There’s something to be said—actually a lot to be said—about the fine art of real craftsmanship. Amazingly, in this fast-moving era, there are still artists who take the time to make goods by hand, delivering pieces that hold a unique and specific quality. Their work is not mass-produced, but instead carefully and lovingly created, one object at a time.
You can find these skilled craftspeople at the 44th annual American Artisan Festival, which comes to Centennial park June 15-17. The festival showcases the best in American handcrafts and fine art, with the key element being that the pieces must be created by hand. Objects made of glass, ceramics, wood and metal, along with jewelry, furniture and prints, are all on display. “It’s an opportunity for anybody to become an art collector,” says Samantha Saturn, who runs and curates the festival.
More than 150 artists bring their works to the festival, a number of them hailing from Nashville. Local artists like metalworker Ben Caldwell, jewelry maker Beth Lawrence and pottery designer John Sellberg will all be in attendance and manning their booths.
The American Artisan Festival also draws craftsmen from around the country. Dave Piper, who runs his own sandal-making company in San Antonio, makes the trip to Nashville every year. Piper started his business, The Piper Sandal Company, in 1971. The company crafts hand-made leather sandals that are simply beautiful and made to last.
“I have done every American Artisan Festival since 1990,” Piper tells “Sports & Entertainment Nashville” from his place in San Antonio. “Everything about it is great. The people are always so nice to us, and you really get a taste of that Southern hospitality. It has always been a wonderful city. We do very well in Nashville.” Piper adds that there’s been one significant change since the first few festivals he attended. “Back then, you had to be contacted to come,” he explains. “You couldn’t apply for a booth. That is different now, of course.”
Piper taught himself the craft of sandal making during the “hippie” era of the 1970’s. It was a time, he notes, when people appreciated the art of hand-made products and turned up their collective noses at corporate goods that all appeared to come off the same assembly line. “We were part of that hippie generation,” Piper says. “People wanted to make things themselves. You don’t see it that much anymore. But, I think people still want good products.”
Piper handed down his craftsmanship to his son Jon. The two work side-by-side in the business, turning out leather sandals in two basic styles, The Original, or “the old hippie sandal,” as Dave says, and the Slip On. It’s not lost on the elder Piper that the American Artisan Festival takes place over Father’s Day weekend, giving the event a personally poignant touch.
“That makes it a little special for us,” says dad Dave. “Usually when I travel to shows, my son stays here at the shop. But Jon will be coming to Nashville with me and we’ll be able to celebrate Father’s Day together. That will be nice.”
Piper relishes shows like the American Artisan Festival not only for his own craft, but those practiced by his fellow workers. “Artisan fairs are on the decline nationally,” he laments. “They are slowly disappearing in this modern age. And there is a declining number of artists and craftspeople, too. That’s why it’s great to have this festival in Nashville.”
The American Artisan Festival comes to Centennial Park June 15-17. The event is free and open to the public.