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Masters of their crafts; Festival brings artisans from diverse fields to Worcester Center for Crafts.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

For Russell Spillmann, the Worcester Center for Crafts' holiday festival is evergreen. Spillman, a clay artist from the tiny village of Homer in central New York, has been displaying his porcelain ware at Worcester craft center fairs since the early 1970s. It feels a little like coming home for the holidays.

"I would say that 75 percent of the people I sell to are repeat customers," he said. "It's like coming to see old friends."

That great craft-filled reunion takes place every year over Thanksgiving weekend. This year Spillmann will be among about 50 master artisans who will showcase their creations throughout the craft center's studios and gallery. The festival begins today and runs through Sunday.

Crafts represented include jewelry, ceramics, woodworking, wearable art, hand-woven Nantucket lightship baskets, glass blowing, weaving, printmaking and photography. Adding to the festive feel will be chamber carolers, food and baked goods, gift wrapping, a Sunday brunch and the popular annual sale of ornaments made by craft-center students, which serves as a fundraiser for the center.

Newcomers will set up booths next to favorite crafters from past years. Craft-center festival first-timer Suzanne Tanner of Tanner Glass in Providence creates colorful vessels and funky bottle stoppers. Perennial local favorite Susan Arnold of "ad libs" wearable art in Sturbridge makes original block printed jackets and shirts that are always a quick-selling hit.

Colorado fashion designer Elisabeth Delehaunty will be coming home to her native Worcester to present her wonderfully inventive clothing at the craft center festival for the first time. Delehaunty calls her little company Elisabethan and says her pieces are "clothes with a history," since she makes them from vintage and recycled fabrics. She almost always uses natural fibers although occasionally a synthetic slips in if the color or print are compelling enough.

Trendily recycled clothes are becoming almost common in these greener times but Delehaunty's approach is different than most. After washing and drying all her recycled fabrics she rips the old pieces apart, then reassembles them on her own patterns into entirely new items. An example is her total transformation of the once ubiquitous "I (heart) New York" T-shirt. That famous slogan remains on the front of an orphaned T, but new shoulders from a different solid color T-shirt are stitched on, then long sleeves are added from a couple of other striped T-shirts, one in green and the other blue. The neckband comes from a fifth shirt and the back from a sixth. A finishing touch? On the lower right front she strategically placed one of her signature flower appliques. "That's how I disguise a little hole or a stain or something. It becomes an `opportunity,'" she said. All that stitching is a labor-intensive process, which is reflected in the $89 price. "That's not cheap for a T-shirt but you're never going to see another one like it," she said.

With an unerring color sense, Delehaunty can meld several different plaids into a surprisingly cohesive wool skirt; make multi-print children's T's with adorable appliques of button-nose kittens; and turns seemingly random swatches of wool into beautiful, color-rich sweaters.

"It's definitely been an evolution," said Delehaunty, daughter of James Delehaunty and sewing-mentor mother, Katherine Delehaunty, of 7 Cricket Lane in Worcester. "I've always used recycled and vintage fabrics," Elisabeth Delehaunty said. "I always shopped at thrift stores and I would see something like this totally out-of-style skirt but the fabric was great so I'd take it home and make something out of it."

That her clothes in some small way help the planet is a pleasing fringe benefit.

"I used to supplement with new yardage but, as I progressed, I became more and more committed to using as much recycled as possible because there's just so much stuff out there. Someone's got to do something with it. And I like that challenge," she said.

Whether it's Delehaunty's delightful designs, the hip, contemporary jewelry of Jennifer Chin of LUSH Metals in Boston or Spillmann's ever-evolving ceramic pieces, it is the size of the festival, which is neither so small that selections are limited nor so huge that the experience takes on a mall-like impersonality. The artisans, the craft center likes to point out, are in attendance, so festival goers have the opportunity to chat with them and learn how the object they are considering was made, what the inspiration was, and how it can be used.

"This is a much smaller show compared with a downtown Buffalo show or the downtown Rochester show where you have a couple hundred thousand people coming by your booth," Spillmann said. "It's smaller and a lot more intimate, which is very nice. You get to talk with people a little more and it's a classy show. There is a nice variety of pieces and the people seem to be very appreciative of the work."

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Festival of Crafts

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and tomorrow; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Worcester Center for Crafts, 25 Sagamore Road, Worcester

How much: Adults, $6; members and seniors, $5; and children under 12, free

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ART: PHOTOS

(1) Above, a handmade skirt by Elizabeth Delehaunty. (2) Right, Potter Russell Spillmann with examples of his work. Both artists will appear at the Festival of Crafts in Worcester. (3) A pendant by Sandra McCaw. (4) Pottery by Suzanne Tanner. (5) Colorado fashion designer and Worcester native Elisabeth Delehaunty will be selling her handmade clothes at the Festival of Crafts at the Worcester Center for Crafts.

PHOTOG: CHRIS MILLER
COPYRIGHT 2007 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 23, 2007
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