Pittsfield holiday art festivals offer handmade gifts


PITTSFIELD -- Discover a pair of earrings made from silver and butterfly wings. Admire the ornament your son made while you shopped. Let the yeasty warmth of a fresh-baked pretzel twine around you as you take bite after bite.

Locals can congregate at holiday bazaars in the next few weekends, mingling with food and live music and the season's goodwill while supporting the local economy.

Pittsfield artist Crispina ffrench agrees that her Shire City Sanctuary Holiday Shopping Shindy on Dec. 8 and 9 is partly "an excuse to bring together the times and people" she loves.

She has invited makers of vintage men's workwear denim to come from as far away as Pennsylvania. Closer to home, the growers at Dalton's Holiday Brook Farm will sell their own yarn and maple syrup, while giving information about joining their CSA for fresh vegetables and eggs.

"It's a great way to meet the people behind the crafts," said Diane Firtell, who is gearing up for Alchemy Initiative's Holiday Handmade Festival on Saturday and Sunday; she's both an organizer and a vendor. In her collage art, sections of photographs merge seamlessly with oil painting. She works on notecards and full-size landscapes, done in photography and paint.

The festival is the Alchemy Initiative's main annual event; year-round, the initiative dedicates itself to gardening workshops, film screenings and community service. Co-founder Jessica Conzo spends the rest of the year making the connections that make this venue for local food, farming, and arts possible.

"Our mission is to engage, sustain, and enliven the community," Conzo said.

The Handmade Holiday Festival has a new location at Masonic Temple on South Street this year, which will let it expand to host 30 regional potters, jewelers, culinary crafters and artisans. In past years, the festival has shared space with ffrench at what was once Melville Street's Notre Dame Church.

The Alchemy Initiative has "left the church this year," Conzo said, and will now operate as a pop-up, partnering with organizations across the county to offer workshops in art, creativity and self-care -- from botanical massage oils to raised garden beds to collage.

This last year has been a time of transition for the Initiative, she said. They have a new board of directors and have streamlined their mission.

The Holiday Handmade Festival will offer food to nourish the shoppers, and more to take home as gifts. Andrea Hartcorn will sell piping hot pretzels at a stand named "Pretioles" after the Italian word for "little prayers" because the baked goods look like folded arms. "Naga Bakehouse" will bring breads made from wheat the owners have grown themselves in Vermont.

At a photo booth, shoppers can get strips to remember their day, or even attach pictures of themselves to the gifts they buy.

ffrench, a self-described "used clothing alchemist," has been organizing her annual Holiday Shopping Shindy for more than two decades. From scraps from thrift store purchases, she fashions "upcycled" accessories and dolls called "ragamuffins."

All the artists at the Shindy will specialize in crafts as unique as hers: At one booth, Doria Polinger's handmade H.R. Zeppelin Chocolates from local, organic ingredients, line up with her Biscuitbones line of dolls and plush toys.

Admission to the festivities, held for the sixth year in Notre Dame Church, is free.

"My mission is to generate community, and change the preoccupation with commercialism during the holiday," ffrench said.

The Alchemy Initiative will including its golden creation, "Alchemy of Rumpelstiltskin," in the Berkshire Museum's Festival of Trees.

During the Handmade Holiday Festival, all are invited to the museum to an open workshop to create hue-shifting ‘density ornaments' out of brightly colord liquids, carefully layered, and test tubes provided.

Alchemy Initiative is also raffling two art bags full of donations by a dozen participating artisans. Firtell has included a commission to complete a portrait of the winners' homes -- worth $1,200, she said.

The revenue from the Handmade Holiday Fair goes to its community-improving events, including its Alchemy Up program at the Juvenile Resource Center and a mural made by the Boys and Girls Club that has been installed at the Berkshire Athenaeum.

These two events each offer a range from stocking stuffers to high-end gifts. The organizers of these local fairs hope that while buying for loved ones, customers become acquainted with the area's abundant talent.

"People, come with your holiday shopping lists," Firtell said. "It's a one-stop shop for unique gifts you can feel good about giving."

If you go ...

What: Alchemy Initiative's Handmade Holiday Festival -- 30 or more artisans and crafters

When: Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Masonic Temple 116 South St., Pittsfield

Admission: $13 adult, $6 child (under 18), and children 3 and under get in free

Berkshire Museum members get $1 discount on admission to the Handmade Holiday Festival. Attendees of the Festival get $1 off entry to the Festival of Trees.

Information: alchemyinitiative.org

What: Crispina ffrench's Shire City Sanctuary Holiday Shopping Shindy -- 40 or more artisans and crafters

When: Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8 and 9, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: 40 Melville St., Pittsfield

Admission: Free

Information: www.chrispina.com

More holiday festivals this weekend ...

What: Monterey Makers Studio Tour

Where: More than a dozen artists in Monterey open their studios for a daylong tour and celebration of locally made art, crafts and food -- from oil paintings to audio books, knitwear, ceramics, black ash baskets, llama wool and more.

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission: Free

Information: Artist info, maps and guides at Monterey Library, the Roadside Cafe and www.MontereyMaCC.org

What: Festival for the Holidays

An ongoing marketplace of Berkshire artisans -- hand-blown glass jewelry, pottery, leather goods, basketry, carved items, felted woolens, and wooden items, note cards and books -- also hand-crafted items by Society members and friends: jams, jellies, preserves.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 24.

Where: Shef field Historical Society,
Old Stone Store, Route 7 Sheffield

Admission: Free

Information: (413) 229-2694.


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