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Artisans share craft traditions at holiday bazaar

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Standing behind a wall of meticulously crafted, hand-carved wooden pens, Bill Slagle beamed proudly at the fruits of his labor. Some pens had subtle religious themes, some were made of zebra wood, tulip wood, koa, sycamore, mahogany, or even corn cob.

Each had it's own story of how it was made.

Slagle, 85, a retired employee of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), was happy to share those stories with holiday shoppers at the Old-Fashioned Holiday Bazaar at Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro. At the event that began Friday and continued over the weekend, locals were able to shop for handmade holiday goods created by talented artisans from throughout the Southern Crescent.

Explaining how one pen was made, Slagle recalled a wild cherry tree he was able to retrieve near Highway 54 in Fayetteville where he lives.

"People always ask how it's made," said Slagle. "I chopped that tree down myself. I still have a bum shoulder because of it."

The bazaar, hosted by the Historical Jonesboro Living History Guild, gave local craft makers a chance not only to sell their wares, but to pass those traditions to the next generation. Debbie McDaniel, a member of the Living History Guild and the chairperson of the bazaar, said the event gives locals a new appreciate for traditional skills.

"I think the biggest benefit is that they learn that they can do these things themselves," said McDaniel. "It's important that we keep these arts alive. It's not just art, it's living skills."

Various holiday items were for sale, including ornaments, religious sculptures, handmade Christmas reefs. There were several period-specific items, such as "Cinnamon Santas" from the Great Depression era, as well as Christmas items from other countries, such as "Ojo de Dios," or "Eye of God," a woven ornament, made popular in Mexico, which reminds the owner that God is forever watching over them.

Other items for sale included sculptures, wood carvings, homemade lotions and perfumes, belts, purses, bags, toys, and furniture. Ted Key, a member of the Living History Guild, said the bazaar will serve as a "recruiting tool" for future guild members.

"It's reminiscent of the bazaars, church bazaars in particular, that were very popular in the early days of this county," said Key. "We want to make sure the old skills aren't forgotten."

Virginia Whelchel, a volunteer at Stately Oaks, has been a long-time shopper at the Christmas bazaars hosted there. She enjoys the quality of the work and the effort that is put into it.

"It does take time to make these things," said Whelchel. "I feel like somebody has put time into it and love into it, and I feel their workmanship will be better."