Features

Art festival showcases diverse crafts

Pedestrians, vendors flood Thayer for celebration showcasing local art, food and performances

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 29, 2014

Students and community members alike flock to Thayer Street Sunday to admire an array of arts and crafts sold by over 100 vendors.

For 10 a.m. on a Sunday, Thayer Street was unusually busy. Under the heat of an unseasonably bright September sun, vendors at the Thayer Street Art Festival pitched their signs and perfected their displays to prepare for incoming crowds.

Before noon, anyone heading north on Thayer who looked into the distance would have seen a multicolored blur of activity framed by the white tents of vendors and sidewalks full of passersby. Undergrads walking back from the gym paused to look at handmade handbags and jewelry. Children tugged on their parents’ pant legs, pointing at stands offering face painting and handmade seashell necklaces. Older couples held hands as they examined clay and glass creations, woodwork and paintings.

The more than 100 vendors were handpicked by Festival Fete, the organization curating the art festival.

Prospective vendors had to submit applications, and then “three of us go through all of the applications and decide what would be a good fit,” said Pilar Brenner, head of Festival Fete. “You have to take into consideration what’s good for the area,” as in curating a show, she added.

Festival Fete was originally started in 2010 by Jennifer Neuguth, with the aim to create “profitable platforms that celebrate locally grown art, food and merriment,” according to the Festival Fete website. Under Neuguth, the company organized annual fairs in various Rhode Island cities, including Garden City and East Greenwich. Yesterday marked the company’s first festival on Thayer Street, but not all of the vendors were first-timers with the festival experience.

 

Yay! Entrepreneurship!

Brenda Gaudette sat behind an array of clay creations including intricately molded trays, deep olive-colored coffee mugs and navy patterned dishware.

A customer approached her, asking about the fern design on one of her flower vases, and Gaudette demonstrated the technique she used to achieve the design — rolling a fern leaf in the clay while it was wet. A schoolteacher of ceramics by day, Gaudette said she worked her first fair years ago, by recommendation of a friend. “More than half of everything that I had, sold,” she said.

Loving the experience of creating what she liked and sharing her art with people who appreciate it as much as she does, Gaudette said she continued to build her collection and sell at festivals ever since. But teaching is her main job. “It’s really tough for artists to do this independently,” she said, adding that she will not create a website and expand her market past the festival scene until after she retires.

Across the way from Gaudette’s booth, Damien Edsall had his apparel arranged to catch the eye of even the busiest festival-goer — shirts at the front of the display featured phrases like, “Yay! Big sandwich!” and “Ugh. Stop judging me.”

Edsall said he decided to try something new that he would enjoy after he was laid off from his last job. Inspired by the ‘Life is Good’ brothers and interested in entrepreneurship, he came up with the idea for his apparel line “Ugh or Yay.” Shirts feature the word “yay” or “ugh” and then a phrase describing the sentiment.

“My wife and I, when we text, always start with the words ‘yay’ or ‘ugh’ to describe how the day’s going,” he said. When he began to notice that other people on social media used similar words to describe their feelings, he identified a potential business idea. “If you have something that resonates with the population, everything else takes care of itself,” he said.

Up Thayer Street, a stand decorated with signs and birdhouses constructed from cut-up license plates and other “junk” materials stood apart from its neighboring booths showing watercolor artwork and airy clothing. Students filled the tent’s space, attracted by the promise of a unique sign with a word made of letters spliced from different license plates.

Adam Salisbury, the vendor and artist, said he only started his craft a year and a half ago. “I was bored one day, and I had all sorts of junk lying around my garage,” he said. “I quit my job, I quit drinking and I started doing this to better myself,” he added. “It just took off like crazy.”

Even farther up Thayer, before the section of the festival presenting live music and dancing, Denyse Rourke stood behind a table laden with hand-sewn “Pet Nappers” — pillows for your cat or dog to curl up on. She works as a companion for the elderly and said of her new hobby, “This is just a little side thing, and I figure that I may as well do it when I can, and when I like doing it.”

 

Seeking more festivals

The seven-hour fair was busy throughout its duration, and by 1 p.m., many of the vendors said they were already doing well for the day.

When the festival was reaching its last hour, Brenner said, “I want the artists to do really well and be successful, and I want people who come to the show to have a good time as well.”

Ponrey Chek stopped into a woodwork booth and walked away with a simple oak bracelet because she appreciated the meaning behind the piece.

“The prices are high,” she said, “But considering all the work the artists put into their craft, they are fair.”

Other fair-goers suggested that art fairs happen more frequently on Thayer.

“I didn’t buy anything, but walking around has been fun,” said Marie-Claire Partridge ’15.

After walking up and down Thayer, Rachel Van Metre ’16 said that there should be art festivals like Festival Fete’s at least once a month.