterfly wings. Or, take your costuming to the next level with a cuff, a hat or a fairie circlet (it's a Renaissance-y headband) from Organic Armor. According to the Asheville-based company, designer Paul Hersey "creates handmade costumes and props that look like antique metal or leather, for performers and other creative folk." The one-of-a-kind pieces, formed from soft, light, reinforced rubber, look remarkably like copper or steel. Head wear and wrist pieces (coil bracers) are set with glimmering glass stones and would be right at home on the set of Xena: Warrior Princess.

• Rather like Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, Ergane Bantam Charms turns up a wealth of fantastic odds and ends. "Here you will find paper and glass, postage stamps and vintage watch crystals and a bounty of lockets-all transformed into wearable art … I like to imagine that my jewelry is for the thinking person who wants a story and meaning behind the accessories that they wear," writes proprietress Jane McGregor.

• "Give a bouquet that never fades," says Celia Barbieri, a.k.a. The Button Florist. Visit her work space in Asheville's Phil Mechanic Studios and you get the drift. Barbieri's bouquets are whimsical and unique and, unlike tulips, the petals garnered from found and collected buttons won't droop or wilt in the vase. Barbieri adds handmade ceramic buttons to complete her flowers, which are way more sculpture than mere bloom arrangements.

Pysanky is the fancy name for Ukranian egg art — a craft that deserves a fancy name. Intricate designs are painstakingly painted on to delicate empty egg shells. Actor/writer/artist Stephanie Astalos-Jones turns pysanky on its head: Where the craft usually results in jewel-toned orbs decorated with complex, geometric patterns and painstaking florals, she paints her eggs (nonetheless painstakingly) with folk art skulls and scenes from nursery rhymes. (Astalos-Jones makes short work of florals and geometric patterns, too, in case you were wondering.)

• The Etsy shop is called Canoo, but don't go looking for paddles. Asheville-based crafter Krista Allison makes monsters. Cloth finger puppets, ceramic finger puppets, lovable monster toys fashioned from felted wool. "Every monster you see has been hand-crafted from upcycled wool sweaters and other salvaged stuff," writes Allison, whose humor is readily apparent in her huggable ghouls.

• At first glance, the creations of local artist Robin VanValkenburgh recall those paint-by-number-ish "make your own" ceramic figurine shops of the '80s. That's what makes them so awesome. Look closer at the Runny Bunny line and you'll see that these gleaming white slip-cast figurines have been altered from their intended molds. A cartoonish rabbit head a top a Miss Muffet body; a nimble little fawn with three baby heads sprouting from its neck.

• While shrines aren't new (rather, they're among the oldest of art forms), Julie Masaoka (who lives in Asheville) juxtaposes sacred images with cast-off objects, like hubcaps and bottle caps. Bright colors, beading and saintly figures recall wildly-imaginative Mexican alters and the found-object creativity of small Hindu shrines.

• A narwhal should be a mythical beast, like a griffin or a unicorn. In fact, it's known as the "unicorn of the sea," but this member of the whale species is alive and well in the Arctic. Happy Owl Glassworks celebrates the rare sea creature with customized night lights in a rainbow of color choices. "Perfect for a nursery, hallway or wherever a little warmth is needed in the home," says the company's Web site.

Alli Marshall can be reached at

who: The Big Crafty

where: Pack Place

when: Sunday, July 11. Noon to 6 p.m. Free.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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2 thoughts on “Narwhal night lights and nutria note cards

  1. george

    When is it? Oh wait, that’s the sort of info a REAL newspaper would provide. I forgot I was reading the mountainxpress. My apologies. I’ll go get the Citizen-Times to find out useful stuff like DATES.

  2. Rebecca Sulock

    Hi george,

    For some reason, that information didn’t get posted to the web from the article. Thank you for so kindly pointing that out. We’ve fixed it.

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