By DENISE FEDOROW
THE GOSHEN NEWS
NAPPANEE — The excitement was in the air at the start of the Amish Acres 51st Annual Arts & Craft Festival Thursday. The temperature was perfect and a brief rain shower did not damper the spirits of festival-goers. Many of whom make this an annual event like best friends Julee Haglan and Diane Shearhod from Valparaiso who have been attending the event together for about nine years.
The women said they enjoy spending the day with their best friend and “The vendors are nice; everyone’s so nice,” Highlan said.
The festival has everything from literally soup to nuts. There are soup mix vendors that allow you to taste test, roasted nut vendors, embroidered t-shirts and sweatshirts, wood crafts, natural soaps, unique jewelry, oil and watercolor paintings, rustic letter picture frames and much more.
There are unique finds at the Arts and Crafts Festival with more than 300 artists and crafters from 32 states.
One unique booth gaining plenty of attention was Junkfx (& Stray Cat Art) recycled metal and iron sculptures and décor. Sue Smith from Elkhart just “had to have” a recycled painted tire with metal flowers attached. She said, “It’s going to look cute on my front porch.” Smith said this is only the second time she’s attended the festival and said, “Everything’s so unique.”
Kathy Bohlka agreed. She and her daughter have been making the three hour drive from Blissfield, Michigan for about 10 years.
“Today I drove six hours from Muskegon to Blissfield and then here,” she said they’d spend the day at the festival and then visit other area attractions and Shipshewana before they arrive back home around midnight. She said what keeps them coming back each year is “All the unique things like this.”
Vendor and artist Rachel Haynes along with Don Hutchins have 50 years combined experience using all recycled and repurposed materials. She said Hutchins is a juried artist. This is the first year they’ve been at the festival (and won first place in the Glass, Pottery & Sculpture category for a golf club bird). Their booth had whimsical creatures—birds and bugs made from old Christmas bulbs wrapped in wire, small glass bottles, golf clubs, etc. Metal cutout design bowls were made from old helium tanks, art from old outdoor faucets, bicycle horns—what most would consider rusty junk and throw out, they transformed into whimsical art.
Haynes said she grew up recycling and repurposing. Her grandfather was a folk art metallurgist so she became one as well and was a welder for 20 years but now does this full time.
Unique Vendors, Stories
Other unique vendors include R& S—Rod & Staff Canes, which has hand-carved, many hand-painted canes and most include compasses. Bev Meyers explained she owned the business for the last seven years with her husband Guy who passed away last year.
Bev explained that her son started as an apprentice to the previous owner who was a friend of the family and who wanted to retire. “So my son became a 20-year old cane maker and taught his father and grandfather how to carve walking sticks.”
This is Meyer’s first year at the Arts & Crafts festival. New products include drum sticks, Lacrosse sticks, and with the scrap wood they make hand-painted wooden barrettes and other small items.
Antler & Wood Creations has antler art like marshmallow and hot dog roasting sticks, frames, back scratchers, ice fishing poles, wine racks, etc.
Wire-wrapped gemstones and hand crafted jewelry by wire artisan John Penning has a fairly new item in eyeball jewelry. Not real eyeballs, but glass eyeballs both human and animal. Alligator, snake, white tail deer and tiger eyes are popular. Penning acted on a customer’s recommendation that he have the eyeball jewelry and said one little boy described it best as “it’s too cool and a little creepy”.
This is Penning’s 5th year at the festival and said he enjoys being near the ice cream shack.
Beautiful art for home can be found throughout—like pottery by J & M Pottery from Wisconsin. Jeff Yuhas started at 15 helping “Hippie Tom” in his pottery studio in the Racine/Kenosha, Wisc. area mixing clay and other jobs. He did his first show at Amish Acres in 1981 helping Tom at the festival and he soon decided to become a pottery artist. He mixes his own glaze from scratch and said it’s been “quite a journey” for him. He likes the Amish Acres festival because he said it “reminds me of the old days—an old-fashioned family festival, it’s more family oriented than other festivals.”
Amish Acres owner Richard Pletcher said he’s amazed he’s still here after 51 years and said “I hope everyone has as much family fun as they can have and not over-eat but eat up to that point.”
The festival continues daily from 9 am. to 6 p.m. today and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.