Not Your Average Craft Fair

08/07/12 12:50PM Sheryl Rich-Kern
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Artists are nailing down floors, draping curtains and hanging up lights to get their booths ready for the annual New Hampshire Crafts Fair. About 200 exhibitors from both sides of the Connecticut River are showcasing their wares at the 79th New Hampshire Crafts Fair, the oldest, longest-running crafts fair in the country.

Among them is Lorraine Dilmore from Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, who's been selling stoneware at the Fair for 37 years. "I'm anxious and excited, because I have some new colors, new glazes, new items," she says.

Dilmore works out of a converted barn studio. Last month, her hands were deep in moist clay, making bowls and vases. "By mid-June to end of July, I'm in here when I'm not sleeping. I'm in here making pots," Dilmore says as she trims clay off a piece spinning on the wheel. "I love it and I hate it at the same time. I must love it enough to keep doing it all these years."

She says to break even, she needs to make about $10,000 during the nine-day show. "You want to make about $1,000 a day to feel it was worth your while," says Dilmore." Dilmore says she used to bring in a lot more money, but the market has changed. "You are competing with overseas imports. So you can't really add to the costs of your items to reflect the cost of your overhead," says Dilmore. "You really have to just not have the profits you had years ago."

Officials at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen say the Fair generates more than two million dollars in sales. And despite the recession, these revenues have been climbing over the last five years.

Of course, that's not true for everyone.

Jordana Korsen is a glassblower from Harrisville, New Hampshire. Over the sound of her husband's drill, she says she wouldn't be able to set this up without him. "But don't tell him that!" Korsen jokes.

She says it's always been worth coming here - except for 2011. "I don't mind telling you that it was the worst show I had in 15 years." Korsen attributes the loss to last year's placement within the tent. This year, she's ready to make a comeback by building a knock-out display. "We've got the screw guns, and the saw and the level and all that jazz to build our own space," says Korsen. "The booth is secondary to the work, but it lends to showing it off well."

Once the walls and shelves are up, Korsen and others are all set for the steady traffic. That is, if they can also control Mother Nature or world events. A spike in gas prices, floods or a heat wave can pull the plug on a year's worth of planning. And that's heartbreaking for the many who consider the Mt. Sunapee event their main source of income.

But all is not lost when the clientele go home. The Fair lets the artists showcase their best work and possibly generate future sales. Jenny Eddy of Saxon's River has a $2,500 iron gate her husband built, originally for a wine cellar in a multi-million dollar private home. Eddy says the owner went bankrupt and three years later, she and her husband still own the gate. But maybe, just maybe, it will sell this week.

"We're not worried about it. Or it will sponsor another order that might mean another size or a slightly different style or something," says Eddy.

The Eddys will have plenty of opportunity to find the right client. More than 30,000 visitors bring their wallets each year. The surrounding businesses and residents cash in, too. Vacation rentals are fully booked and restaurants are jammed. The League also pays out more than $40,000 in wages for temporary help. And in the sultry days of summer, that's a cool relief for the sluggish economy.


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