Artisans from near and far showcased their work at Germantown Friends School

During the weekend, the 74 artisans from 19 states accepted into the prestigious, juried Germantown Friends School Craft show turned the school’s gyms into a kaleidoscope of woodwork, jewelry, fibers, fabrics, glass, ceramics and more.

Some came from the tri-state area. Others traveled from Maine, Georgia, California and places in between.

Emerging artists highlighted

For the fourth year, the event showcased first-time participants selected for an Emerging Local Artists category.

One stall went to Janell Wysock, a Moore College of Art and Design graduate who lives in Northern Liberties.

For nearly 10 years, Wysock has been netting, knitting and crocheting garments. In addition to young-adult workshops at Moore, she also teaches local courses on artistic uses for old plastic through her involvement with the Multicultural Youth Exchange, a Philadelphia-based non-profit group.

Her craft-show offerings included an array of knitted, crocheted, woven or netted wraps, scarves and sweaters. While she likes some qualities of cotton, she said she loves working in wool because its fibers hold color, or as she put it, “So vibrant, so juicy.”

A neighborhood artist

Another Emerging Local Artist participant, Vince Brennan of Frayed Knot Arts, was in the stall next door. A native of Upper Darby and resident of Germantown for nearly a half century, Brennan’s offerings included deceptively complex items of rope and string knotted and woven into decorative pieces.

They ranged from a specially covered ship’s wheel to belts, bracelets and earrings. He’s been doing knots as art for 60 years, his interest sparked as a young child by a retired sailor.

“There wasn’t a knot he didn’t know or a tattoo he didn’t have,” Brennan remembers. Despite his own seven years in the Navy, Brennan stayed away from tattoos, but the knots took hold. “As soon as [the Navy] found out I could do this, I didn’t touch a paintbrush again.”

While his biggest-selling items — knot-fashioned bracelets and earrings — are a hit with the general public, many of his customers are nautical enthusiasts. The most noteworthy parts of the sail-needle cases he decorates aren’t the coverings of the small cylinders; they’re actually the plugs. Made solidly of intricate knots, each plug, less than two inches long, takes about three hours to make.

Mary Alice Brennan, his wife of 20 years, helped him out at the show. While she doesn’t do knots, she knows her way around yarn. “She does knitting that I couldn’t even get close to,” Vince said.

Artisans from afar

Susan Wolf of Toms Brook, Va. displayed gourd-art pieces which she said take up to 18 months to make. The time commitment is necessary since she grows up to 500 gourds each year herself from seeds, dries them naturally outdoors and then cuts, hollows, carves and adorns them into one-of-a-kind functional pieces.

Her most popular items are bird houses made of hollowed, decorated gourds with a carefully-sized hole. She said they are a favorite nesting site for wrens, chickadees, finches, bluebirds, swallows and even small owls.

She admitted that the gourd bird-houses aren’t her own idea, though. Native American tribes were the first to dry and hollow the gourds for the birds, which would help keep down the insect population in their villages.

Seasons don’t matter

State College-based exhibitor Susan Wise’s “Second Season” stall featured fleece-lined mittens for men, women, children and infants made from discarded wool sweaters, collected from friends, family members, or thrift stores. She said she enjoys the “personality” that comes through each pair, the pattern of each cast-off sweater evoking something about the person who wore it.

She has recently launched a custom product called Memory Mitts: a deceased loved one’s signature sweater can become a cozy, functional keepsake for surviving family members.

During one craft show held in 90-degree weather, she still managed to sell 100 wool mittens.

“Nobody puts their sweaters down anywhere around us,” she and her partner laughed.

Over the years, the largely volunteer-run event has raised more than $1.1 million for the GFS Community Scholars Program and the school scholarship fund.

An estimated 1,750 people attended this year, and show manager Deirdre Godin had a sense that purchases were up as compared to the last few years.

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