NC State Fair's Village of Yesteryear builds a future for crafters

vbridges@newsobserver.comOctober 14, 2013 

  • The Village of Yesteryear

    •  About 965,297 people attended the fair in 2012, and the Village is one of the most popular exhibits, according to the fair’s website.

    •  The Village is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, except Oct. 17, when it opens at 4 p.m.

    •  Artists interested in applying to be in the Village are encouraged to bring their crafts and interview for membership at the Village of Yesteryear’s spring meeting, held the third weekend in May. For more information, call Pam Earp at 919-464-7810.

At first, Marina Bosetti just didn’t get it.

After spending four 12-hour days in a 1920s costume transforming clay into rich-glazed, ceramic tiles at the 2008 N.C. State Fair’s Village of Yesteryear, she was tired and grumpy.

“This show is not for wimps,” said Bosetti, 54, a full-time artist who owns Bosetti Art Tile in downtown Raleigh. But then she started showing children what she does, explaining her process and getting lost in her work.

“I would be sitting there working, and I would look up and there was this crowd of people around me in total silence, not wanting to interrupt me,” she said.

This week, Bosetti will be back in the Village for her fifth State Fair, which runs from Thursday through Oct. 27, demonstrating part of a technique that traces back to the 1300s and came to the U.S. with the Arts and Crafts movement around the 1920s.

Over that first week of her first fair, Bosetti said, the Village had transformed from hectic confusion into “a big family that needs another couple of extra bedrooms.”

The experience embodies the Village of Yesteryear, which brings in about 100 crafters who spend 11 days in or near their decorated booths wearing period costumes transforming tile into art, tin into a cookie cutters, metal into jewelry and corn husks into dolls.

Preserving heritage

Founded in 1951 by fair manager J.S. Dorton in conjunction with the N.C. Department of Agriculture, the Village of Yesteryear’s mission is to perpetuate heritage crafts through demonstration and education. It’s now located in the Holshouser Building within the fairgrounds.

However, crafters said, for them the Village is so much more. It is an opportunity to sell items, distribute cards, recruit students and take Christmas orders. They get to know other artists, learn about other prospects and celebrate the opportunity to spend 11 days working with their hands and being creative.

“These craftsmen come from all over the state and some of the surrounding areas around North Carolina,” said Pam Earp, 56, who was appointed director of the Village of Yesteryear in 2009 and has been making corn-husk dolls there for 17 years. “They come with different backgrounds and different levels of participation.”

Some of the crafters are full-time artists, others describe it as secondary income, a hobby or a post-retirement career in the making.

The crafters start moving into the Village today. They are required to dress in period clothing and demonstrate their craft at some level throughout the fair.

The Village accepts applications all year, and it juries in new artists each spring based on their mastery of craftsmanship and the need in the Village, Earp said.

“We try to make sure we have a good variety of opportunities for our guests to come in and see, and we don’t want to overload in anyone’s particular area,” Earp said. Sometimes, they have to recruit craftsmen if they are lacking in specific area.

For craftsmen to be successful in the Village, Earp said, they have to focus on the educational mission.

“I think that once you engage the public, and you talk to people and show them what you are doing, you are really committed to the craft, you are committed to teaching that heritage craft for many generations,” Earp said.

While the mission is important, so is revenue for crafters who are leaving their shops or primary jobs for 11 days or more.

“A lot of people can’t take that time off work,” Earp said.

Earp takes vacation from her full-time job at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, where she’s the dean of foundational studies and academic support. She usually sells dozens of dolls for $12-$50 each, but with her schedule, she doesn’t have time to build up her stock.

Earp, however, demonstrates how to make dolls in her booth, where she is sometimes joined by her mother and daughter. As she gets closer to retirement, Earp said, she recognizes that she has developed a craft that has collectors and a following.

“So I believe this could be a really nice supplementary income to retirement, when I decide to do that,” she said.

‘Family of craftsmen’

Dan Dye, started metalsmithing in college in 1971, but it became a side job when he graduated and started working for Georgia-Pacific Building Products three years later.

“It was a corporate-level job, steady pay and reasonable benefits,” Dye said, but he still participated in some fairs and started working in the Village in 1986.

“The fair was a great resource for me and a place to move my stock,” Dye, 64, said.

Dye retired from Georgia-Pacific six years ago, added a couple of shows and became a member of Roundabout Art Collective, a cooperative art gallery on Oberlin Road in Raleigh.

His presence in the Village, however, still brings in about 50 percent of his revenue.

“Certainly, if you consider the people that ask me to make something for them to have for Christmas,” said Dye who sculpts jewelry, ornaments and pins that look like flowers dipped in silver.

Over the years, Dye said, the State Fair’s management has changed and the dust has decreased as more of the fairgrounds have been paved, but the Village has otherwise remained the same.

New vendors are placed next to experienced ones. Some vendors are practical jokers, some prepare their own meals, other fix meals for everyone, and each year provides an opportunity to be next to a new artist and watch a different craft.

“The people made it wonderful for me, and I really loved it, but it was really hard work,” Dye said.

Peter Blum, a third-generation tinsmith, has been participating at the Village demonstrating, answering questions and cutting out animals for Village visitors for 25 years.

“I do not do aardvarks,” said Blum of Elkin, in Surry County, who turns tin into cookie cutters, candleholders and cake pans. “I can’t remember what they look like.”

Blum describes the Village as “the best family of craftsmen” he has ever been around.

The people have skills that have been passed down for generations. They are war heroes, have doctorates and are internationally known.

“Just because they dress funny doesn’t mean they are not highly intelligent,” he said.

The Village of Yesteryear keeps handmade crafts alive, Blum said.

“I get to spread knowledge,” he said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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