Taking place November 17 and 18, the 55th annual Piedmont Craftsmen’s Fair brings more than 100 fine artisans from across the Southeast to downtown Winston-Salem. We caught up with Jane Doub, president and CEO of Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery and accomplished local artist, to get her take on what makes this event unlike any other craft fair in the Southeast region.
Piedmont Craftsmen Fair
Question: When did you first go to Piedmont Craftsmen Fair?
Answer: I was in high school when my great aunt, who loved to make things, took me with her to the fair. I was mesmerized by what was available. The artists were incredible. It gave me something to aspire to. I went on to study art in school and textiles in college, ultimately becoming a weaver. My goal was to become an exhibiting member at the fair. It took me 10 years!
Question: How has the fair evolved over the years?
Answer: There’s always something new. Whether it’s an artist who is trying something different or showing his or her newest work. Maybe someone has changed artistic directions or is showing work for the first time. From an administrative side, we’re always focused on educating and entertaining through demonstrations. We’ve added more specialized demonstrations, trying to present different types of media that you can’t just look up on YouTube, like papercutting or paper pulp painting. We like demonstrations that show what’s new, what’s up and coming, someone who’s working with a new material, or an individual’s personal technique that’s not well known.
Question: What makes this year so special?
Answer: This is the 55th anniversary. Basically, the fair started around someone’s kitchen table in 1963, so the fact that it has survived this long and grown this big is pretty amazing in itself. We have a lot of artists who are coming back this year because of the anniversary. That means visitors will get to see new work from artists they haven’t seen for five or even ten years.
Question: Exhibiting artists are members of a carefully curated guild. What criteria do they have to meet to be a part of that?
Answer: There’s a two-part jury review process. Every January, we have an open call for applications for three months. Any artist in the United States can submit images of his or her work. A standards committee made up of 13 individuals review and score every application individually, ultimately determining who to invite to part two. This year, 32 new artists made the cut, and 30 will be presenting at the fair either in a group booth or individually. This gives the artists a chance to present their work for the committee as they want it to be seen. And it gives the committee a chance to review the craftsmanship up close and make sure it’s carried through every single detail. After this final checkpoint, selected artists are invited to become lifetime members of the organization. Generally speaking, about 15 to 20 percent of all initial applicants are accepted.
Question: What would you say is the one thing that attendees enjoy most at the fair?
Answer: Some enjoy coming for a girlfriend shopping getaway. Others come to see the demonstrations, perhaps of an artist whose work they admire. Some want to do all of their holiday shopping over the two days, so they can give unique gifts that they can’t find anywhere else. There’s also a social aspect of meeting the artists. Some visitors come to reunite with their favorites; others come to meet new ones. People come back to the fair year after year, but the reason is different for everyone.
Question: What are your tips for a first-time attendee?
Answer: First of all, give yourself time. Plan for an experience. Some attendees like to do half the show on the first day, and the other half on the second day. Others do a couple laps to figure out what they might want to buy, and then make purchases on the second day. If you’re looking for something specific, like ceramics or furniture, do some homework upfront. All the artists are on the Piedmont Craftsmen website, so you can look at their work in advance and have a better idea of who you want to see or talk to. That will help if you’re short on time. My second piece of advice would be to come to the Member’s Only Preview Night on Friday. Saturday and Sunday are open to the public. But Friday evening is a preview party for owners, members, and sponsors. All you have to do to attend is make a donation. You’ll be one of the first in the door, so you can be the first to buy what everyone else will want. Plus, you’ll enjoy socializing with artists, spectacular fashion choices, live music, and heavy hors d’oeuvres.
Question: Who’s one local artist not to miss at this year’s fair?
Answer: Tomi Melson is one of the artists coming back after a long hiatus. She hasn’t had a booth in 15 to 20 years. Tomi is a fiber artist whose specialty is handwoven wool and mohair home accessories and wearables. Look for her amazing pillows. Another one out of neighboring Greensboro is Louba Warrack. She does amazing work with metal and glass. Each piece takes months to create. You can really appreciate the amount of time, technique, and visual creativity that she puts into each piece.
This year’s fair features 102 craftsmen and five live demonstrations. Look for everything from ceramics and fiber to jewelers, woodworkers, and the growing area of mixed media. Whether you’re an art aficionado or artist, or you simply appreciate beautiful craftsmanship, the Piedmont Craftsmen Fair is truly an art fair to remember.
Details for the 55th Piedmont Craftsmen Fair
Location: Benton Convention Center
Address: 301 W 5th St, Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Hours: Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m./ Sunday, Noon – 5 p.m.
- Adults $8
- Students/Seniors (age 65 and up) $7
- Children under 12 no charge
- Weekend Pass $12