The oldest craft fair in the country is coming back in-person next month.
The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen will hold its 88th Annual Craftsmen’s Fair on Aug. 7-15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
“It’s going to be good to see the whole community all together again,” leather artisan Diane Louise Paul said Monday.
The nonprofit, founded in 1932, has seven Fine Craft Galleries across the state, from Littleton to Nashua, that feature artwork from its more than 650 juried members.
Paul said the fair is extremely important to her business model, as she works all year long to make pre-Civil War styled leather goods to sell during the nine-day event.
“Most of my annual income comes from the fair,” she said.
The fair will return to the Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury, which has hosted the event for more than 50 years, Executive Director Miriam Carter said.
After the live event was canceled last year, the league set up a virtual fair using social media for the usual nine days, Carter said.
“It was a big change,” Carter said.
During the pandemic, the league helped its members to create websites and social media profiles to create the virtual fair, which gave artists a chance to show their work.
Paul was one of the members who had to transition to online for the first time. She has been a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen since 1998, and said the transition to online was hard.
“My business didn’t stop. I just couldn’t sell,” Paul said.
Paul said she sells a variety of handmade leather goods, including leather-strap bells, custom belts and dog collars. She said her products need to be seen in-person.
“It’s hands-on. People want to touch, feel, and smell the leather,” Paul said. “You can’t do that online.”
While it was hard to go online, Paul said it gave artists a chance to hone their skills and take up other trades. Paul said she took up metalsmithing.
Jeweler Tom McGurrin of Sanbornton, who has been a league member for more than 30 years, said he was up to the challenge of the transition to e-commerce.
“It was a learning experience,” McGurrin said.
He participated in free online classes offered by the league about creating a brand using social media.
The Sunapee show will be his first in-person event since March 2020. He said he usually does 15 or 16 shows per year across the country, and this will be the first of several shows he will attend by the end of the year.
“Sunapee is coming at a perfect time,” McGurrin said. “It will almost be business as usual.”
The league’s show is one of the first shows of its size to return in-person, due to the low number of COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire, according to Carter.
The fair, which will feature more than 300 exhibitors, will still use spacing measures. Masks will be recommended, but not required.
The league used information from the Capitol Arts Festival, which it hosted in Concord last fall, to plan this year’s fair.
“We saw how people moved through the event and show,” Smith said. “We also got to listen to customers who wanted the fair to come back in-person.”
Paul said she is happy with the way the league is handling safety measures.
“I really think our organization has done everything possible to make the fair safe,” Paul said.
As with many industries, there has been a strong seller’s market for artwork, as people have remodeled their homes during the pandemic, Carter said.
“Sales are robust. There is a pent-up demand for people to come out to craft shows,” she said.
Carter said the event is very impactful to the creative economy statewide, but especially for the Sunapee region. The more than 20,000 expected guests, including many out-of-staters, will affect the hotel and restaurant industry as well.
“This has been a long rainy day, but now the sun is coming out,” Paul said.