Shopping at Celtic Festivals
One Persons Perspective - Spring 2017
by Cecilia Fabos-Becker - 2017-05-19
When hosting at a Celtic festival booth, it's often difficult to get a break, much less have time to browse through the vendor areas thoughtfully. As my husband Tony takes more questions from folks asking whether they are Scots, Irish, Welsh, English or some mixture thereof, as most usually are, from the books and maps we bring, last weekend, I got a chance finally to spend a little time browsing the small but good selection of vendors at the Silicon Valley Irish Flead, in Mountain View. On a budget, I especially appreciate vendors that have beautiful, unusual work, whether it be in fabric, leather or jewelry, and priced under $50, or even $30!
In more than 20 years of hosting, I'd seen a lots of gifts at the many Scottish and Irish festivals and when you are hurrying, the unusual stands out. For some years, stand outs have been rare. Quite a number of vendors have the mass produced silver claddagh rings (two hands holding a heart) and the same few styles of earrings and pendants using a few of the variations of Celtic knots. It's almost all real sterling and good quality but, well, there is a lot of it, and a lot looks the same. It's also almost all produced outside of the U.S. in large factories, though blessedly, not a lot has a "made in China" label on it.
There are a few vendors who have started appearing in recent years who are different. For a long time for higher cost unusual Celtic and art-nouveau style jewelry, collectors and Celtic-fashionistas at some festivals have long appreciated "Postgate Jewelers", a small design and self-manufacturing studio up near Truckee, California. It's been awhile since I've been able to afford their gorgeous gold work, but I certainly admire it every time I see them at a festival, and on others. You can recognize a Postgate piece at a distance. They are that good, but so is the price. "Nagle Forge & Foundry" has a unique mixture of higher and medium cost, unique designs all done in house. I once bought an unusual belt buckle there. I absolutely loved for its combination curves and waves design, and being just the right size for a woman's belt. At the Silicon Valley Irish Fleadh, though, I finally had a chance to spend some time examining the displays of three more vendors, newer, primarily jewelry, who do some or most of their own design work and either their own manufacture, or work closely with small, U.S. designer-manufacturers. I also revisited a more unusual gifts vendor whose wares attracted me from the first time I saw them at the Ardenwood Historic Farm Park Tartan Day in early April. All of these vendors will be at the San Francisco Caledonian Club Gathering and Games at the Alameda County Fairgrounds at Pleasanton in early September 2017, and several will be at the Costa Mesa Gathering and Games in southern California on the Memorial Day weekend. Some will also be at smaller festivals such as the Mother Lode Scottish Festival at the Amador County fairgrounds in the small town of Plymouth along Highway 49, on June 10-11, and either Reno or Big Trees (Felton) the second weekend in October.
For those who are looking for different new designs in affordable jewelry, locally made, often with gems, I urge you to spend a little time looking at the offerings of "Willow Jewelry" and "Phoenix and Crow." Both have excellent jewelry designs using Celtic themes, art-nouveau and some what I'd call art-deco elements; elegant jewelry that suggests nature and classic historic design, and uses gems in addition to metals, mostly silver. I have a collection of jewelry history and design books and used to design jewelry a little when I had my own store, so I'm not just tossing around these descriptions lightly.
Willow specializes in unusual, natural, gem stones, but you will see some of these, colorful, less commonly seen gems at Phoenix and Crow also, and a few at A&A, in the next paragraph. Willow does all of her own design and manufacture. Bev Rafferty of Phoenix and Crow does some design herself but mostly works with others who then produce the items in their own facilities, in the U.S. and some, locally. I especially liked the collections of rainbow moonstone and labradorite (mineralogical siblings of kind) rings at Phoenix and Crow. Some had an art-deco look, some were set in art-nouveau vines and leaves style of ring mounting. She also had some stones set in an unusual thistle design ring mounting. Phoenix and Crow, also had an unusual collection of hand-made cast-iron "Thor's Hammer" pendants, and Viking design small piece pottery, offering dishes or candle holders, also locally made. At Willow's booth, I saw several pendants and a gorgeous pair of rose quartz drop earrings that had me lingering at, and then returning to her booth, as well as her gorgeous Venezuelan amethyst jewelry. I used to own a jewelry shop myself 15 years ago and it's been awhile since I've seen natural amethyst that nice. (An awful lot of good colored amethyst, the really purple stones, these days, isn't: it's Chinese made jewelry glass or else irradiated inferior quartz, originally another color). Willow also had a cute collection of hand-puppets for children and adults who have children in their families they like to entertain made by Folkman's Puppets, including dragons! The puppets and jewelry work well to keep the attention of both parents and children. There were families lingering by this vendor's booth.
Another vendor that doesn't have jewelry but has a lot of colorful, original Celtic legend/ mythology themed designs that also use Celtic knotwork, on T-shirts, handbags/tote bags, change purses/small wallets, glicee wall art and even small jigsaw puzzles, is "Celtic Art Studio" owned by Jan Delwyth. On my first visit, I bought a t-shirt and a jigsaw puzzle. I live with a budget and don't usually find myself making a snap decision like this. The color and design were absolutely just right to go with about four pairs of my favorite colors in pants and a couple of skirts. Even my even more fiscally conservative husband understood the appeal of this one. I heard a number of persons complimenting this vendor and the very beautiful unusual designs of her merchandise, and reasonable prices, at both the Tartan Day festival and the Fleadh.
A&A Company once had its own shop in the Stanford Shopping Mall. The couple who own this little company now travel to major weekend festivals around the U.S., and they sell on Etsy. designer Anita McKenzie, was not present at the Silicon Valley Fleadh, her husband was the sole salesperson that weekend, Anita does some of her own design and limited self-manufacture. Those were the best items at the A&A booth and caught my attention at once. (Most of what A&A had was built by someone else). Anita's husband explained that they once owned their own manufacturing facility as well as having their brick-and-mortar store, but it got to be too much as they got older and rents and other costs escalated. Some of her designs are not mass manufactured and may be made by local craftspersons, but some is clearly supplied by the same manufacturers who supply a number of other festival vendors, particularly the rings that were being sold. A&A's best and most unusual pieces bore Anita's own label, "Anita McKenzie" (Watch for that label). I saw several very striking pairs of paua or abalone shell earrings with Celtic knotwork or classic scroll and vine work around the pieces of shell and some very nice, bright red jasper earrings with similar work. These all were eye-catching at a distance. She had also some nice clusters, and drop earrings, like leaves on a vine, of faceted garnets, and earrrings and pendants using blue topaz and iolite (a natural stone similar to sapphires in color).
So, when you are visiting and enjoying the Scottish and Irish festivals throughout the year, and know you have birthdays, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and Christmas gifts needs coming up, and don't have a fortune to spend, keep these vendors in mind and look for them. They'll appreciate it when you do, and your intended recipients will love you for the beautiful and unusual gifts you buy to give them--and your bank account will probably still have something in it at the end of the day.