Bedford Gallery's craft fest of local, unique goods
By Lou Fancher
With abundant resources for learning, an active arts community and consumers clamoring for handmade, artisan goods, East Bay craft businesses are booming.
At Walnut Creek Civic Arts Education, Berkeley's Kala Art Institute, the Crucible in Oakland and workshops at Bay Area museums and galleries, crafters refine their skills in clay and ceramics, welding, jewelry making, glass blowing, screen printing, culinary arts and more.
The downtown Bedford Gallery's "BG Craft Fest" on Nov. 7-8, is bucking the trend of event extravaganza. Assistant curator Christine Koppes says the eighth annual fair is more highly curated.
"This year we cut back so that every table offers unique goods," Koppes says.
Applying a rubric favoring local, handmade, high-quality, and affordable goods made by artists with cohesive product lines, Koppes says the 16 new, and 11 returning crafters selected from 90 applicants demonstrate depth and avoid duplication.
"There was a time when you would go to a craft show and see 10 different laser-cut jewelry vendors, rather than just one or two who do it really well," she says.
For the first time, the Bedford show will include craft demos and an atmosphere where visitors engage directly with the artists.
"I go to rural forest areas that are game-hunting grounds with a big bag and just pick them up and clean them myself at home," says Antioch jewelry designer Emily Newbury, about the bullets and rifle shells she recycles and uses in her crystal necklaces. "The most important things with my jewelry are individuality and affordability. So many things are mass-produced. It's not easy to give a gift that feels unique."
Newbury is attracted to fossils, stones, crystals and metals. Most of her jewelry is one-of-a-kind, with custom fitting. She shops dilligently to find stones and metals with distinct patterning and form.
"No one can make them look the way they do except Mother Nature herself," she says.
At the Hollie's HomeGrown display, Moraga entrepreneur Hollie Lucas-Alcalay introduces herbal products in her first appearance at the fair.
The culinary herbs and salts, herbal teas, and bath and body products, including bath salts, lip balm and others use organic, pesticide-free plants grown in her backyard. Working with a local honey maker, salves infused with beeswax are popular.
"I've had tremendous feedback about the relief they provide for sore muscles, eczema or dry skin," she says.
Her "Woman Owned" business was a finalist for the Martha Stewart's Made in America Award last year and is nominated again in 2015. But what makes Lucas-Alcalay most proud in a family with three generations of male farmers is running her own agricultural business.
"I've always reminded myself that having my dream job is a privilege," says the mother of two. "I have to work harder and smarter than anything I've done before."
Ashley Hippler, Concord, knows about hard work. An established hairstylist in Los Angeles, the death of her father in 2012 left her craving more meaningful work. Moving to the Bay Area in 2014, she took sewing classes and learned to craft moccasins for children.
Combining American-made leather from Napa Valley and hand-woven fabrics imported from Thailand, she fashions a pair of moccs in under 30 minutes.
"I perfected these patterns -- with a ton of trial and error -- on a 25-year-old, 150-pound beast of a sewing machine I found at a discount on Craigslist."
The locally produced, unique gifts are from 27 artisans featured at the craft fest.