Artisans sell their wares at Winter Festival

More than 90 artisans displayed their hand-crafted gifts over the weekend at the Southern Oregon University Winter Festival. For three days, wooden toys, silk scarves, hand-knitted hats, jewelry, gourmet chocolates, handmade soaps and many other unique items were for sale.

Last year, the show was not held at SOU because of budget and staffing cuts at the university. Many vendors, such as Patti Brain — who was selling her colorful hats and hand-crafted folk dolls — were happy to see the Winter Festival return.

"We're just tickled that it's back and that they extended it for three days instead of just Saturday and Sunday," Brain said.

The show was held in four large rooms and connecting halls.

"They've got a lot of great stuff here," holiday shopper Amy Oblak said. "It's almost overwhelming."

In one of the downstairs rooms, shoppers could just follow their noses to find April Mills Johns with the Oregon Flavor Rack serving up samples of sautéed mushrooms flavored with her salt-free seasonings.

Upstairs in the cafeteria area, Phoenix High School Transitional Learning Center students handed out samples of their special-packaged beans and rice combinations and other foods they sell to local grocery stores and restaurants.

One artist, Kathleen Taylor, had a large assortment of hand-painted gourds and gourd ornaments for purchase.

Taylor said sales were steady and that she seemed to have sold a lot more of "smaller-ticket items" this year compared to previous years.

Vernon Pew, who teaches woodworking to students at Willow Wind, sold wooden toys for children, including gnome villages and wooden blocks. Pew said that the event was quieter this year, but featured "a nice, steady flow of people looking and buying."

Helga Motley of Helga's Playhouse sold her miniature Sculpey clay doll food for American Girl or Barbie-size dolls. Motley's tiny tacos, sushi and gingerbread men looked like they would make any child's tea party more exciting. Besides making the food and dresses for dolls, Motley also holds classes and summer camps at her home for children to teach them how to make the items themselves.

Margaret Boos of The Wool Barn was busy spinning wool from her rare, purebred Cotswold sheep. Boos knits her one-of-a-kind felted wool hats or makes the wool into Santa Claus beards or creates pincushions from the leftover pieces.

"Visiting local craft fairs gives buyers the ability to learn more about the products and the work and materials that goes into them," said one local jewelry designer at the fair. "Since the customer is buying directly from the artist or crafter and not from a store that carries the pieces, the prices are always more reasonable. And, most importantly, the customers are supporting local artists and businesses."

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