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Artful Escapes

Create a getaway this fall by visiting an arts and crafts festival.
By Deborah Reinhardt

They move carefully and slowly between tents and tables, surveying what’s on display with all the seriousness of a general inspecting his troops. No battle is imminent, but make no mistake–they are on a mission. They are shoppers on the hunt for treasure at regional arts and crafts festivals.


Above: Historical War Eagle Mill is the site of three arts and crafts fairs in Arkansas. Roger Chavers photo

Below: Glass bottles catch the light at Oak Alley’s arts and crafts festival. Oak Alley Plantation photo


There’s no written law that says autumn must produce a plethora of festivals in the South, but when the weather cools and leaves turn color, the timing is perfect for such an event. Artisans and crafters flock to the hot spots to showcase and sell their work; some of them come from different states.

For those in attendance, this means an almost limitless variety of items to look at and purchase. The savvy shopper has a list in mind before showing up at an event. Many knock off most of their Christmas shopping list at these fairs or festivals. Bargains may be harder to find, but items assuredly are less expensive than what could be found in galleries or boutiques.

Plus, the hunt is just so much fun.

Wait…what was that over there?

One river, three fairs

Interestingly, in northwest Arkansas along the War Eagle River, shoppers can find three craft fairs held on the same weekend (Oct. 17–20). Thousands of people attend, but with careful planning–and a lot of patience–the events around War Eagle Mill can produce treasured keepsakes.

The craft craze in the area started in 1954 on War Eagle Mills Farm, a historical homestead that dates to the mid-19th century in Hindsville, Ark. At that time, the Northwest Arkansas Handweavers Guild chose the farm as the site for its first Ozarks Arts and Crafts Fair. The full history is on the fair’s Web site (, but in a nutshell, the event has grown in almost 60 years to attract more than 250 vendors, offering everything from weaving to woodworking, and stained glass to sculpture.

Admission is free; parking is $2. It’s advised that visitors approach the farm from the south via U.S. Highway 412 and state Highway 303 to avoid traffic congestion.

Drive or walk across a beautiful iron bridge to the War Eagle Mill, which has been operating for more than 150 years. A craft fair started at the mill in the mid-1970s. Today, shoppers can find 35 vendors on the mill’s parking lot. See the mill grind wheat and corn. Enjoy a full country breakfast or lunch (try the beans and cornbread) at the Bean Palace Restaurant located on the third floor of the mill.

A third fair–the Sharp Show–is on the field adjacent to the mill. Bill and Lucy Sharp started this craft fair in 1973. Lucy Sharp said 300 booths are filled with antiques, fine crafts, and festival foods.

“We try to use more of the local crafters, but some come from far away,” she said.

Each fair has different exhibitors and offers food concessions. Lodging is available in Rogers or Lowell, as well as Bentonville and Fayetteville. A few camping sites are on War Eagle Farm and at the Sharp site. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and commercial camping sites along Beaver Lake also are available.

The fairs do not seem to compete with one another; rather, the variety of items offered at each event is what draws the large crowds year after year.

“The more, the merrier,” Sharp said. “So far, so good.”

The Sharps also stage a smaller craft show near the mill the first Friday in May.

Art in a historical setting

Set amid 300-year-old live oaks and a beautiful 19th-century plantation home, Oak Alley’s eighth annual Fall Arts & Crafts Festival embodies Louisiana’s creativity. Not only are fine arts and crafts showcased, but culinary arts also are part of the Oct. 26 and 27 event that’s built around 170 booths.

Located in Vacherie on state Highway 18, Oak Alley’s grounds will be alive with artists and crafters from throughout the United States; some travel from as far as Missouri and South Dakota. Regional artists also are featured, including Henry Neubig of Baton Rouge, La., whose mud paintings depict the state’s natural beauty. Creating pigments from the alluvial soils, Neubig creates his color palette to paint Louisiana’s landscapes, birds, and flowers.

Other artists will display and sell photography, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and stained glass. Find fall and Christmas crafts at the festival, and sports fans will be interested in New Orleans Saints or Louisiana State University pieces.

Festival attendees will find a variety of Cajun and Creole cuisine to sample at Oak Alley, including the plantation’s own mint juleps. Try red beans and rice, gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish bread, and more.

