At Summerfair this year, visitors had the chance to see artisans working at their crafts, something that hasn’t happened in the past few years.
At one booth at Veterans Park on Saturday, a trio of women from the Prairie Handspinners Guild sat at their looms turning wool into yarn. They chatted with each other as they worked.
A few steps away, the clang of metal on metal rang in the air as ferrier Jim Rennie, of Billings, slammed his hammer on a thin length of glowing-orange steel. He was creating a wall hook to hang coats or hats, one of many types of items he makes.
“I started out doing a couple hundred a year and now it’s into the thousands,” Rennie said, taking a quick break from his work. “I’m practicing for my next career.”
He works in more than steel. Rennie wore a copper bracelet around his wrist recycled from a pipe he bought at a local recycling business.
Rennie pulled out an album filled with pictures of the different pieces he’s completed. Decorative wine racks, plate holders, wall decorations, wall hooks and bottle openers populate the pages.
“I’m very creative, so a lot of times I start out not knowing what I’m going to make, and all of a sudden it comes to me,” he said.
Artisans at work have been part of Summerfair in the past, said Robyn Peterson, executive director of the Yellowstone Art Museum.
“We have had them in prior years, but it’s been a while,” said Peterson, standing in a YAM booth close to the front entrance. “This is kind of a revival of something we’ve tried in the past.”
This is the 36th year for Summerfair, the art museum’s second biggest annual fundraiser, Peterson said. Proceeds from the event support the art museum’s education programs and exhibitions.
The annual event draws from 9,000 to 12,000 visitors — especially, said Peterson, if the weather is good.
“We’re hoping that this is one of the good years,” she said.
The park was alive with the arts, with opportunities for people to do as well as to watch or buy. Children painted rocks and made colorful masks.
Some visitors looked on as members of the Underground Culture Krew spray painted a piece of graffiti art onto a long length of plastic. Others grabbed a bite to eat or sat and enjoyed live local entertainment on an outdoor stage.
Nearly 100 booths were filled with everything from pottery to jewelry to photographs or paintings, rugs, glass works and fiber art.
Matt and Lisa King, owners of Graceful Wood Turnings of Worland, Wyo., drew a crowd to their booth, which features handmade wooden bowls. “I do wood turning and most of it is natural edge, or live edge, as some people call it,” Matt King said.
His creations start out as a chunk of wood or a log from a tree. Rennie then treats the wood, cuts it and shapes it.
It dries for six months to a year, depending on how wet the wood is, and then he adds the finishing touches. Rennie uses a wide variety of wood, including native types such as ash, box elder and certain types of willow.
On average, it takes two to three hours for a small bowl and five to six for the larger ones. Rennie came to Summerfair for the first time last year, and he was glad to return.
“Last year this was our best show that we did all year, and this year hasn’t disappointed,”
Sisters Laura Gundlach, of Billings, and Rose Cote, of Gardiner, strolled through the park, looking at the booths and listening to the live music.
“I like seeing all the people, all the artisans — and the beignets,” Gundlach said, speaking of the sweet, fried pastries.
Cote, who was at Summerfair for the first time, said she likes supporting local artists.
Gundlach said Summerfair reminds her of the weekend farmers’ markets in Missoula that also feature a crafts fair.
“I wish we had this every weekend,” she said.