A Family Affair at Oregon Country Fair

For 35 years and counting, Harlequin Lady Michele has been holding court at her Oregon Country Fair booth. At the spunky age of 15, she waltzed into the WOW Hall in Eugene and forked over her forty dollars to register a booth for her mom to showcase her oil paintings. The following year, Michele spread out her jewelry at mom’s table and, at that point, pretty much took over responsibility for their annual booth. Four beautiful bouncing babies, a marital makeover, and many enriching years later, Michele loves hanging out and selling at the Country Fair more than ever.

Harlequin Lady Michele at  Oregon Country Fair

This is their favorite and most anticipated annual family tradition. The two months leading up to the Fair are her most focused creative time as an artist, and she heads out to the Fairgrounds one week ahead of time to prepare her booth and help the Fair crew. Then she settles in with loved ones and long-time friends coming and going for the three best days of the year for a crafter and seller.

Michele’s jewelry is one-of-a-kind, featuring precious and semi-precious gemstones, and found rocks in the rough. She styles her pieces with wire work, silk knotting, basic stringing and metal stamping. She also does beadwork with micro Italian seed beads.

Elements of Michele jewelry designsI asked what she likes the most about selling her jewelry at the Fair versus at other venues. “People come from everywhere, and they tend to have a sense of adventure. They are open-minded. It’s so nice to have that face-to-face interaction with people who like my jewelry.”

Because Michele has attended the Country Fair since nearly its beginning, I asked her what changes she’s noticed over the years. “The Fair has become more structured for vendors; there are more guidelines and forms to fill out. The crowds are much larger, but there seems to be less foot traffic. Sales don’t seem to be affected, though. And now, of course, you see people with digital cameras and cell phones.”

She also mentioned that it’s more challenging to get a booth these days, because there are so few spaces opening up each year for the growing number of interested crafters. I remarked how lucky she was to have shown an early interest in a booth and gone after it as a teenager. “It’s been a wonderful part of my life. It’s something my whole family shares. I’m so lucky I get to do this every year,” she said.

Introduced to the Fair by her mom, Michele is now joined by her husband, son, three daughters and four grandchildren at the Fair, so the family’s tradition spans four generations. She hopes one of her children will one day show an interest in selling at her booth and eventually take it over. It’s a tradition she’d like to see continue in her family.

I asked her about her most memorable Fair experience. “There are so many,” she laughed, “but the one that stands out is when my grandmother camped out for three days at the Fair in a Winnebago. This was back when there were only a few scattered buses and most people camped outside. My grandma and her Winnebago did not go unnoticed. It was really a funny contrast to what was going on all around her.”

She also remembered that untimely thunder-and-lighting storm followed by a dramatic downpour on the last day of Fair a couple of years ago. “It was crazy packing up that year. What a muddy mess. I don’t think anyone who was there will ever forget that day. But it was fun!”

The Oregon Country Fair is an annual 3-day outdoor celebration that draws people from all over the world for joyful music, theater, crafts, food, frolicking and fun-fun-fun. It’s a place to dress up or dress down and express your creative spirit, support local artisans and chefs, and learn about sustainable, environmentally-friendly alternatives and non-profit causes. The Fair has been a summer tradition and favorite venue for good times and happy memories since 1969.

Visit Michele at her Country Fair booth #465 that she shares with Bev, who makes moccasins by hand. You can also see more Elements of Michele online at Michele’s Etsy shop and in Harlequin’s Jewelry Project Kits section. When you are in the central Oregon area, drop into the Harlequin Beads & Jewelry store in Eugene and the Crafty Mercantile in Cottage Grove to see Michele’s creations.

by Margit

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