Until a couple of years ago, if you threw a rock down the streets of Asheville you wouldn’t hit a crafter. Not because they weren’t here, but because they were likely in their basements making cool stuff, be it sock monkeys, knit monster pants, and unique jewelry—or they were at their computers, posting said cool stuff for sale on sites like the now-venerable Etsy. Brandy Bourne, co-creator of The Big Crafty, along with her husband, Justin Rabuck, thought it was a shame that these folks were hidden from the light, so they crafted a phenomenal event to allow face-to-face contact with these creative makers and their wares. July 11 is the fifth installment of the biannual event, held at Pack Place with sponsorship from the Asheville Art Museum. With the next show just days away, Bourne took the time to answer WNC’s burning questions about the event.
How BIG is the BIG CRAFTY?
This year, we have 140 booths, some of which are shared by multiple crafters or groups. Sixty-four of our vendors are new this year. There were an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 attendees at last summer’s event.
What should people know before they go to the event? That it’s free and big, big fun! There will be children’s activities, music, food, and locally brewed beer. It's enjoyable across generations and tastes. The work ranges from folksy to punk, from the irreverent to the fine.
Why do you think the event is so popular here?
We’ve tried hard to make it feel like a party. I think people really respond to acting in a socially responsible way by buying handmade while also having a great time.
Are you and your husband crafty? If so, what do you make?
Indie craft was a natural affinity for me. My parents were into the ’70s craft movement, and I grew up making things with them. During college, I was always knitting and sewing—and either wearing my creations or giving them away as gifts. I always wished there were a way to make money from those skills instead of the student jobs I held, but in the ’90s it was hard to find a market for such a small sideline. Now the buy-handmade movement has connected such micro-art-and-craft businesses to markets online and in communities, which is great for the person with a knack for creating, as well as for people who would rather buy handmade and/or local.
Justin is an artist and felt strongly about including fine art in the event. He saw it as a venue for his own work, but the event became so much more than we expected that it’s really all we can do to pull it off. Literally, every time we think “this time” we’ll have our own booth, but really I can’t imagine how we would. Even with the help of our fantastic volunteers, we barely take a breath until it’s over.
Are all the vendors local?
Most, but not all. We like to make sure The Big Crafty is new every time. The majority of our returning crafters are local, but we keep it fresh with great new handmade works from farther afield. Most of our out-of-town vendors stay here for a day or two, so we’re pleased to support local businesses beyond The Big Crafty by bringing people to Asheville.
Did you have a favorite find or purchase at last year’s Crafty?
We were expecting a child, so I bought a couple of great little soft creatures from wonderland5 and from Lori Brown that now adorn our nursery. They’re two of my favorite vendors, and they’ll both be back this time.
If we could, we’d fill our home with hand-painted suitcases from Final Approach. They’re one-of-a-kind and my favorites (like the ones depicting Jimmy Carter, Abe Lincoln, and Mr. Spock) have always been gone by the end of the day. In fact, that’s my goal this time—buy as soon as I spot something I like.
Where are you both from?
I’m from Morganton originally and went to school at UNC Asheville, but I moved around to Taiwan, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Chapel Hill for grad school, before coming back to Asheville for a job at UNCA.
Justin was born in New Orleans and lived in Arkansas and Charleston before moving to Asheville about 10 years ago. His family has ties in Montreat, and he often spent summers there, and always wanted to live in this area one day.
What inspired you to start the event?
We started The Big Crafty because we couldn’t believe someone else hadn’t held an indie craft fair here yet. We knew that there were so many great indie crafters here, but that most of them were working in basements and selling online. A few years ago, we saw them on etsy.com and blogs promoting handmade art and craft, but hardly saw a trace of them locally. We wanted to have a big coming-out bash for them. We called that first event the debutante ball of indie craft. Really, we wanted to meet these people and shop their wares ourselves!
Can you offer any tips for navigating the crowd and getting to see all the booths?
Well, thankfully, that’s less challenging at the summer event than the winter one. Our summer event is spread out across Pack Square, so it’s roomier, even though there’s lots more to see. In December, it’s cozy, which feels appropriate for a winter fête. This time, it will be half inside and half outside with Southern summer fare from Rosetta’s Kitchen outside and Firestorm Café favorites inside. Roaming with a cupcake from Short Street Cakes has also become a tradition. Wherever you start, I’d plan to hit one of our wonderful food vendors for a snack break midway through.
What is this year’s raffle item?
We're not doing a raffle this year, but are instead turning things around a bit. Local businesses (like Custom, Sweet Biscuit Inn, The Grey Eagle, Harvest Records, Asheville Grown, Hip Replacements, Wink, and Static Age Records) that have previously donated to our raffle are giving Best in Show prizes to our crafters this time. The crafters are our success, and we really want to give back to them. We love the idea of local businesses giving to local businesses.
What bands/DJs are playing?
Whitney Shroyer (aka Dr. Filth) will be DJing inside with his signature retro soul, rock and roll, and R&B. And the amazingly infectious Chikomo Marimba will be playing from 2 to 5 p.m. outside.
In the past we’ve either been working or too exhausted to attend impromptu after-parties, so this time we’ve planned a pre-party! Morgan C. Geer will play Saturday, July 10, at the Lexington Avenue Brewery for just-arrived crafters and craftophiles getting ready for our big day on Sunday.
If The Big Crafty had a theme song, what would it be?
Because it’s our favorite song, and because it speaks of love for the place you call home, which is Asheville for us, it would have to be “This Must Be The Place” by Talking Heads. The lyrics seem right:
“Home - is where I want to be /
But I guess I'm already there....
I can’t tell one from another /
Did I find you, or you find me?....
Never for money /
Always for love....When someone asks / This is where I’ll be.”
But it might also be any song from the "Floating Action" CD, which is Asheville-grown and has been on repeat for us as we’ve been planning. It has a summer anthem feel to it that seems appropriately festive, too.
What do you look for when you select the vendors?
We have a small jury (of which we’re a part) that chooses the vendors. We look for work that’s inventive, unexpected, and well-crafted. Often the work we select is green, recycled, or upcycled. We believe that to create, invent, and remake, as our crafters do, is a good thing for a person and for a people.
What is the future of The Big Crafty?
Well, we’re happy to keep it going here for as long as people respond to it. We often get requests, mostly from participating crafters, to partner with us to take the show on the road. Right now, a couple of crafters are planning to use our process and infrastructure to start Big Crafties beyond Asheville. We love the idea of having a little circuit that our crafters can travel. If other towns embrace The Big Crafty with anything like the warmth and enthusiasm of Asheville, we’ll be delighted.