It was only a few minutes after noon on Saturday when Tricia Arcos made her first sale at her first Big Crafty.
“Excitement comes up in lots of forms, which sometimes looks like anxiety,” she said with a laugh. Arcos sold intricately carved and painted wooden figurines, naming and endowing each with traits and powers.
“But yes, it’s kind of a big deal for all artists to show their stuff for the first time, and here I am," she said.
If you’re an artist or craftsperson in Western North Carolina, the winter Big Crafty is typically one of the year’s pivotal events. It’s positioned for Christmas sales, drawing several thousand people over two days to the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. Its cancellation in 2020 cut deep into artists’ potential revenue, but on Saturday, artists said they also missed the sense of community during a year marked by isolation.
“This is my bread and butter. This helps me pay the bills for sure, so I can’t deny that,” said Nina Kawar, an Asheville ceramic artist. She brought two tables full of what she called metaphysical tools, sculpture and jewelry.
“But also, community is a big part of it,” she said. “And supporting one another and to motivate us to get back out and do it together.”
Frankie Myers fashions old bicycle tire inner tubes into wallets and pocketbooks, with assorted comics and pop culture imagery lining the slots for credit cards. This reporter met and bought a wallet from Myers featuring a Calvin & Hobbes strip at the 2017 Big Crafty.
“This is where the locals come to do their Christmas shopping and support their local artists,” Myers said. “I often sell on the streets of Asheville downtown, so the tourists are all down there, but Big Crafty is wonderful because I get to meet the people who live here.”
The parents of 7-year-old Charlotte Darty had a tough time coaxing her away from the booth of Asheville ceramic artist Tricia Cutler.
"At home, I’m an artist too,” the youngster told Cutler. “I’ve got my own masterpiece at home that’s homemade from art class.”
With nearly 150 booths here, it was challenging for artists to distinguish themselves. That wasn’t an issue for Edwin Salas, an Asheville street artist who cultivated a clientele all his own with a booth he called My Dark Happy Place.
“The family always has somebody who is the black sheep, and you say ‘Oh, I found someone the perfect gift,’” Salas said, holding a greeting card printed with the words “I hope you die at Christmas.”
“You know, you have this kind of neighbor you don’t love but you want to give a Christmas present,” he said. “And we have the present for this neighbor.”