They are welded, varnished and stitched together, reinforcing their defenses and trying to prepare for the surge of shoppers who will soon be overrunning their precious stalls.
Island artists are readying for the 10th annual Memorial Day Artisans Festival to be held at the Grange Hall May 24 and 25 from 10 to 4 p.m.
Andrea Rogers of Oak Bluffs launched the festival and continues to act as its supervisor and manager.
Originally composed of only six people selling their goods in the summertime, it has now grown to 40 artists and a season that runs from Memorial Day to a fair in December. “We knew that if we hung in there, there would be room for us in the Island community,” said Mrs. Rogers, who credits the success of the fair to the six “longstanding diehards” who have stayed with the fair all these years: Lori Hart, Laura Artru, Larry Hepler, David Wiley, Lucinda Sheldon and Diana Stewart.
The Memorial Day fair often engenders a sense of community among the artists. “Everyone is so happy to see each other at the first show,” said Mrs. Rogers. “You see a lot of hugs and kisses. We have even had several couples meet and then gotten married because of the fair. It’s a social time for us where we can express support for one another.”
Despite the capricious atmosphere, many of the artists take their work seriously. “The point of the artists being there is to make a living. Even though we love it, it’s a business, and we have to stay here,” said Mrs. Rogers. “There is a lot of self-discipline to make ourselves do it all, but we keep trying and we are all hard-working people and enjoy what we do.”
Entrants must submit slides of their work to be judged by a panel. Their work is judged on its design, technical skill and imagination in order to ensure the show preserves a proper balance between the categories.
Mrs. Rogers sells her own work at the festival. With a family that has a winery and olive orchard in Southern Italy, Mrs. Rogers admitted that other than the Artisans Festival, her passion is for gardening. “I can’t get away from it. I am who I am and I love it,” she said.
She sells lavender at her booth, which she cuts fresh from her garden. And she recently learned to make corn brooms, which are rooted in the 17th century Appalachian tradition.
Other Island artists are exploring different forms of their artistry as well, innovating as they go along. Debra Gaines of Edgartown has been selling at the festival for seven years. She has always sold her photography, but this year she is breaking away from her usual methods and experimenting with infrared photography with custom filters.
Although she and her husband recently opened their own gallery to sell their work, she intends to continue attending and selling at the festivals. “I directly attribute a lot of our success to the fair,” she said. “The concept of selling directly to the people is exciting because you get direct feedback from the public.”
Often the festival is a family affair. Mrs. Gaines collaborates with her husband, who sells his pastel pictures; she also got her children involved from the start. “Our whole family does everything. My girls grew up at the shows with us playing with Beanie Babies under the tables,” she said.
Another daughter artisan is Jamie Rogers, daughter of Andrea Rogers, who will be displaying her work as a silversmith.
Although it isn’t ready for this year’s fair, Ms. Rogers is also building a forge to do blacksmithing to expand her metal crafting. She plans to start small with metal flowers, bottle openers, and inflated metal flasks, but will eventually expand to making larger metal objects for the home and garden such as chairs, tables and gates.
Ms. Rogers, having grown up and lived on the Vineyard for most of her life, plans to stay on the Island and work as an artist. “I have put some roots down and they have grown deeper now,” she said. “Building my workshop has made me want to stay.”
Yet staying on the Island can be a difficult feat for some artists. “It is tricky for artists to stay because of the cost so they are going elsewhere to find other locations,” said Mrs. Gaines, who has noticed a decline in the number of artists.
Nevertheless, the Island cove of settled artistry is appreciated. ”Off-Island, everything for sale is the same, but this fair we have here is like a little boutique where you don’t know what to expect and what is new,” said Mrs. Gaines.
The aim for the Artisans Fair is to keep it vital. “I would like to see it sustain itself. It has grown into a comfortable size and new artists will always be welcome there,” said Mrs. Rogers.
She continued: “The arts have a richness and life to them. We should never overlook the beauty and talent of them. It impresses children forever, and adults buy it and put it in their homes to enrich themselves because it is a labor of love.”
Mrs. Gaines agreed. “It’s an amazing gift being able to make a living doing art shows,” she said.