Concord is home to many crafters and craft enthusiasts. Bicentennial Square hosts the Concord Arts Market each weekend, in which local crafters set up shop and sell their wares. There’s also the Leage of N.H. Craftsmen headquarters on South Main Street and the New Hampshire Furniture Masters showroom right next door. Down by the prison, you can go into the Department of Corrections Retail Showroom, where high-quality items handmade by inmates are sold.
If you’re one of these craft enthusiasts – and we know many of you reading this are – you’ll definitely want to check out Traditional Craft Days at Canterbury Shaker Village this Saturday and Sunday.
The second annual Traditional Craft Days is a two-day festival that showcases old-world crafting, live music, food, tours and all-around family fun. The weekend will feature dozens of crafters demonstrating work including blacksmithing, basket weaving, woodworking, leatherworking, jewelry making, woodblock printing, spinning, weaving, rug hooking and more. In some cases, guests will even get the chance to try some crafts themselves, such as lacemaking, felting, weaving, rug hooking or letterpress printing.
According to its website, Canterbury Shaker Village is dedicated to preserving the 200-year legacy of the Canterbury Shakers and to providing a place for learning, reflection and renewal of the human spirit. Traditional Craft Days fits right into that mission by offering visitors a sort of look into the past at the way things were done centuries ago right there at the same location. While many items that were made back then are still made today using modern techniques and machinery, the point of Traditional Craft Days is to show how it was actually done back in the day.
The point is to “really emphasize that these are all handmade items – we’re not just ordering things from Amazon,” said Nicole Laurin, special events and adult programs manager at Canterbury Shaker Village. “All of these crafts take time and skill.”
Traditional Craft Days is something of an evolution of a different program Canterbury Shaker Village used to run. From the 1990s into the 2000s, the village hosted Wood Days. As its name implies, this festival was all about woodworking. Craftsmen would demonstrate a number of woodworking techniques for the visitors, and items were regularly sold during the event.
It was the brainchild of Dave Emerson, a former contractor and a woodworker himself. He lives right down the street from Canterbury Shaker Village, and he runs Old Ways Traditions, a shop that offers Shaker and country furniture and accessories, antiques and art prints.
Wood Days had a nice run in the ’90s and early 2000s, but it sort of just fizzled out. That was until Emerson spoke up.
“Dave came to me and the previous director and asked if we’d be interested in reviving it and doing some different things,” she said of Emerson’s idea. “It’s kind of a revival of sorts.”
So last year, the decision was made to bring back Wood Days but to expand and include more than just woodworking. Therefore, they changed the name to Traditional Craft Days, and Emerson said last year’s inaugural event was a big success with high turnout and a lot of interest. It did well enough that it’s back for a second year this coming weekend.
“The focus is not simply traditional craft,” Emerson said. “What I wanted to do with it was connect people with crafts. As a craft educator, I strongly believe people need to do things with their hands – it’s a natural human need. So traditional crafts, I wanted to get people connected up with crafts that they could do.”
That’s why the hands-on aspect of this is so important. It’s one thing to watch someone weave a basket or assemble a chair by hand, but it’s a whole different experience to actually try it for yourself.
That said, there are certain crafts that are a bit too complicated or too dangerous for the general public to just try for the first time. For instance, one crafter, George Leduc, makes projectile points – arrowheads, essentially – out of stone. This process involves chipping away at very sharp stones such as obsidian, and those pieces fly in an unpredictable manner. It would be easy for a rookie to damage his or her eyes if something went wrong. (Read more about Leduc on page 14.)
Another craft that isn’t really for beginners is guitar making. Steve Marcq is a luthier (guitar maker) who’s been creating his own custom guitars for about 10 years. He primarily makes acoustic guitars, which he describes as more of an engineering and architectural job than woodworking. It often takes hundreds of hours to complete an instrument – a fragile instrument, at that – and it really can only be done by someone who has experience. (Read more about Marcq on page 13.)
The two-day festival is also a chance to just poke around and explore the historic village. After all, it isn’t too often that you get to wander around a complex of buildings and land that have been in use in some capacity for more than 200 years.
“The village, we give a date of 1782 as sort of the start of Shaker community,” said Laurin, the special events and adult programs manager. “It was a farm initially. People came here, then buildings started cropping up and it was recognized.”
The village consists of 25 historic buildings and four reconstructed ones, as well as 684 acres. That’s a lot of real estate.
“There’s a lot to roam around and see,” Laurin said. “If people come and want to get away a little, they can walk down to the gardens, say hi to the cows – we pasture Brookford Farms cows at the village.”
If livestock isn’t really your thing, you’ll find plenty of other things to keep you busy over the weekend.
Live music will be part of the festival both days, with two performances on each day. The music will be primarily folk, in that old-world style.
There will also be food. Betty Fifield, who has a catering business just down the hill from the village, raises turkeys and will have items such as turkey sandwiches and turkey salad.
“A fun, down-home, simple kind of lunch,” Laurin said.
The village’s own café will also be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, serving sandwiches made by the Concord Food Co-op, which leases some farmland from the village. Visitors may feel like grabbing a sandwich and having a picnic lunch outside somewhere.
If you’ve never been to the village before and really want to check it out in detail, you can take a guided tour either day at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. for $10. This tour will show you around the property and fill you in on some background information about the village.
There will also be several 30-minute Spotlight Programs. These will be the only elements of Traditional Craft Days that run on a schedule – all the demonstrations will be ongoing all day throughout the festival, during which visitors can walk up to whoever they want at their leisure.
The spotlight programs are more structured and focus on the village in general more than one particular craft.
“Last year we didn’t really integrate much of our own programming,” Laurin said. “To enhance the event, we decided to offer these spotlight programs about the village itself that relate to the event.”
A complete schedule, as well as brief descriptions of each of the five programs, is on the previous page.
All of the demonstrators who will be part of Traditional Craft Days are, for lack of a better term, pretty good. The goal is to showcase high-quality craftsmanship, so they don’t just let anyone show up and exhibit whatever they want.
Instead, there is a selection process in which potential exhibitors contact the village, explain what it is they’re looking to do and send photos or videos illustrating their craft. The village then juries the work and decides who gets to participate. Since they did this last year, they reached out to those participants first and then took a look at newcomers who wanted to join in this year. The end result is a talented pool of crafters from a wide variety of fields. The crafters are all volunteers, too, and many will have some items for sale (just don’t ask Marcq if you can buy one of his guitars, his “babies,” as he refers to them).
All in all, this is to be a couple days of good, clean fun for the whole family.
Traditional Craft Days will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday at Canterbury Shaker Village, 288 Shaker Road, Canterbury. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children between the ages of 6 and 17. For members, it’s $6 for adults, $3 for children between the ages of 6 and 17, and those under 5 get in free. Your ticket is good for both days. More info and tickets (until Friday) are available at shakers.org/traditional-craft-days. Tickets will also be available at the museum store on the property.