Jefferson Chamber of Commerce scraps spring arts-crafts event
SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – Officials with the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce won’t hold another springtime Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival, deciding this month to instead put all their focus on the larger, more successful fall version of the event.
[cleeng_content id="175773754" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Once the Sept. 27, 28 and 29 event at Sam Michaels Park near Harpers Ferry wraps up, it will be the last until the fall of 2014. In a unanimous vote, the chamber’s board of directors has agreed to halt the spring festival after three years of its not meeting expectations.
“The September festival is the bigger festival,” said Heather Morgan McIntyre, the chamber’s executive director. “If we concentrate on September, the crowds will come here then instead of splitting them between June and September.”
The chamber first introduced the festival that has become one of the East Coast’s most-anticipated such events in June of 1972. After adding a fall counterpart three years later, the autumn festival quickly became more popular with visitors, according to Morgan McIntyre.
McIntyre says the juried festival has long forged a reputation for quality arts and crafts as well as a venue for bluegrass bands. Next month’s festival will feature The Hillbilly Gypsies, Patent Pending, The Stevens Family Bluegrass Band, and Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice.
The chance to sample wine from a number of West Virginia vineyards is another draw to the festival, as is the special art activities and other offerings designed just for kids. The latter was added in recent years to make the festival more appealing to younger visitors and families with children.
“The festival now has a children’s activity tent that is always full,” McIntyre said.
Chamber officials have begun to alert festival crafters, artisans, vendors and others to the decision to switch to a sole yearly festival.
Explains Patricia Hubbard, the chamber board’s president: “The board recognizes the challenges in mounting two major festivals each year and has made the decision to put all its energy into the success of the fall festival.”
Much has changed in the arts and crafts circuit since the 1970s, McIntyre noted in a news release. “There is a lot of competition now that did not exist when the festival got its start,” she said.
Other factors also played a part in concentrating on the fall festival, McIntyre said. The Chamber relies on advertising funding from the West Virginia Tourism Commission for a MAPP Grant, and that money has dwindled significantly.
Potter Pam Parziale, who has long taken part in the festival as an exhibitor and who serves on the chamber board, said that because of “the changing demographics, some changes (to the festival) are necessary.”
West Virginia-born landscape artist Robert E. Tuckwiller is another longtime vet of Mountain Heritage.
Tuckwiller, who grew up in Greenbrier County, said in an interview that the festival is a favorite venue for selling his art. He also ends up buying pieces from other craftsmen.
“My house is full of crafts and art bought at Harpers Ferry over the years,’’ said Tuckwiller, who spends most of his time at his home in near Blacksburg.
“The work you see at Harpers Ferry is unique, really special. We’ve bought baskets and pottery and all kinds of beautiful things.”
The festival also has generated a legion of new fans for his work, Tuckwiller said. “There are people who come to the festival every time. When the gates open on Friday, I’ll have regulars you’ll come straight to my booth to see what I have new to show them.”
Tuckwiller said that the chamber’s requirement that exhibitors not only sell their work at the festival but also provide demonstrations not only makes the festival more entertaining to visit, but also prompts return business. Many times, he said, someone watching him work on a painting one day will return to the festival later to get a glimpse of the finished product.
Tuckwiller, who earned his degree in art education from then-Concord College, took part in Mountain Heritage in the early 1980s, but then stopped for several years before resuming the spring and fall shows more than a decade ago.
“Harpers Ferry is consistently the best-selling show I’ve ever done,” he said. “They’re very selective about (which artists) get let in. That’s my only complaint. They let in too many other good artists who compete with me.”
As in past years, exhibitors and businesses involved with the chamber will get thousands of passes to hand out to area residents to ensure crowds of locals spend time at next month’s festival, McIntyre said.
Visitors to the chamber’s website – jeffersoncountywvchamber.org/festival – can print a coupon for $1 off the cost of admission.
The chamber also is putting together a committee to explore another event to be held in the spring.
Want to go?
What: Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 27, 28 and 29
Where: Sam Michaels Park on Job Corps Road
How much: Admission costs $7 for adults, $4 for children 6 to 17. Parking and entertainment are included.
Details: More information and a coupon for $1 off admission are available at jeffersoncountywvchamber.org/festival