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Handmade is the word at Grand Rivers festival

BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAITgpostlethwait@paducahsun.com

Since early morning Saturday people with painted, smiling faces and arms full of handmade items big and small have filled Little Lake Park in Grand Rivers for the 39th annual Arts & Crafts Festival.

The nearly 100 craftsmen and artisans who set up shop in the park this weekend will open their tents again this morning at 9. Weather permitting, they'll keep them open until 3 this afternoon when the festival ends. 

Paintings, homegrown honey, handcrafted jewelry, holiday decorations, pottery, candles and gourds are just a few of the many items at this year's festival. Though each booth is different from the next, they all have one thing in common: Each and every item within is handmade.

"At our festival we are very strict," said Kentucky's Western Waterland event manager Angie Meffert. Kentucky's Western Waterland is the regional tourism organization that puts on the festival every year. "It has to be handmade. And we do go and check!"

Meffert said those who are interested in being a part of the festival must send in pictures and detailed descriptions of their art or craft for consideration. Some are approved as vendors, some aren't. Once vendors arrive for the festival, Meffert and her crew double check all of the booths to make sure nothing store-bought or imported made it in.

"You don't find too many festivals anymore where everything's handmade," Meffert said. "A lot of people like to do their Christmas shopping here. I know I do! It's unique items that you're not going to find anywhere else."

Sunday afternoon the sun was out and festival-goers were plentiful, weaving in and out of booths, plates of barbecue or cups of fragrant Righteous Roast Coffee in hand. Saturday afternoon vendors had to close up early after a light sprinkle turned into a downpour, but Meffert and several vendors said turnout was strong enough Saturday morning to make up for the lost hours.

This year's vendors are mix of craftsmen and artisans from near and far, representing 10 states altogether. Some are new to the festival, but many have been coming for years. Kenny and Gaye Ann Bloyd, of East Prairie, Missouri, and Teresa Schmidt, of Metropolis, Illinois, and Grover Beach, California, have been longtime Arts & Crafts Festival neighbors. The Bloyds offer the fruits of their backyard bee farm including honey, beeswax candles, beeswax cream and ear candles. Schmidt, who spends three months out of the year in western Kentucky and the rest in California, likes to say she "paints smiles on kids' faces."

"The minute you show the kid the mirror, they just light up, it makes their day," Schmidt said, her own face painted and smiling. "The minute they walk out of the booth some total stranger will compliment them. For me the best part is being creative, doing each one a little different. It's a positive, fun thing."

Schmidt does quite a few festivals, including this one and BBQ on the River; she has six other festivals lined up this year. What she likes so much about this festival in particular, she said, is that it's stayed true to the handmade-only rule.

"This is one of the festivals that I actually walk around and spend my money!" she said. "The artists are actually here, and it's actually art. Not sunglasses or imports."

A little farther into the park is Aubrey Griggs' wood carving booth. Griggs is "semi-retired" now, and has cut down his festival vending to this festival alone. His wood of choice is red cedar.

"Grows locally. Smells good. Carves good. Got a pretty color to it," he said. "And people like it. It's plentiful."

From this one festival he said he usually gets enough interest to keep him busy for the year. He's been coming to the festival for over 25 years and in that time he said his craft has grown and matured just as much as the festival itself. In recent years he's started carving bigger and bigger pieces, including full-sized totem poles, but his mainstays are still walking sticks and tomahawks.

"I've been carving those for years," he said, carving a chiseled visage into the handle of a walking stick as he spoke. "I've carved five of them today just standing here, talking to people. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm carving! It's just part of me anymore. I like to do it."

Little Lake Park is directly behind Badgett House Theater, catty-cornered from Patti's 1880s settlement. Admission is $1 for adults and free for children ages 5 and under. For more information, call Kentucky's Western Waterland at 270-928-4411.

Contact Genevieve Postlethwait, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or at gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com.

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