"If you go to the mall, things are starting to look a little bit haggard," Deann Verdier says. "People are shopping and picking over things."
Instead of the mall, Verdier thinks the best opportunity for fresh, unique holiday gifts comes this weekend at the Dulles Expo Center in Virginia. That's when more than 300 artisans from around the country sell their wares at a holiday edition of the juried Sugarloaf Crafts Festival. "You get to meet the hands that have made the items for sale," says Verdier, who started Sugarloaf in Maryland nearly four decades ago with her husband.
(Photo by Don Rea)
Verdier says inspiration for starting Sugarloaf, now a national chain of festivals, came from an evening ceramics class in Glen Echo, Md. "There were so many people like myself that loved working with their hands, more than their 9-to-5 jobs," says the D.C. native, who at the time worked in education. "But unless you set up a card table in Georgetown on M Street, there was really no place to sell your work."
From the first Sugarloaf, held in 1976 at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Md., two-dimensional art was intentionally mixed with three-dimensional crafts. "We felt people coming in to buy functional items for their homes," she says, "were the same people that were going to buy art for their walls."
The idea was a runaway success: One year in the mid-'80s they put on 22 Sugarloaf festivals around the country. More recently the annual total is roughly a dozen festivals, all organized from the Verdiers' current home base in Georgia. "We're looking forward to growing our business again and adding more shows in other areas as the economy continues to pick up."
This weekend's holiday festival will feature food samples, crafts demonstrations, live music and children's entertainment in the fully enclosed, heated Dulles Expo Center. But the real draw is the art and crafts for sale -- and the story that comes with purchase. "Every gift has a story," Verdier says. "Who made it, what their inspiration was, what materials they used."
Sugarloaf Crafts Festival is Friday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Dulles Expo Center, 4320 Chantilly Shopping Center Drive, Chantilly, Va. Admission is $8, or $10 for all three days of the show. Call 703-378-0910 or visit sugarloafcrafts.com.