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Holiday crafts fair a festive success

Maggie Hurley's hand-made owl dolls give passersby wide-eyed looks. (Ellen Newton)

Curious shoppers, student vendors, alumnae crafters and local artisans convened on Thursday, Nov. 18 on Adam’s Plaza for the annual Mills College Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair, sponsored by the Staff Advisory Committee. The crafts available for sale included knit scarves, jewelry, screen-printed tote bags, original paintings and baked pastries.

Adrienne Suzio, a second-year Mills student majoring in studio arts, created wallets out of colorful tarot cards, which she sold for $2 each. Suzio also made gloves embroidered with colorful blue beads and notebook covers collaged with texts from Stranger in a Strange Land, a book Suzio did not especially like.

“I draw my inspiration from my materials,” Suzio said. ” I have always been a very crafty person.”

Mills alumna Laura Wasserman offered block-printed holiday cards. One card read “2011” next to silhouettes of champagne glasses, and another card showed Christmas trees reaching up to a waning moon. Copies of Wassermen’s zine, BiFocal, were also available. All of her work, Wasserman explained, was produced by Broken Bottle Press, an independent press she formed two years ago with a couple of friends.

Shopper peruse the various arts and crafts for sale at Mills College's annual Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair. (Ellen Newton)

“I’m a writer, and I do this in my spare time,” Wasserman said of her book and print hobby, an interest that began when she was earning an M.A. in creative writing at Mills.

“I took some book arts classes for fun. I worked with Julie Chen in the book arts department, and was a T.A. in my second year,” Wasserman explained. “These cards are block-printed images, made from linoblocks.”

A few tables down, the Psychology Club was busy raising money selling its special “brain cupcakes,” chocolate cupcakes topped with pink frosting in the shape of frontal lobes.

“We felt like brain cupcakes were a good way to stimulate the cognitive processes of Mills students, and increase endorphins,” said the club’s president, Laura Samuellson.

The Mills College Earth Corps club sold $15 tote bags screen-printed in red, blue and green, that read “Mills Earth Corps,” along with pictures of trees and rivers.

“We’re constantly making silk screened tote bags year-round,” Earth Corps member Melinda Felix said. “All you have to do is come to the Sustainability Center to buy one.”

Some students sold original art pieces, including Serena Wendsel, whose colorful paintings and sketches shared a table with Serena’s cousin, Meredith Wendsel. Meredith sold homemade jewelry, including “goddess rosaries,” made with crystal beads that featured small metal icons of goddess figures.

Adrienne Suzio's collaged notebooks are made from cutouts of text from a book she did not enjoy. (Ellen Newton)

Like many of the vendors, Serena Wendsel sells on as well as in person.

“Selling in person is easier, because you get a better sense of what people like,” Serena Wendsel said. “I use Etsy and Deviant Art as methods of getting my work out there.”

One table was covered in colorfully textured shoulder bags and purses from Oaxaca, Mexico. The bags were produced by the Collectivo Rahuna Artesanas, a group of craftswomen in a small village outside of the city of Oaxaca in southern-central Mexico. The bags are shipped to California, where they’re sold to support the community’s interest in preserving their craft traditions, said vendor Angelica Rodriguez.

One crafter, Maggie Hurley, had an edge to her hand-sewn owl dolls, a group of whom peered out from a wooden basket with bright, wide eyes. Hurley buys all of her materials from Out of the Closet, a vintage clothing chain whose proceeds go to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides free HIV testing, patient advocacy and medicine to HIV-positive patients, according to their website.

“I fill the owls with bamboo fiber, a more sustainable alternative to other fillers,” Hurley said.

One student, Sarah Scheibe, said she was surprised to find the plaza converted into a craft fair, and hadn’t noticed the fliers around campus advertising it. “I came with my friend to get chocolate from the Spanish club,” Scheibe said. “I only saw a sign for it this morning, as it was being set-up.”

Judging by the crowds surveying the tables, this year’s fair was a dynamic success — by the end of the day,  Suzio had sold out of her collaged notebook covers, putting a novel she didn’t like much to good use.