The Sugarloaf Craft Festival may be hitting the Montgomery County Fairgrounds for its 39th year tomorrow, but its popularity doesn’t seem to be dwindling anytime soon.
Deann Verdier, the founder of the annual festival and president of Sugarloaf Mountain Works, Inc., has had a passion for arts and crafts for as long as she can remember. However, her career path didn’t start out as that of a businesswoman.
Verdier, who was born and raised in Riggs Park in Northeast D.C., married her husband George at a very young age. She says they were always very close, attending University of Maryland together and later moving to Potomac. After college, her husband became a medical engineer and she became an elementary school teacher.
The problem was that the husband and wife wanted to spend more time together, and she had always loved the fine arts, which was her minor at school. She says she loved working with clay and ended up taking ceramic classes in Glen Echo, where she noticed many artists struggling to sell their work.
“There were really no places to sell your work except for M Street in Georgetown,” she recalls, thinking back to the ’70s.
Verdier says she and her husband wanted to change this and decided to pursue their mutual passion and consult with people at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. In April 1976, the couple rented the venue for their first show. Instead of setting up a crafts show for just flat art, they combined the former with 3D art, something she says was unheard of back then.
The Verdiers were able to attract 200 artisans and around 10,000 people from around the country to that first show. She says they quickly rented the venue for a second show in November of that year. The rest is history.
“I think I have the best job in the entire world,” she says. “I help people make a living doing what they love to do.”
Last year, the show attracted over 175,000 visitors, and it has been rated one of the top in the country according to its website. It also takes place in New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and will be in Gaithersburg this week and in November.
Now, not just anyone can become a vendor and sell any product at the festival. Verdier says artisans must be selected through a jury process. An artisan who wants to participate is required to submit four images of their work and a fifth image of their set-up design.
This doesn’t always go over well with potential vendors. Verdier, who’s been “threatened and everything else” by people who she’s turned down, says she she’ll go about it in a respectful manner and will suggest other venues, as all artists are trying to make a living.
The festival, which runs from Oct. 11-13, will feature a wide variety of creative crafts and artwork, as well as musical entertainment in the form of an a cappella group. An example of a craft Verdier says she’s excited about is Raku ware, a type of Japanese pottery.
“It’s not a pipe and drape show,” she says. “It’s so unique. Each setup is an individual store. One of the best parts about the shows is you get to meet the hands [that created the work].”
Verdier, who currently lives in northeast Georgia, says she still sees people at her festivals she knew from when she lived in the D.C. area. The mother of two, who’s also Jewish, says she belonged to a local synagogue when she lived in D.C. Now, she practices her religion in her own way.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve made my religion very personal,” she says. “I try to live my faith.”
Verdier says she believes she and her husband’s craft festival has introduced many hand-crafted, not mass-produced pieces of art to the area that people otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
“I think we’ve been able to enrich people’s lives,” she says, adding that the show has created a community that didn’t exist before. “It’s more than a buy-sell situation. It’s a community with soul.”
Information and tickets for the Sugarloaf Craft Festivals are available at sugarloafcrafts.com.