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Artisans traveling for 4-day stint in town for Fort Ligonier Days

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 9:04 p.m.

Reminisces of Fort Ligonier Days often inspire images of food, flags, crowds and history — it wouldn't be Fort Ligonier Days without any of those things. One could argue, however, that perhaps the most alluring Fort Days fundamental would have to be the crafters' booths, which line the lots of Ligonier each year with a near four-day residency.

These artisans, who travel from all across the country to take part in the event, don't just arrive spontaneously. For more than a decade, three dedicated volunteers have pulled their efforts together in order to make this happen.

This crafty trinity of Janet Riordan, Christy Show and Julie Donovan has worked together for 14 years in actualizing the crafting component of Fort Ligonier Days, and this year will be no different.

“I love working with the girls — it's so much fun,” said Show. “We have had some struggles in the past, but everything always picks up. We always get great products.”

The triad begins planning for the October festival in January, when crafters can begin the application process. The three deliberate and reach a final decision the first week of April. This juried process ensures that the highest quality of artisans is maintained. A primary requirement is that all crafts must be handmade.

“We look for the correct variety of crafters,” explained Riordan. “We want to make sure each lot isn't overwhelmed with the same kind of craft.”

Some of the participants have been attending for more than 30 years and look forward to their return.

Crafter Bonnie Heinecke, who works with metal-art decor, is once again making the trek from Missouri to take part.

“Everyone is so accommodating — so friendly,” she said. “Sales were really good last year.”

The creative offerings speak to all ages and interests, encompassing items such as garden art, jewelry, food wares, toys, pottery, clothing and furniture. Some more unique notes include gourd birdhouses, self-published books, custom cutting boards and slate paintings.

“It's a wonderful blend,” said Donovan. “We are very proud of the quality of artisans and craftsmen featured. We have a very high return rate — many of them have become my friends.”

The steadfast trio refuses to take all of the credit, however, lauding Dale Show and Larry Shirey, who have helped throughout the years marking, mapping and measuring the layout of the crafters' lots, as well as praising the chamber of commerce and the borough employees.

“A lot goes into this, and they make it work,” Donovan said.

Other intricate threads involved in the web of planning include welcoming the arrivals, as many artisans clock in Wednesday, and the team gets to work answering questions, resolving any issues that might arise and ensuring the lots and booths are ready to go for 9 a.m. Friday.

“Many of these vendors drive so far to come, staying throughout the Laurel Highlands region,” said Donovan. “They really are contributing to the local economy, too.”

Sunday evening is spent helping tearing down, saying goodbye and looking forward to next year.

“It's wonderful seeing how the town is cleaned up after,” said Riordan. “On Monday, you can't even tell there was a festival.”

But for now, there is still the current year to look forward to, which promises to boast, yet again, some of the best crafters in the business.

“I love the show,” said Marilyn Davis, a crafter with Just Peachy Ponchos out of Michigan. “It's a great crowd, a beautiful area — I love to attend and hope to continue.”

And for anyone interested in volunteering in the future, the women have some advice.

“Make sure you buy a good pair of tall, rubber boots,” Donovan laughs. “In case it rains — I'm a country girl, and the committee has joked with me throughout the years, ‘Oh, Julie has her barn boots on.' But you do what you have to do to make it happen.”

Rebecca Ridinger is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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