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Crafted & Curated

The Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi celebrates fine artistry at Chimneyville Arts Festival, December 6-8

By Sandra M. Buckley

Crafted & Curated

Exquisite. Handcrafted. One-of-a-kind. Inspired. Works of art.

These are all words used to describe artisan-crafted and curated items handmade in such mediums as clay, fiber, glass, jewelry, metal, mixed media, paper and wood.

Excellence in these mediums and the field of fine artistry abounds, in fact, throughout the membership of the prestigious Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi — from contemporary pottery to heirloom-inspired jewelry, colorful fused glass, intricate wood carvings and quirky clay sculptures to sleek metal designs, hand-woven baskets, fanciful characters and abstract artwork.

The Guild was created in the early 1970s to provide professional artisans the support and opportunity needed to flourish in and make a living from their craft. For more than 40 years, it has ensured a strict tradition of preserving the highest standards of craftsmanship for artists, who are recognized as experts in their medium.

Artistic creativity thrives deep throughout Mississippi, which is a fact that has been recognized for decades around the world. “There is something in the air or water — Mississippi is full of talent!” said Becky Mercier, fiber artist and Guild member.

“Our members represent the best of the best in fine craft,” added Mercier, who also serves as a member of the Guild’s board of directors. “Many of our craftsmen have received national accolades, and they are as recognized in their medium as some of our great writers and musicians.”

While members of the Guild must first meet professional standards in their medium and artistic category, a distinguished jury review process held twice each year determines eligibility. Today, the Guild’s membership spans more than 350 of the region’s most diverse and talented artists and craftspeople, with 80 percent being Mississippians. It is also considered one of the most respected craft guilds in the country.

The statewide headquarters is located in Ridgeland at the Bill Waller Craft Center, named for the former governor who played a significant role in establishing the Guild as well as promoting the fine arts culture within Mississippi. The 20,000-square-foot facility serves as a museum, visitor attraction, educational center and community space. Throughout the year, a variety of classes are offered to the public, from clay and carving demonstrations to woodturning, sculpting, weaving and knitting as well as children’s art camps and field trips.

The Craft Center, open seven days a week, 361 days a year, also houses the Gallery retail shop, which is filled with exquisite crafts for sale made by Guild members.

“If you’re looking for a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handmade gift, you’ll have no better choice than the Gallery at the Craft Center,” said Rhonda Blasingame, fiber artist and member of the Guild’s board of directors. “Glass, wood, fiber, metal, useful, decorative and everything in between — we have you covered.”

“I love shopping in the Gallery,” Mercier added. “I can find something for any occasion. It’s the perfect place to find a wedding or housewarming present, or a baby gift that will become a treasured family heirloom. We encourage brides to register, as well.”

Since 1976, the Guild has hosted Chimneyville Arts Festival, which has become one of the premier holiday shopping events in Mississippi. Held at the Trade Mart in Jackson, this year’s event will be held December 6-8, featuring handcrafted works of art from nearly 100 Guild members.

“Chimneyville is the only show in the region comprised of Craftsmen’s Guild members, meaning each participant goes through a strict process to join the Guild and must complete a standards review every three years,” said the Guild’s board of directors president, Debby Delashmet. “What this amounts to is a superior quality of craftsmanship in every item created for Chimneyville by these talented artists.

“I attended Chimneyville for many years as a patron before I joined the Guild,” added Delashmet, who is a stained and fused glass artisan. “What appealed to me as a patron was the willingness of the craftsmen to discuss and even explain the process of creating their work so one might appreciate the time and effort that goes into every piece.”

Part of the experience of Chimneyville is having that unique opportunity to interact with the craftsmen. “You can meet the artist who created the work and maybe gain some insight about what they do and why they do it,” Blasingame said, adding that the mission behind Chimneyville is to expose the Guild’s craftsmen to as many people as possible — and expose as many people as possible to the craftsmen. “We want everyone to see all the beautiful art our members create.”    

Approaching its 43rd year, the festival is a showcase of artistry. “The success of Chimneyville is attributable to the consistently high quality of the work offered by our craftsmen,” Mercier noted. “It is also the only one that features only all handcrafted items. I love shopping for Christmas gifts at

Chimneyville because I can always find a special, one-of-a-kind gift for everyone on my list, at any price point. It’s fun to build a collection of heirloom-quality pieces that don’t get tossed

out after a few months or that everyone else is receiving.”

“The public will see works of art at Chimneyville that they will not find anywhere else,” Delashmet added. “It is a treat to find that special gift for that special person or someone who is difficult to buy for — and it’s fun for the shopper!”

In addition to shopping, guests at Chimneyville can also enjoy live demonstrations by artisans, such as Guild member Dayton Scoggins of Heidelberg who specializes in chainsaw sculpture using wood. “Each year, Dayton Scoggins is a crowd favorite,” Mercier shared. “He creates the most amazing pieces using a chainsaw. He sets up out front and carves all day long. The detail he can achieve with a chainsaw is incredible. The kids love it!”

Other live demonstrations include carving, spinning and weaving. In addition, a florist will share tips on flower arrangements by incorporating vases handmade by craftsmen at Chimneyville. A popular “best gifts for guys” segment, as well as a storyteller ready to captivate the audience, will take to the stage too.

An exhibition of youth artwork, called “Artists and Artisans of the Future,” representing nearly 20 schools from across Mississippi will be on display throughout the event. “We are especially excited about our student exhibit,” Mercier said. “The level of talent from these students is amazing, and it is reflective of the commitment to fine arts and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) in our public and independent schools throughout the state.”

“Two local coffee shops will be set up with their specialty coffees and locally made pastries and snacks,” Blasingame noted. “We’ll have small seating areas throughout the Trade Mart to take a break and savor the coffee before heading back to the booths for more shopping.”

The Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi is always looking to enhance and grow its membership — in a genuine effort to both celebrate and encourage rich, local talent. And in turn, that growth energizes and cultivates the success of Chimneyville.

“The Guild continues to attract talented, gifted, creative members,” Mercier noted. “It’s inspiring to see that a new generation of makers is embracing the tradition of fine craft, but giving it a fresh, modern interpretation.”

“We have been more proactive in recruiting new, and younger, members and have implemented a mentor program for more established members to work with applicants who are not initially accepted,” Blasingame added. “We’re conducting more prepare-to-qualify sessions, and we’re actively reaching out to other artists and not waiting for them to come to us. They are our future!”

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