Crafts fair a hit at Fairbanks Natives convention

By Suzanna Caldwell
Fairbanks, Alaska (AP) November 2010
While kuspuks, mukluks and bead work abounded, so did people–and shoppers–making for some happy craftsmen at the Alaska Federation of Natives Arts and Crafts Fair.

Diane and Larry Willard of Ketchikan didn’t even have art. Larry is a seal hunter, and the two sell harbor seal furs and smoked, vacuum-sealed meat.

It was a long trip up for the Willards, who caught a 7 a.m. flight from Anchorage on Thursday morning to make it, even if it meant they had less seal meat to sell. Normally they take the ferry from Ketchikan to Haines and drive the rest of the way. But for logistical reasons they couldn’t do that this year.

The meat was selling fast. Within a few minutes, several people had grabbed packages priced at $20 each.

Larry said that the meat, almost black in color, is rich, jerky like and causes drowsiness.

“It’s worse than turkey,” he added.

The Willards were in the minority for selling food, but they weren’t a minority in selling things–and things were selling.

Sharon Dye, a bead artist from Sand Point, agreed that it looked like more people, but that the event area was smaller than last year’s conference. She was still surprised to see so many people.

“Considering the economy, it’s impressive,” she said.

For some shoppers, the event itself is a draw. Theresa Mike has been selling beaded jewelry and hair clips at the fair for the last 10 years. Mike, from Kotlik, said having all the artists together is a big deal for a lot of people.

“Some people wait a whole year to shop for this event,” she said. “With all the artists, people come just for that.”

There might be more people who come to the Anchorage convention, but they don’t necessarily spend more money, said painter Moses Wassilie.

“More people show up in Anchorage,” he said. “But more people in Fairbanks buy stuff.”

By 9:30 a.m., artist Peter Lind, Sr. had already sold a two-foot long cedar kayak for $2,900. In the cockpit was a hunter, carved in whale bone, with an ivory face. The hunter was based on Lind’s father, and sported a thick moustache.

A woman passing by admired the kayak.

“That’s amazing,” she said.

“I’ll take orders!” he said with a laugh.

Last year, Paniyak Doll Makers had seal gut dolls with cell phones in their hands. The women–Janice, her daughter, Jaderine, and mother Ursula–still had some dolls with cell phones, but had moved on to other modern day issues. Some of the dolls waved political signs endorsing a political candidate, others just said “United we vote” and “I voted.”

The women, from Chevak, presented a doll to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, to give to her mother, that evening.