The kids’ table at the Denman Christmas Craft Fair is always a busy place—full of creativity, young talent, great deals and, well, cuteness. It’s also a training ground for Denman’s next generation of professional artisans.
This year, there are three (at least) adult vendors who got their start as kids at the fair. Looking back, they say their experience as young participants brought them inspiration and confidence, honed their art skills, and taught them basic entrepreneurial attitudes and know-how.
“I grew up at craft fairs,” says fabric artist Lily Harned, who sells pouches, bags and fabric baskets. Her mother, ceramic artist Patti Willis, and her father, glass artist John Harned, were part of the original fair 37 years ago and are still selling at the fair in 2018.
“I have so many great memories,” she says. “Not just of the Denman fair, where I sold jewelry as a teenager, but also many others that my parents took me to: the renaissance fair in Courtenay, early Circle Craft in Vancouver, and I remember one at the Empress in Victoria—it was so much fun!
“I was lucky to grow up in a culture of people making things by hand—not just my parents, but also all my neighbours were potters and weavers and what not. On Denman, it’s just part of the culture. I took it for granted but now I realize how special it is. Of course, there are makers everywhere but not such a concentration of them.”
Craft Fair regulars know Megan Rose Babb as the Denman Island artisan who sells beautiful jewelry made from recycled bicycle parts and inner tires. Now 36, she started out at the fair as a creative 10-year-old.
“There’s a funny story about my first year. I was selling beaded earrings that were the same style as ones LeeAndra Jacobs [a long-term Denman Craft Fair vendor] makes—a big mix of different colours that LeeAndra calls Jambalaya. I’d seen the ones she made and just copied them! LeeAndra was very gracious about it. I still sometimes see [Denman ceramic artist] Bev Severn wearing the pair she bought from me back then,” says Megan.
As she grew up, Megan moved into other adventures such as making music, living in Montreal and London, and travelling across Canada by bike. When she returned to Denman six years ago, she had already established herself as an artisan with a line of jewelry that she sold on-line and in various outlets. She returned to the fair with these products, adding home-made organic chocolate-hazelnut spread to sweeten the deal.
“This fair is really well organized and attended, with a really high caliber of artisans, and it’s so fun and festive. Everyone on the island seems really happy; we get to see each other, make money, and get beautiful gifts, helping neighbours do their thing and supporting the local economy,” says Megan.
Elishka Hajek has been creating art since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She still draws, but her main genre is digital painting and illustration. She started vending at the fair when she was in grade five at Denman Elementary School, selling photography cards and pinwheel cookies.
“I loved the atmosphere, the busyness. And I really liked talking to people about my art,” says Elishka. The fair became an annual highlight. It was mostly about sharing her art and having fun, but it also provided an education. “I learned how to explain my techniques. Also I learned how to sell my products—to think about how to set up a display, and how to be organized.”
This year, Elishka is 18 and a grade 12 student at G.P. Vanier, and will be having her own table for the first time, selling greeting cards, prints and stickers. “I’m looking forward to having more space and having complete control over that space, and to being taken more seriously as an adult artist—not that we don’t take the kids seriously; they are good artists. But it feels different having my own table.”
Like Lily and Megan, Elishka says Denman provides a nurturing environment for a young artist. “It’s such a supportive community, and being surrounded by nature has really influenced me.” Next year, Elishka plans to go to college to study art and animation.