Even though craft is integral to both the heritage and economy of WNC, it wasn't too long ago that “craft sale” smacked a little too much of church basement bazaars, spray-painted pine cones and crocheted tissue box covers.
“I think maybe Justin was a little wary of the idea at first,” says Brandy Bourne of her partner, painter Justin Rabuck. “He wasn't sure what to expect from a craft fair. Would it be stuffed ducks made from kits and the like?” But Rabuck encouraged Bourne who at the time “couldn't believe Asheville didn't have its own indie craft festival” to start one. A call to Grey Eagle, a brainstorming session with artists Lance Wille and Suzie Millions, an overwhelming response to an online call for crafters, and The Big Crafty (name thanks to Millions) was born.
All of that was just last year. “For some reason, people keep thinking we've been around longer than we have, but this summer's event will be our one-year anniversary,” Bourne reveals.
It might seem like The Big Crafty (which has already outgrown the Grey Eagle and is held this weekend, for the second time, at Pack Place) has been around forever because it's such a good fit. “It turns out that Asheville has a sizable community of indie craft entrepreneurs who are selling online via Etsy.com and their own sites and traveling to fairs around the country,” Bourne notes. While the Big Crafty's seller base is primarily local, the event draws applicants nationally and internationally. Says Bourne: “It's an indication of the energy around this kind of event lately, and of course the draw of Asheville itself.”
It seems fitting that Bourne's event draws interest from outside the U.S., since her inspiration for the Big Crafty comes, in part, from time she spent in Taiwan. “Everyone went to the night market — to have dinner or just a snack, to watch a play, to hear music and to shop for anything from clothing to spark plugs,” Bourne remembers of her 1999-2001 visits to Keelung's MiaoKou (Temple Mouth) market. “People bought local because doing so was fun,” she says. “That's what I wanted to emulate.”
In turn, other entrepreneurs have emulated Bourne and Rabuck's idea. This past year has also seen the advent of 2nd Saturday Artists Market on West Asheville's Domino Lane, Howard Street Handmade located beside Short Street Cakes and Lexington Bazaar and The People's Market, both in downtown Asheville. “We don't think of it as competition,” Bourne explains. The Big Crafty shares the Asheville Street Markets collective umbrella with these other bodegas. Vendor fees are kept low to encourage participation (Bourne finds herself both upping the size of the festival and adding to the waiting list with each new Big Crafty), and instead of fighting the other markets for business, Bourne believes “each market has its own aesthetic and audience, so I think we all work well together.”
Which is not to say the so-far semi-annual Big Crafty isn't something special: Bourne calls it “the debutante ball of Asheville craftisans.” Last December's Crafty, which moved into Pack Place with the help of a sponsorship from the Asheville Art Museum, was something akin to the social event of the year. A who's who of area shoppers, makers, movers and shakers. (And why not? The event is not only well-stocked with fine art, wearables, knick knacks and collectibles, but also offers food and drink — yep, beer— and live music.) With so much going on, the festival is too broad to be niche-y, too multi-faceted for just one generation or set of tastes (just don't go looking for stuffed ducks). Expect an even bigger Big Crafty this summer as the festivities spill outside into Pack Square.
“There will be more to see and do, as well as the music, food, drink and demonstrations that people have enjoyed before,” Bourne explains. ” We'll also be helping the Asheville Art Museum celebrate their 60th anniversary, so they will be sponsoring family activities and highlighting their history in the community.”
And, of course, there will be crafters. The list tops out at over 100 vendors, the result of a jurying process that Bourne notes is “very competitive,” the hardest part “figuring out who best fits our event.” Among new and exciting work, the event organizer counts glass art from DB Glassworks, screen printing from Squid Fire, repurposed vintage books by Silly Pretty Things and toys by Helicopter Studio. Then again, “our Big Crafty veterans have new work every time,” Bourne says. “It never seems like the same show twice.”
who: The Big Crafty
what: Indie art and craft festival with food and drink, music and a raffle.
where: Pack Place
when: Sunday, July 12 (noon-6 p.m. Free. www.thebigcrafty.com)