A family friendly event, the festival also has activities for youngsters, including a petting zoo, face painting, and jewelry making. And tours of the home, completed in 1839, will be available on festival days. Tickets are $15 for guests 19 and older, $4.50 for children (6–18 years), and children 5 and younger are admitted free. Admission to the festival is $5 for those 10 and older, and free for guests 9 years and younger.

Oak Alley, 3645 Highway 18, is a National Historic Landmark. A bed-and-breakfast (AAA Three Diamonds) and restaurant (AAA Two Diamonds) also are on the 25-acre site.

Mixing it up in Mississippi

Set in the charming coastal town of Ocean Springs, the 35th Annual Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival will be Nov. 2 and 3. Staged throughout downtown, this award-winning event will host between 350 and 400 vendors. Artists from the region and around the country will offer handmade pottery, paintings, jewelry, sculpture, woodwork, metal work, and tile.

Prizes in four categories are awarded to artists. The festival sponsor, Blue Moon Brewing Company, offers the Blue Moon Art Project for artists throughout the state who create their interpretation of Blue Moon for a cash prize.

Music and food round out the festival. Last year, an estimated 130,000 people attended the two-day event.

But the interesting point to this festival is that it happens amid Ocean Springs’ downtown streets, which are lined with hundreds of galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. The local businesses get great traffic and exposure during the weekend.

The festival honors the town’s master potter, Peter Anderson, who established Shearwater Pottery in 1928. Two years later, he was joined in the business by his two younger brothers, Walter Inglis Anderson and James McConnell Anderson. This family business has produced art pottery, utilitarian ware, figurines, decorative tiles, and other pottery pieces for 85 years. Make time to visit Shearwater’s site at 102 Shearwater Drive while in Ocean Springs.

Visiting Ocean Springs for the festival does take a small amount of planning, but the local chamber of commerce assists visitors in this process. For example, free transportation to the festival entrances are offered by the local YMCA and Coast Transit Authority (CTA). Buses pick up at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary and Oak Park Elementary off of Government Street and Holcomb Boulevard. Buses also will pick up from the Greyhound Stadium located off Government Street and Hanley. The shuttles will run every 15 minutes from the parking lots on both days from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

Lodging options in town include a few chain hotels or motels and private cottages, but visitors can cross the Bienville Boulevard Bridge to Biloxi, which is less than five miles away, and find additional accommodations.

While in town, remember to visit the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, and the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts & Education.

This fall, visit one of these art and crafts festivals and see firsthand the talent of Southern artisans.

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Southern Traveler.

Jul/Aug 2013 Issue


For more information, contact:

• War Eagle Mill,
(866) 492-7324,

• The War Eagle Fair,
(479) 789-5398,

• The Sharp Show,
(479) 789-5683

• Oak Alley Plantation,
(800) 44-ALLEY (442-5539),

• Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival/Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce,
(228) 875-4424,

Before you head out to find treasures at these arts and crafts festivals, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card found online.

While in Vacherie, La., make time to see two additional plantations. Laura: A Creole Plantation dates to 1805. Another sugar plantation, St. Joseph, was built in the early 1830s. Both are located near Oak Alley Plantation on state Highway 18.

More craft and art fairs are included in the online calendar of events.



Sew up a visit

If you like arts and crafts, you might consider visiting the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky. For more than 20 years, the museum has grown to become a destination for quilting and fiber art enthusiasts worldwide. Visitors from all 50 states, as well as foreign countries, are received annually. More than 110,000 people each year view the museums’s onsite and traveling exhibits.

The 320-piece collection, as well as themed exhibitions, celebrate traditional and non-traditional quiltmaking methods.

One of these themed exhibits, “From the Pieces of a Nation: Civil War Period Quilts,” is on view through Oct. 8. These historical pieces are from Arlan and Pat Christ’s collection.

The Studio Art Quilt Associates present “Seasonal Palette,” quilts that celebrate our seasons, from Sept. 12– Dec. 3.

The museum is located in Paducah’s historical downtown at 215 Jefferson St. Admission is $11 for adults, $10 for guests 60 years and older, and $5 for children.

– Deborah Reinhardt

For hours and more information, call (270) 442-8856 or click on

National Quilt Museum Paducah CVB photo

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