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Every December since 2002, Providence shoppers in search of artisanal holiday gifts have relied on the annual Craftland show, a craft fair as homey and handmade as the work sold there. This year, the annual event has established a year-round presence at Craftland's permanent store at 235 Westminster St.

The brainchild of local artists Margaret Carleton and Johanna Fisher, Craftland was conceived in October 2002 after its creators "just decided there was no good place to get good handmade products," said Craftland artist and store employee Kristin Crane.

Deb Dormody, one of the original artists featured in Craftland who now organizes the store, said both Carleton and Fisher "were ruminating about all their talented friends and how traditional venues weren't the best fit to showcase their work and they decided to do something about it."

Within the month, Carleton and Fisher had contacted 50 artists and obtained a donated retail space in downtown Providence. Craftland opened that November and remained open for the rest of the holiday season. The craft fair was well received, and with each consecutive holiday season, the number of artists from Providence and around the world grew to 140. 

Noting the growth and popularity of Craftland, Crane said, "There's been this handmade revolution. I think people just want to get back to products that are more thoughtful and crafted well."

As the Craftland spirit flourished and became ingrained into the holiday shopping routine of many Providence residents, demand for Craftland to open year-round began to spread.

When the financial crisis hit in October of 2008, the future prospects of holiday shopping — and with them, Craftland — seemed bleak. Despite such predictions, Crane said, "Craftland did better than ever."

Dormody wasn't surprised by Craftland's success despite the economic setbacks, and noted that the harsh economic times made Providence residents feel more compelled to support local businesses and artists.  

"They're sustaining artists in their community, they're investing in their local economy, they're buying work that only appreciates in value. Who can't get behind that?" Dormody said. 

It wasn't until 2008 that the Craftland team, having weathered the economic storm with impressive gains, began to seriously consider expanding the store.

"We started to look at how we had grown exponentially each year, even in this economy, and it seemed right to give it a try," Dormody said. 

As Craftland has transitioned into its new role, the team behind the store has broadened the original concept.

"We still have our big holiday show, but for the year-round shop we have about 70 artists and have divided up the space so that we are also a gallery and classroom where we host the Craftland School of Craft," Dormody said.

The gallery, which is set in the rear of the store, hosts small month-long exhibitions curated by, and featuring the work of, Providence artists. 

Along with the gallery, the store is also offering a "School of Craft" with about 10 classes each month on different craft techniques. Class topics include tote bag-making, Adobe Photoshop production and spray painting stenciled skateboards.

With all of this activity, Craftland has become "a great income generator for a lot of artists," Crane said.

"We're all pretty proud of how many artists we've supported in the last eight years," Dormody said, adding that this support of artists in the Providence community distinguishes Craftland from other stores.

Craftland has donated five percent of proceeds to a different charity every year. This year, the show will benefit Girls Rock! Rhode Island, an organization that offers music camps to empower young women and girls.


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