Townships Artisans make Christmas shopping easy
I don’t know why I used to look forward to going Christmas shopping at the mall; every seasonal excursion to that ‘modern’ marketplace ended badly: headachy, grumpy, exhausted, and never all that thrilled with my purchases. So this year, I
decided to finally abolish that Christmas tradition and create a new one: do all my Christmas shopping at local craft fairs, buying from local artisans.
First stop was at a craft fair held in Way’s Mills over the weekend. There, I didn’t look over industrially-made merchandise under cold, fluorescent lighting, but rather perused dozens of handmade treasures and met the interesting people who made all the items, in some cases those people being my neighbours.
What first caught my eye at the fair were the gleaming, turned, wooden bowls made by André Lajeunesse who was standing behind his table, eager to share his passion for woodworking. Originally from Saint Hubert, André and his wife, Marcelle Briere, moved to Coaticook about ten years ago and have both become artisans in their ‘retirement’. “I saw a man from Windsor doing this kind of woodwork and I had to learn. So I took courses in turning wood and cabinetry,” explained Mr. Lajeunesse. “As soon as we arrived in Coaticook, a friend in the Cercle des Fermieres said ‘Come with me’. Now I have four looms at home,” said Marcelle who was selling woven tea towels, blankets, and painted wooden boxes.
Another retired couple, Jacques Girouard and Gaby Morin of Way’s Mills, make traditional looking and beautifully finished pine furniture as a hobby throughout the year, selling only at the annual Way’s Mills Art Expo. “We like to use pine because the wood is accessible and it’s less expensive. So people can afford the pieces,” said Mr. Girouard. And affordable their pieces were, even cheaper than many factory-made pieces of furniture of much lower quality.
The ingenuity of craft- ers was on display at the table of Chantale Bourgeois and her young daughter, Samantha Pigeon, of Ayer’s Cliff. “I made these pencil cases and these jean purses, out of old jeans,” said Samantha, a student at St. Barthelemy school. “I’ll have to ask my father for some of his jeans so I can make more next year,” she added. Samantha’s mother, Chantale, only had one really nifty chalkboard placemat left, having sold quite a few to happy grandparents as ‘visions of quiet grandkids waiting for their dinners while doodling danced in their heads’. I’ll go early and get some from her next year. Lovely knit mittens, in a fancy pattern I’d never seen before, were also for sale at their table. “My great- grand- mother, Margaret Batley, made these mittens,” said Samantha.
Louise Bénard and Roger Blais, a couple from Eastman, had a colorful and fragrant table of handmade soaps, lotions, and soy candles. “Roger does all the woodwork for the soaps and I make all the products,” said Louise as she had me try out her soothing, silky lotions on my chapped hands. A few stocking stuffers were picked up at their table.
Sitting behind a table overflowing with hats, scarves, slippers, mittens and more were the four Matteau sisters from Barnston West, Coaticook, Stanhope and Way’s Mills. These four sisters are perpetuating a family skill that they learnt from their mother, getting together regularly to knit together. “We’ve shown our daughters how to knit, and even a grandson is learning,” they commented.
Next stop for the day was the North Hatley Library for the Christmas Art and Gift Exhibition. “This show is really a community effort and we try to accommodate local artists and artisans living around the lake,” said Donnie Rittenhouse, the library volunteer who organizes the show. More than twenty local artists have their creations on display, from paintings, pottery and jewelry to old-fashioned, wooden animal toys, the kind that come to life with their moving joints when pulled by a string. A good supply of knit goods covered a small table, knit by local resident, ninety yearold Gladys Sharman, who makes them through the year, then donating them to the library for the sale. This exhibit continues until December 28th.
My shopping excursion ended with a relaxing drive through the countryside home, no headache and no grumbling, completely happy with all my purchases. Luckily there are more craft fairs and Christmas markets on the horizon, such as the Stanstead Christmas Market on December 7th, where I can finish my holiday shopping!
Husband and wife team Marcelle Briere and André
Lajeunesse discovered their crafts after moving to the country from the city.
Young Samantha Pigeon, seen here with her mom, Chantale Bourgeois, models a purse that she made from an old pair of jeans at the Way’s Mills Art Expo.