For many people, the Takoma Park Folk Festival is one of our area’s great annual celebrations of international music and dance.
For others, the festival is a marvelous crafts show and sale that, conveniently, also has music. This year’s festival, which will be on Sunday, September 10, will showcase 43 crafters, a record number.
“Many crafters this year are new exhibitors for our festival,” says Gina Gaspin, one of the judges who selects crafters for the juried show. “It’s a diverse mix of people and media, with more fine arts than we’ve had in the past.”
One of those artists is Airen Hall, Without a Ladder Studio, who makes cut-paper collages that draw inspiration from nature, folktales, and other sources. “I started out painting watercolors, and I saw people who were working in collage and decided to incorporate that into my work,” she says. True to her watercolor roots, she begins with white paper and paints or dyes it to achieve the colors and patterns she wishes. Then she fashions it into colorful and playful landscapes, domestic scenes, and more.
Crafters enjoy the folk festival because they can meet visitors and answer questions about their work, says Gaspin. “It’s a friendly atmosphere. Everyone is welcoming,” Gaspin says.
Hall agrees. “It’s so rewarding when you see people’s reactions and when you can connect with them,” she says. “My favorite is when someone says they’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ideas can flow back and forth, occasionally resulting in a customer suggesting something the artist hasn’t thought of. In the case of Vivien Lee, The Purple Kiln, who works in glass, a booth visitor years ago asked if she had anything for sale in green. “I realized I had been working mostly in shades of blue, probably a result of my interest in scuba diving,” says Lee. “I was challenged to experiment more with other colors.”
Lee’s trays and bowls today are a rainbow of colors. Laid out on glass panes, they are overlaid with rods and powders that provide bold designs often evoking the sea. They are kiln-fired initially at over 1,400 degrees to fuse the glass, and then they are fired a second time over a ceramic mold to give them their final shape. For other works, such as a line of colorful sea slugs, she uses the “lampworking” technique of a torch to melt and mold.
For Norma Brooks, ideas from customers over the years led her to expand her Basket of Jewels product line of baskets, bowls, rugs, and coasters that are made from coiled rolls of fabric, rope, and clothesline. For example, a knitter suggested she fashion bowls for balls of yarn, and among that community, they have become hugely popular alternatives to heavy wood bowls and breakable pottery or ceramics.
Another time, Brooks says, a person bought a floor rug and said she would put it on her wall. “She said it was too pretty to put on the floor,” Brooks says, and she began to promote her rugs as wall hangings, as well as to create designs exclusively for wall display.
However, some ideas are less welcome than others. Brooks says that her flat trays and conical basket tops are irresistible to children (and adult men) as goofy hats. “If you buy it, do what you want, but not in my booth,” she warns with a laugh.
In addition to functional items from Brooks, numerous other crafters will showcase items for the household, including pottery and ceramics, aprons, bags, baskets, wooden bowls and furniture, and clothing. Two soapmakers and two specialty foods suppliers will be at the festival this year as well.
“The works are affordable and beautiful, functional and decorative. All are handmade by the crafters who are there,” says Gaspin. “They’re great gifts for a friend—or for yourself.”
The Takoma Park Folk Festival will be held on Sunday, September 10, from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Takoma Park Middle School on Piney Branch Road. It’s free, and shuttles are available from offsite parking at Montgomery College and the Takoma Metro station.
Photos by Wayne Botts, TPFF 2019