Marshall Handmade Market: Small-town charm and handmade wares

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Five years ago, the artists of Marshall High Studios brainstormed an annual event in the spirit of the holiday season. Because the artists do not keep regular open-studio hours, the idea that became the Marshall Handmade Market was a way for them to share their space and their work with the community. Additional makers from the region were invited to join the crew of Marshall High to showcase unique items ranging from crafts and fine arts to handmade soaps and body oils. With food vendors selling tasty eats and baked goods, visitors can now pair a visit to the small country town and its workshops with a slice of pie.

“It’s really homey, and it’s a cozy thing,” says Handmade Market organizer Emily Reason. “I’ve heard a lot of people who come to it say that it’s their favorite holiday event.”

The Marshall High Studios is a creative community space in the former Marshall high school building on Blanahassett Island. The defunct school was purchased by former Lark Books owner, Rob Pulleyn, and arts patron, Jim Woodruff, in 2007. Its 28 classrooms were renovated into 28 workspaces. The studios were quickly filled by ceramists, painters, woodworkers and fiber artists. Katie Vie, one of the co-organizers of the Handmade Market, was among the first tenants. Her business, River Island Apothecary, was born in the refurbished high school.

The Saturday, Nov. 23, juried show features artists and crafters from Madison County and the surrounding area. Reason says, “It’s about 35 to 40 vendors plus the 15 artists who work in the building and have their studios open.”

As a working potter, Reason is familiar with the ins and outs of artisan expos. “I do a lot of traveling to craft shows. It’s really high stress, and you put a lot of money out there.” There is a huge labor of packing, unpacking and carrying fragile and sometimes heavy art objects. “Part of the intention was to make this show really comfortable and to cater to the artists,” says Reason.

Marshall Handmade Market is a grassroots effort, says Reason. The Marshall High artists collaborate to stage the market, and all vendor fees go directly back into the event’s operations. After all the bills are paid, “If we have any [money] leftover, we buy coffee and doughnuts for the artists,” says Reason

The market includes a lineup of musicians from around Madison County including folk acts, bluegrass performers and ballad singers. “We’ve got music, and we’ve got all the festive decorations. It’s just a friendly atmosphere,” says Reason.

Midwest-transplant Deb Karash (currently based in Bakersville) was drawn to the small town’s thriving arts scene. “I was able to move there from Illinois without knowing more than a couple of people, and within months I was completely engaged in the community,” she says. “The town is just full of creative people, and Marshall High Studios provides not only great workspace, but also a real sense of community.”

Karash makes bold and colorful jewelry out of copper and sterling silver. “I’m working on some new things for the show, and I’m really looking forward to spending the day in Marshall with friends,” she says.

Fine art painter Francesco Lombardo relocated to Marshall for its slower pace. “Asheville obviously has a lot going on, but placing it a 25-minute drive away helps to ration time spent meeting up at whatever bar opened last week,” he says.

Notably, Lombardo received a nod from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery for one of his paintings in a 2010 competition. On display at this weekend’s event will be a series that he describes as “100 smaller paintings depicting the human skull repeated in various color palettes.” He will also be showing large-scale figurative works that incorporate transparency and multiple viewpoints which lend a dreamlike quality to the work. “The larger figurative pieces are where I define myself as a painter,” he says.

Lombardo adds, “The arts community in Marshall is thriving and varied for such a small town, and this is largely in thanks to Rob Pulleyn and Jim Woodruff’s commitment to renovate and upkeep the Marshall High Studios.” And that’s exactly what the Handmade Market aims to celebrate.

what: Marshall Handmade Market,
where: Marshall High Studios
when: Saturday, Nov. 23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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