At Haddonfield festival, crafts and connections

Annah and Joey McGinley browse at Creative Capes ("with premium satin featuring your child's first initial") at the Haddonfield Crafts and Fine Art Festival.
Annah and Joey McGinley browse at Creative Capes ("with premium satin featuring your child's first initial") at the Haddonfield Crafts and Fine Art Festival. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 15, 2014

Jeff and Jim Petrillo of Moorestown have been woodworkers most of their adult lives, usually of smaller items.

One year, the brothers branched out and built a wooden boat.

Next, they built a wooden surfboard.

And then they built a company - Deadhead Surfboards. They produce gleaming boards of various woods that nevertheless are fully functional.

"The idea is you hang it on the wall, take it out and use it, and then put it back on the wall," Jeff Petrillo said Sunday as the company booth at the Haddonfield Crafts and Fine Arts Festival drew more than a few curious stares.

For 22 years, arts and craft makers - and seekers - have converged on this South Jersey town for one weekend every summer to celebrate the original, the handmade, and, from time to time, the exquisitely oddball.

Many of the exhibitors, like Audubon jeweler Nancy Irons, who specializes in jaspers and boulder opals, have been coming pretty much since the beginning. "It's an appreciative crowd," she said.

A lot of the customers are regulars, too. Haddonfield resident Lydia Hamilton Brown has attended every year. Mostly, it's simply to be there to support the downtown, but she often winds up buying something as well.

One year not long ago, the police estimated the two-day attendance at 100,000, and the organizers figure that has generally held true.

Another regular is Nnamdi Batik Art - clothing by Nigerians who live in Chapel Hill, N.C. Uzo Ezekwudo frequently sees people in fashions from previous years among the crowd. She now keeps a "storybook" of comments that make her happy. Among them: "You never have to wear a bra with your dresses, and they have terrific pockets!"

Then there were newbies such as Maryland's Holly Hagen, who makes initialed "hero capes" - mostly for kids, but adults have gone for them as well. For this show, she brought 900 capes, plus hero masks, hero wrist cuffs, and hero belts.

The idea, she said, "is to teach kids they're special just the way they are."

Given that this is South Jersey, there are always a few glassblowers, who this year included Jeff Manaman of Clayton, a volunteer at Wheaton Village, the museum of American glass in Millville. He incorporates traditional South Jersey designs and colors into his work.

Radnor show organizer Barbara Boroff was one of the founders of the festival, and today her daughter Marcy Boroff, of Philadelphia, is its director. Their company, Renaissance Craftables, stages five to eight shows a year in this region.

To Marcy Boroff, the show's endurance in a growing world of big-box stores is testament to people's desire to have something original and to forge a connection with the person who made it.

"People still want to meet the artist," she said. "Whether it's a silk scarf or a diamond ring, whether you're spending $30 or $5,000, you want a connection to the work."

Many of the kinds of arts and crafts have remained the same - jewelry and ceramics are always strong, for instance. This year, of about 270 exhibitors, more than 70 were jewelers.

But in recent years, Boroff said, digital photography and handmade artisan soap have emerged.

That certainly kept Lance McCall busy with sales at the Wildwood Soapworks booth, a fragrant amalgam of lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, mint, and cinnamon.

Like many at the festival, McCall and soapmaker Sally Cates - they recently moved from Kennett Square to Santa Fe, but they come back for the show - do this full time, many weekends a year.

It's not a hobby - something many wryly noted as they showed up at 5 a.m. Saturday for the grueling setup dance: Unload everything and lug it up onto the sidewalk. Two hours later, when all the cars are off the street, set up the tent along the center line and lug everything off the sidewalk and into the tent.

Sometimes they make up the booth fee - at this show, it starts at $325 - and sometimes they don't.

The surfboarding Petrillos didn't expect to. Given the price of $1,500 to $1,800 per board, they hoped to make contacts, not impulse sales.

215-854-5147 @sbauers

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