I’ve always been grateful that Canton’s Riverfest is the weekend before the October rush, making it easier to get to, and giving us a heads-up for the weekends to follow. Still, there aren’t enough weekends to see it all. October should last longer.
Some of the mountain fairs and the county fairs are earlier. They are different in that we can see displays of homespun needlework right alongside the Blue Ribbon hogs and chickens, and the dahlias and roses to be judged and awarded. And there’s nothing like the hit-or-miss engine churning that homemade ice cream at Hiawassee.
For those of us who won’t make it to the mountains this year, we had to get our “fix” at Riverfest. And this year’s show was the best ever.
As I walked through, I thought what a dull title, “arts and crafts festival,” for what I was seeing. It was a festival, and art work and craftsmanship was certainly on display. But it was so much more.
Talented artisans, people from all walks of life who have been blessed with gifts of creativity and the enthusiasm to share those gifts, gathered together to bring it all to our doorstep.
Add to that the performances on stage and the man-cave football area, and the children’s activity field, and the food (!), not to mention the weather and the Etowah River flowing just feet away, and you have a perfect festival. (Can’t find a better word, but can capitalize it.)
As always, I was amazed at what somebody can do with a few rusty nails, misshapen plows, discarded bottled drink caps and yard rakes.
I saw the letters of our language in photos and drawings of vines hanging in letter shapes, tree limbs, leaves, rocks, spider webs, Johnny-Jump-Up petals, twigs, various animal body parts and even inanimate objects, spelling out names and messages.
An ordinary observer would never have seen the messages, but to the discerning eye of an artist, we are allowed to take it all in.
Crafters have spent the past months preparing for this, their season. Many festivals feature a lot of needlework, items that relate to our Georgia mountains and the lifestyles of the people of yesteryear.
You’ll find quilts and aprons, gingham bonnets, cathedral window pillows, wreaths and baby clothes, samplers, tatted, crocheted and knitted sweaters and doilies and toboggans. I’m reminded of my childhood growing up in the country in North Georgia.
The household included my grandmother whose generation knew all too well the hardships of country life in the late 1800s, including cold winter nights spent in unheated bedrooms.
Her idea of luxury as an adult was to own closets full of quilts and bedcovers. There was always a quilt under construction in our house. Like any creative project, it would begin in the mind of the crafter. Then there would be the collection of various scraps of fabric left over from homemade dresses and skirts, aprons, curtains, baby shirts.
Then on to cutting the pieces to be fitted together, after which endless hours would be spent painstakingly stitching together the pieces to achieve the desired pattern.
When I was only 8 years old, Grandma decided I should learn this fine art. She supervised as I cut and stitched, determined that I learn this “necessary” womanly chore. It was such a bad experience, it has never left my memory.
She put her finishing touches on it and had it quilted. I still have it. Stitchery was not my thing, but for those who love it, there’s no better pastime than needlework. I wonder about the state of mental health if folks just went to quilting or knitting or woodcarving classes instead of psychiatrist couches.
I’m not so naïve as to think it would solve all the world’s problems. But I’ve yet to meet anyone at a booth at one of these fairs who wasn’t happy.
Perhaps the most interesting item I saw at Riverfest was an angel crafted from a hardcover church hymnal. The skirt was formed from pages folded back against each other, and the words and music of “Amazing Grace” were in focus.
What a sermon there, which I won’t preach today. Suffice it to say, we don’t need hymnals anymore. We see the songs on a screen. The old hymns are forgotten. At least they are part and parcel of an angel, a Riverfest angel.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian.