Sheffield Historical Society brings Festival of the Holidays

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SHEFFIELD >> For nearly 50 years, George Reeves has sold his handmade leather goods from Martha's Vineyard to the Berkshires.

A Chelsea native, he moved to Sheffield 27 years ago and developed a following selling his women's handbags and men's belts through his own stores or other retailers.

Reeves retired a year ago, but he keeps his leather-making skills sharp by supplying his wares to a handful of local shops and crafts galleries and the Sheffield Historical Society's annual Festival of the Holidays.

The leather man is one of 17 local artisans taking part in this year's festival at the society's Old Stone Store on Main Street. Proceeds from the sale of decorations, preserves and other handcrafted items help to fund the nonprofit's historical events, exhibits and programs throughout the year.

"I think [the festival] is good for people who are new and, like myself, stopped doing big weekend crafts shows," he said. "I like to keep it low key and still enjoy doing what I do."

Festival of the Holidays will run on weekends through Dec. 21. Originally a holiday-centered event, the festival opened in 2000 with the selling of miniature trees, wreaths and ornaments, and has gradually evolved into a seasonal event to promote local artisans.

"We wanted to bring in more types of merchandise," said festival co-chairwoman Catherine Miller. "The idea was to have a variety."

The artists and crafters bring new works almost every weekend, keeping the festival fresh through the two-month event.

The festival has become the society's single largest benefit, raising $15,000 in 2013 and drawing tourists and locals seeking gifts for all occasions, said co-chairwoman Lois Levinsohn.

"It's become a destination [event], with people asking me each year when we open," she said. "We have one person who comes in after church every Sunday around 11:30 and buys something."

The Festival of the Holidays has become a showcase of artisans, some making a living off their chosen trade and some treating their craft as a hobby.

Since 2004, Joshua and Kristen Kanter have run JK Customer Furniture & Design from a home-based studio in Housatonic. Transplants from Brooklyn, N.Y., they use primarily maple, cherry and white oak to create dining room tables, kitchen cabinets, home library shelving and, as of three years ago, smaller household items such as cutting boards and cheese boards.

The Kanters source wood from discarded slabs at a local lumber yard.

"They are live-edge and organic, close to the way the wood was found," said Kristen Kanter. "We even have serving boards with recycled railroad spikes as handles."

The Kanters sold the boards for the first time at last year's festival and have found it a useful marketing tool for their whole business.

"It's a great way to have products in a store that focuses on handmade items and see local people's goods for sale," she said.

For Lynda Wiechnicki, her part-time artisan career is sort of a "rags to riches" story. She is a full-time nurse from Sheffield and works with recycled sweaters by felting the material before sewing practical and decorative items.

"I make these really neat pumpkins, but its hard to find orange sweaters," she said.

Wiechnicki's most fashionable item?

"I can't make fingerless gloves fast enough," she said. "They're popular because everybody is texting these days."

Festival of the Holidays customers can also find hand-knitted, machine washable baby sweaters by Mandy Morgan of Alford. Morgan's knitting is purely a hobby that she's glad to share with others.

"I started doing this for fun," she said. "I like making [ the sweaters], and if they make some money so be it."

Several Sheffield Historical Society members also contribute to the festival — Miller and Levinsohn team up to peddle their preserves, from carrot cake jam to Hotter-than-Heck pepper jelly.

"I had one lady just buy 15 jars," Miller said.

If you go ...

Bennington Arts Guild: 339 Main St., Bennington, facebook.com/BenningtonArtsGuildGallery

Christmas Days: 6279 Route 7A in Arlington, xmasdays.com

The Christmas store: westonvillagestore.com

The Magic Sleigh: 4960 Main St., Manchester Center, christmasinternational.com

Manchester Hot Glass Studio: 79 Elm St., Manchester Center, manchesterhotglass.com

Readsboro Glassworks: 6954 Main St., Readsboro, maryangusglass.com


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