Fair celebrates artisan lifestyle

ABOVE: Jacob Young sells hats for The Hat People. The Hat People, of Talent, sew year-round in preparation for OCF. FRONT: Colorful Oregonians traverse the thoroughfare at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta. Since 1969, OCF has brought crafters and performers together along its wooded paths to celebrate community, artistic vision and practice living in peace with the earth.

On the far side of the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, Mary Moore sits under a crown of roses and sells her jewelry.

For 27 years the owner of Looking Glass Beads and Jewelry, located in downtown Ashland, has packed up her two sons and her rare stones for a weekend of art, dancing and old-fashioned vaudevillian fun.

"It's nice to be able to have a successful business while doing what we love," she said.

Since 1969, OCF has brought crafters and performers together along its wooded paths to celebrate community, artistic vision and practice living in peace with the earth.

"There is no comparison," Moore said. "There is a magic here that's not anywhere else. The same people have been doing the same thing for years. We're here to celebrate life."

Moore brings a crew of eight adults and four teens to run her booth. The three-day event takes the year to prepare for and at least three days of setup to get her permanent booth structure revamped every year.

But for Moore, it's all worth it.

Since she first started coming to the fair in 1980, Moore knew it was more than just a business opportunity. Though she credits 10 percent to 15 percent of her annual income to this event, she said it is more about the ritual of coming to such an inspiring place every year.

"There are friends here that the boys have only met once a year but we feel like we've known them forever," she said. "It's a Fair Family."

A 'Fair' vision

"Fair Family" is an idea that lies at the heart of the Oregon Country Fair philosophy. To some, like Mary Moore, owner of Looking Glass Beads and Jewelry, it represents the community of earth people who come together to celebrate and have fun.

"It's the spirit of community. Everybody gets together here to have a good time and make a small village," she said.

Jacob Young, son and employee to local Ashland artisans The Hat People, prefers to explain his version of "Fair Family" with a play on words.

"'Fair Family?' Need I say more? They're fair," he said in a theatrical tone.

OCF is also a mecca for local artisans still making their living through the artistic process.

"This is a cultural hub, that's what I call it," Young said. "You have such a huge community of people coming together saying, 'Yes, this is it,' and basing their whole lives around it."

The Hat People have been going to OCF since that first fair 38 years ago and said that "Fair Family" is an essential part of keeping the artisan way of life alive.

"It's a huge cultural experience. It's like a leap. We come here and see each other's art and the change we've made, we see the theater, we all sleep next to each other. All those things allow us to come together as a community in this way. It's a cultural evolution," said Jim Young, Jacob's father. "This is just a very intense representation of that evolution because of the way it's designed. Artists are interesting folks."

Nothing like it

The Hat People sell more hats at this fair than at any other event, and sew year-round in preparation for it.

With more than a dozen stages sponsoring circuses, folksingers and vaudeville acts, the 45,000 people who annually visit the weekend fair are easily entertained. The hardest thing can be choosing which acts to go and see. If fairgoers get hungry they have everything from tofu to hamburgers to Peruvian dishes to choose from. They can sit in one of the shaded seating areas off the main path, nicknamed the 'eight' for its original figure-8 pattern of loops lined with food and craft booths.

A random circus of naked people covered in mud may dance their way by, or a group of buzzing stilt-walkers dressed as bees may make their way through yelling puns and jokes as they sway above the crowd in their sequined outfits. It is all part of the characters people slip into while visiting the fair.

"Fair is an incredible place for human potential," said Jacob Young, employee at The Hat People. "Even though it's not an ethnically or socially diverse place, for the most part it's Northwest hippies. The culture here is inherently about self-expression because it's all these people going in different directions and that is expressed through the clothes they wear. But also you see it in their faces. When you make a choice to become an individual it changes the look in their faces. This has been essential in the development of my life."

The fair passes on the tradition of coming together to celebrate community, Moore said, and that exercise of respect for others puts strength back into the Ashland community when people go home.

"It's the hope that the crowd that comes learns something from the way that people interact here and take it home," she said. "There is so many people that come here and get along in a peaceful manner. It overflows back home to Ashland. Only a fellow fairgoer can get that little gleam in their eyes."

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