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Arts & Entertainment Hard Candy Christmas Art & Craft Show celebrates 25th year

The 25th celebration of the ‘Hard Candy Christmas’ Arts & Crafts Show is set for Nov. 23-24 at the (WCU) Ramsey Center in Cullowhee, N.C.

Each year, more and more customers line up early to buy the original creations of more than 100 regional and local artisans in the big arena. Shoppers never fail to find that perfect gift from the dazzling display of heritage craft and contemporary art.

But how it came to be is an amazing story.

In 1987, a handful of Macon County craftsmen wanted to have a place to sell their work. They had an idea to “put on” a Christmas gift show in Franklin. If only they could find a place to market their work late in November after the leaf lookers had gone home. The only problem was no one knew anything about producing an event like that.

Jean Farmer of The Franklin Seed Store had one of the more popular items in her handmade wreaths, jellies and jams.Looking around, the group found the Slagle Memorial Building up on the hill above Franklin that they could afford.

It was complete with a big stone fireplace. The name “Fireside Crafts Show” was chosen. They stuck a sign on the road, placed two ads in the local papers and hoped someone would come.

The group consisted of Doris Hunter with her pine cone birds; Michael M. Rogers’ watercolors, Linda McKay’s dolls; Roger & Gail Marsengill’s blacksmithing; Marty Wilson’s wood toys; Norma Deeks’ Cowee Pottery; Cynthia Starr Lightfoot’s Granny Dolls and an unknown jeweler. Eight brave souls in all.

The outcome exceeded their greatest expectations. The attendance was overwhelming. Hundreds of customers poured in and bought their work.

The next year, they moved up town to the old Callahan Building. They begged several more artist friends to join them to make the total 18. Once again the town was packed out with customers seeking handmade crafts.

Linda McKay was one of the original exhibitors at the “Fireside Craft Show.”The third year, they moved the show to the gymnasium at the Macon County Community Building with 24 exhibitors. Jean Farmer brought her Christmas cacti and sold them like crazy. The Franklin Seed Store was a favorite booth for many years with nuts, jelly and jams and fresh wreaths.

By year four, the artists realized they were not promoters. They wanted to exhibit but not manage it, so, to keep the show from crashing, Doris Hunter took it over.

“It was scary. I was an artist and hated book keeping. Could I do this by myself? I would try, I decided,” she said.

The fifth year, Hunter rented the entire community building, charged a $1 admission, a daring thing at that time and the Hard Candy Christmas Arts & Crafts Show was born. Hunter didn’t know it would become one of the most famous Christmas events in Western North Carolina and the surrounding areas. Many call it “A Mountain Christmas tradition.”

In those early years in the Macon County Community Building, Hunter was determined to bring the Christmas spirit to that place.

She made candy canes from carpet rolls, painting them white and wrapping them in wide red flocked ribbon to carry out the candy theme. She brought in fresh greens to spice up the atmosphere and began to visit other shows to invite different artists. (A crock pot filled with spices drowned out the gym smell at the entrance.) By renting the entire community building, there was more room but the artists were scattered among four rooms. Hunter yearned to have all the exhibitors in one big room. In just a few years, her dream would come true.

In 2005, the invitation came to move the show to the Western Carolina University Ramsey Center in the tiny college town of Cullowhee, N.C., and she never looked back.

The shows have grown exponentially, with room for 100 artisans in the big 18,000 square foot arena, the show has spilled outside and up and down the sidewalk.

The good lighting and convenient parking makes comfortable shopping and the surround system makes holiday music a joy. Macon County’s favorite guitarist Ronnie Evans strums the old songs for enjoyable background music.

The wide selection of heritage crafts include quilts, Shaker brooms, goat milk soap, and dolls. For the collectors, there is numerous ornament makers and Old World santas. The finest wood craftsmen make boxes, furniture, cutting boards, pens and carvings. The skilled glass artists present blown, slumped and fired pieces.

Shoppers can buy a piece of rustic furniture and meet the person who makes it, along with specialty sweets and holiday breads, fresh wreaths and grapevine wreaths.

Each year, Hunter visits dozens of shows and look for different artisans carefully choosing who she think will be a hit.

Hunter is often asked why the show is called “Hard Candy Christmas.”

Long ago, even when times were lean Christmas was celebrated in the mountains with an apple, orange and hard candy placed inside a stocking. When visitors come to the show, there is an antique family jar full of peppermint candy and a white oak split basket of apples to sample in keeping with this custom.

Along the way, my business name changed to Mountain Artisans and a summer show was added. I went high tech and www.mountainartisans.net, came about for information

Come to the “Hard Candy Christmas” and support the mountain crafts community and made in America arts. See for yourself what patience, faith and never giving up can do for a mountain girl who loves the crafts community and wants to promote it.

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas, Doris Hunter (828)524-3405. Visit www.mountainartisans.net for more information.

Doris Hunter’s dream was to have all the crafters in one big space after humble beginnings at the Slagle Memorial Building. At the Ramsey Center, her dream has become a reality at one of the largest holiday events in the area.


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