Claudette Barber used to run a business, but like the saying goes, her business began running her.
So, she ran with it and took her passion for fiber arts on the road. That was four years ago and now Claudette’s Traveling Boutique is Barber’s focus and outlet for her talents.
“It is not the easiest way to make a living, but definitely you’ve got to love what you do,” she said Friday surrounded by a handful of other craft vendors at the two-day Kenai Spring Market at the Kenai Cultural and Visitor’s Center.
Many crafters and artists said the spring market — the first of its kind — was a welcome break from a busy winter of making the objects that will occupy their tables during the marathon summer market season in the area and around the state. For many crafters and artists, the market season is their means of living. For others, it’s a simple hobby born of winter boredom and a love for their craft.
For Barber it seems to be an even split. Barber said she misses the everyday aspect of running what used to be Claudette’s Folk Art and Collectibles, but now enjoys more freedom as a craft vendor.
“And I actually get to be an artisan,” she said. “When I worked in that shop, really I was so busy trying to make it run that I never had time to make anything anymore.”
With more than 40 years experience, Barber said she’s realized one absolute truth — what you sell has to be unique. Her angle is her hand-dyed fabrics and how she uses them in various items.
“I’m a fiber artist, always have been,” she said. “I’m really starting to get into the finer art of sewing. The dying is probably what makes my stuff different right now. I mean things like this, they are one of a kind.”
Barber said a perfect winter would be spent getting ahead on making product as there is little time to do so between summer markets, but life sometimes gets in the way.
John Motter agreed. The former truck driver who retired and moved to Alaska eight years ago with his wife spends his winters making as much women’s jewelry for his business, Jewelry by J.E.M, as he can.
“Just like a store, you’ve got to keep rotating your stock,” he said. “A lot of people come to all of the markets and they see them. I have some regular customers that buy every time they see me, so I try to keep things fresh.”
Motter said he started out about four years ago making a few pieces here and there for his wife. She would wear them and have other women inquire where she got them, so he started selling them.
He concedes it is somewhat strange to be a man making women’s jewelry, but Motter said he keeps his business running by letting his customers guide his designs.
“Also, I always ask my wife, ‘Is this too heavy, is this too big?’” he said. “I wouldn’t have a feeling for that. She is my assistant and critic.”
Moreover, Motter said he tries to keep up with trends, but sometimes what’s popular in Alaska is much different than what’s fashionable in the Lower 48.
“I look in magazines and see what they are wearing and that kind of stuff, but some of the stuff magazines have people don’t wear,” he said. “I made some big stuff because I noticed the style was big and dangly ... but this isn’t the area for that kind of stuff.”
Motter said he was enjoying the spring market because of the family aspect — many of the vendors see each other on a regular basis for years and years.
Such is the case for Joyce Tugan, who along with her husband runs SoapStonz.
“I like that we build a lot of relationships with the other vendors and I like meeting with the public,” Tugan said. “And, it gives me something to do through the winter.”
Tugan, who started her craft in Michigan, was selling some of her 30 varieties of mild soaps and stone décor. She said markets in Michigan were filled with more produce and fewer crafts. But she said it’s refreshing to see so many artists.
One such artist was Laura Faeo who was selling various handmade pottery with her friend Florence Sovia under the name Yin and Yang Artworks.
“She’s the magic, I’m the mouth,” Sovia said.
Faeo said some days are better than others at markets. Strangely, rainy days are sometimes the best.
“One rainy day I thought they were going to buy you out,” Sovia said.
Faeo’s cache of pottery represented a wide variety of functions and styles. She said fish, flowers and dragonflies seem to sell the best with one being more popular than the other some years.
“Or, they’ll go raven crazy,” Sovia said.
“Yeah, the last few years they loved anything with a raven on it,” Faeo said.
Faeo said she enjoys the simple pleasure of meeting her customers and Sovia — who brings her own crocheting and other items to sell — agreed.
“I made the mistake when I was five years old of telling my mother that I was bored,” Sovia said with a laugh. “50 years later I’m still doing it.”
“If I said that to my mom she’d make me wash the dishes,” Faeo said.
“I’d have them done,” Sovia said, jokingly. “Besides, I was 5, she wouldn’t let me near the dishes.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.