“Do you think this Country Living Fair is as big as it sounds?,” my mother asked as she showed me an ad for it recently.
We’d heard about the three-day event held at the Ohio Historical Society’s Ohio Village, where fans of Country Living magazine convene to watch cooking and crafting demonstrations, attend antiques appraisals, shop for home décor items, and meet the magazine’s editors and special guests. This year, we decided to see the sixth annual fair for ourselves.
Last Saturday, we queued up amid throngs of fellow fair-goers and were amazed by what we saw.
Ohio Village, my much-loved site of childhood birthday parties and Archives/Library lunch-hour picnics, was the perfect setting for the fair. The fields had been transformed into a sea of white tents and food trucks. The Village Physician’s yard was the setting for a land-office pie business. The American House Hotel, with its signature Hitchcock chairs, was a great place to enjoy box lunches. And the General Store was headquarters for everything Country Living, from totes and tees to books and Halloween party invitations.
Fair stylists worked hard to create the most appealing environment. Wooden crates were filled with appealing combinations of flowers. Bales of hay were strategically placed around the village for people to rest on while listening to live bluegrass bands and watching square dancers. Beautiful autumnal images from Country Living’s front covers adorned building walls. A tower of pumpkins and gourds on the Village Green provided a perfect photo opportunity. And the shopping! No wonder so many good thinkers arrived pulling stylish canvas shopping carts!
First, we spotted the brooms, tinware and furniture made by Jim Rantala of Windsor Collections in Cedar, Michigan. Perched atop a Colonial-style chest of drawers sat a half-dozen tiny roosters hand-carved from twigs. These two immediately strutted away with us. They might look big, but they’re only as tall as a nickel and my thumb!
Aren’t these paper gardens under glass exquisite? Jeri Landers cuts birdhouses, flowers, bee skeps and birds from paper and plants them under a glass cloche. She also creates Scherenschnitte and writes and illustrates children’s books.
Besides demonstrating blacksmithing, The Makers of Hand-Forged Iron cleverly displayed their wares in a garden shed.
We watched Will Moses, great-grandson of renowned folk artist Grandma Moses, sign copies of his books at his Mt. Nebo Gallery tent…
Local favorites like On Paper and Igloo Letterpress were there, as were members of the Buckeye Rug Hooking Guild, who were on hand to demonstrate their craft.
It was a special treat to meet Viva McNeely, the Worthington basket weaver who made the baskets for drying flowers, knitting, napkins, calling cards, and wall decorations that I bought at Ohio Village many years ago.
Recalling Lucy and Desi’s “The Long, Long Trailer,” we stepped inside two swanky Airstream trailers, so fabulous that I’m considering taking up residence in one myself.
To add to my newfound fascination with Airstreams, it was hard to pull myself away from this tiny trailer-turned-lemonade stand that was adorned with vintage elephant china, paint-by-number creations …
and this framed arrangement of zinnias!
But the highlight of the Country Living Fair was discovering Ann Marie Craig of Century Farmhouse in West Bend, Wisconsin.
First on the lineup of Saturday’s demonstrations given in the Kitchen on the Village Green, Ann Marie showed how she hand-crafts her soaps with unique ingredients such as filtered rainwater, organic teas and botanicals, maple sap, and even snow.
This clever, well-prepared and talented lady is one creative entrepreneur. Recently, she teamed with another West Bend entrepreneur to create candles to match her soap scents. But her most creative endeavor has to be developing special soap flavors for several of the Country Living Fairs.
For the Atlanta fair, she developed a Sweet Tea with Lemon soap, made from lemongrass, spearmint and sugar. Her Apple Sass soap, created for the Country Living Fair in New York, includes dried Empire apples and maple syrup, scented with lavender, Valencia orange, Balsam fir, and rosemary.
Remember the flooding and those ferocious straight-line winds that were the remnants of the hurricane in September 2008? Well, that was the weather experienced during that year’s Country Living Fair. Ann Marie invited everyone who came to her booth that year to share ideas of what an Ohio soap should be named, which botanicals it should have in it, and what it should smell like. Fair-goers that year helped Ann Marie design Sweet Annie in the Rain, a soap made with filtered Ohio rainwater; lavender buds representing the lavender farms of Ohio; Sweet Annie, a sweetly scented form of the Ohio native plant, Artemesia; and fairy grass, or purple love grass, from along Interstate 70. The soap is scented with cinnamon, vanilla and clove essential oils. What’s more, it’s packaged in a stormy purple box and is wrapped with a silver ribbon, representing the fact that every stormy cloud should have a silver lining.
This year, her creation for the Columbus fair was inspired by the story behind Ohio’s state flower. Her Red Carnation soap is made with beeswax; soybean, coconut and olive oils; and dried carnation petals. It is scented with lavender, peppermint and carnation oils.
As she stirred, she told us how President William McKinley wore a red carnation on his lapel every day for luck. Since Saturday was the 112th anniversary of President McKinley’s death, Ann Marie gave everyone in the audience a red carnation to wear in honor of the assassinated president from Ohio.
Later in the day, we visited Ann Marie’s tent, which was filled with lavender wands, soap sacks and other examples of her creativity.