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Holiday fairs go on with modifications

  • Strafford potter Anita Onofrio works at a recent Raku Pottery Kiln Opening. Onofrio will take part in the Strafford Foliage Craft Fair and Open Studio Tour which is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Oct. 10 and 11 in South Strafford and Strafford. (Photograph courtesy of David McWilliams) Courtesy photograph

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/3/2020 8:06:00 PM
Modified: 10/3/2020 11:02:50 PM

STRAFFORD — As the COVID-19 pandemic continued and it became clear that Strafford’s annual holiday craft show would not be able to take place, organizers started thinking up an alternative to the much-loved event.

“We just knew the holiday fair wasn’t going to be able to happen, and I just started contacting people who had been in the fair in the past, if there was interest in trying to do an outside, alternative event,” said Anita Onofrio, a potter who is one of the organizers of the event. “The holiday fair in Stafford has become a really well-known event so it brings a lot of people. I don’t know how this will be in October, the interest it will bring. It’s just a totally different format and different time of year.”

Next Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., the Strafford Foliage Craft Fair and Open Studio Tour will take place at the Strafford Athletic Field (next to the “Red Barn” and tennis courts) in South Strafford.

“We believe that being outside in the fall it should be relatively safe. We have the luxury of a big soccer field we can spread out on right behind the red barn,” said David McWilliams, one of the organizers of the event. Booths will be placed eight feet apart and hand sanitizer will be widely available. “This has always been a fundraiser to support Barrett Hall, so all the booth fees, which are pretty minimal, are going to support the hall, to keep it alive during the COVID period.”

Holiday craft fairs, a large staple in Upper Valley life, are being canceled, moved up or rescheduled due to the ongoing pandemic. It’s added strain on creators who rely on craft fairs to sell their wares and connect with potential customers.

“A lot of us craft people, we have no other outlets,” said McWilliams, who creates wooden bowls and was scheduled to go to three other craft fairs this year that have since been canceled. “Most of my sales are from my house, word of mouth, people come out to our house to buy wedding gifts. The reason I do craft fairs is I love talking to the people, and each of my bowls have a story.”

As of Tuesday, 23 craftspeople had signed up to do the show, which is being held in conjunction with National American Craft Week Celebration. A mix of new and past participants will attend.

“A lot of the vendors are not comfortable doing fairs this year,” said Onofrio, whose home studio will be open for demonstrations of raku pottery, a low-firing process native to Japan. Some craftspeople she knows have started to sell their wares online for the first time.

“Everyone is trying to figure out a way to make it work,” Onofrio said, “but I think honestly a significant number of artists are not doing anything, are having to take a break.”

Canaan Old Home Days has canceled its annual craft fair, which has traditionally taken place at Mascoma Regional High School and Indian River School in West Canaan.

“It’s been at least 40 years” since the sale started, said Helen Rocke. It usually takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving and feature around 100 crafters. “There was no way we could run it with the restrictions this year with all the social distancing.”

Some vendors who typically take part in the sale have set up shop at the Canaan Farmers Market.

“That seems to be working well for them,” Rocke said.

The craft fair is the committee’s largest fundraiser for the year.

“That’s basically the main income we have to put on shows for Old Home Days,” Rocke said, adding that since the summer celebration was canceled this year, the committee will have the funds from 2019 to hold them over for 2021’s event.

The annual Lebanon Art and Crafts Association Christmas Show and Sale is scheduled to open at the old Sears location in West Lebanon on Nov. 19.

“Hopefully we’ll be open to the 24th of December,” said Dorothy Hayes, who is president of the organization. “We’re looking forward to it. Our members work all year to have products available for the show so to not do it would be difficult.”

Members of the organization had discussed whether they could hold the sale, but based on the size of the space they felt it was possible to host it safely. Of the around 40 members of the group, 26 have signed up to take part. Volunteers will have temperature checks before entering and hand sanitizing stations will be set up throughout the space.

“We won’t have denominations like we have in the past few years because it gets people into too close contact,” Hayes said. “We’re going to of course have barriers between the cash register and the customers.”

While some association members sell items at other locations throughout the year, the show tends to bring in the majority of their yearly sale.

“To have a show that that’s long ... it’s really an unusual situation and it’s something that we cherish,” Hayes said. “We were uncertain as to what the situation would be and we’re sort of still sitting on the edge of the knife and hoping nothing goes wrong, but we’ll do the best we can.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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