Community Unites for Unison Art Center’s Craft Fair

Works at the craft fair. Photo by Jeannette LaPointe.

The New Paltz community came together this past weekend for the 26th Annual Craft, Art and Design Fair hosted by the Unison Arts Center.

The fair, held on Saturday, Nov. 26 and Sunday, Nov. 27, featured 41 different vendors looking to exhibit and sell their unique crafts. This year’s fair quickly appeared en route to setting the record for highest attendance in its history, according to former director Stuart Bigley.

“It was the biggest one day we’ve ever had, I think somewhere between 700-900 people showed up,” Bigley said. “Typically, Sunday is less attended than Saturday, and I think this is a little bit less attended than Saturday was, but it’s been solid. I think that when we add everything up in the end, we’ll probably have more people than we’ve ever had.”

This came as a pleasant surprise to both Bigley and vendors, as a change in date and location created worry that attendance would drop. This year marked the fair’s first appearance at SUNY New Paltz. In previous years, the event has been held a week later at New Paltz Middle School or Lenape Elementary School. However, plans for construction in the New Paltz Central School District created uncertainty as to whether or not these locations would be available.

Local artisan and vendor Leonie Lacouette also expressed these concerns.

“I was a little worried people wouldn’t find us because we moved, but they found us,” she said.

Lacouette, also known as “Leonie the clockmaker,” has been making clocks for over 30 years. She graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in ceramics in 1983 and started crafting clocks after. However, despite the decades she has put into her work, Lacouette said she has not been to many craft fairs. Unison’s craft fair is an exception, as she recalls attending and participating for roughly the past 10 years. She spoke about a sense of a tightly-knit community as one of the reasons she keeps coming back.

“It’s so nice to have your friends and neighbors come in and see what you do,” she said. “It’s like a mutual admiration society. And you make new friends all the time.” 

A friendly atmosphere could be felt throughout the fair. For some, like craftsman and first time vendor Paul Hartmann, this atmosphere was the most enjoyable part of the event. 

“I just enjoy watching the people come through and talking to them,” he said. “I was talking all day yesterday. This is just fun to do.”

Hartmann has been building and selling guitars since 2006. If he has a guitar in his hand, he can’t help but play it. Despite this being the first year with his own booth, Hartmann is no stranger to Unison’s craft fairs. His wife has been a vendor for many years, and he assisted with putting up and taking down her booth, as well as providing ambient music with his guitar. Having his own booth provided Hartmann with a different experience, he said.

“I had a couple of people sit down yesterday that were really good players,” Hartmann added. “It was really nice to hear them.”

For some new vendors like Joan Ensminger, the friendly interactions she had were essential in solidifying her place in the community. 

“Everyone here pretty much lives in neighboring communities, so I think it feels very collegial. I’m more of a newer person, but people here are lovely and help each other,” she said. 

Ensminger has been working with kiln-formed glass for roughly the past six years. She considers herself new to the complicated craft, but is often told it doesn’t show. This year marked her second time at the fair. 

“I think this is a nicer environment,” she said, comparing this year’s event to last year’s rendition. “I would be happy if they did this again.” 

The idea that SUNY New Paltz provided a more appropriate space for the fair than in years past seemed to be fairly unanimous among experienced vendors. According to Bigley, Unison also seemed to agree with this idea. 

“As far as I’m concerned, this is a much nicer space,” Bigley said. “If they’ll have us back next year and if we can afford it, I think we would like to come back.”