Susan Sontag Hair Extensions, Anyone?

'Bust' and local artists rescue the ailing holiday craft fair

I always associate crafts with my high school biology teacher Mrs. Smith, whose love of crafting's inherent appeal even extended into our bug collections. We would receive extra credit for themes like Bug Funeral or Beach Blanket Bug— and thus positioned our dead roaches and beetles to look as if sunbathing or playing volleyball. Around Christmastime, Ms. Smith would don tops accented with streams of ribbons that would explode from her shoulders, literally bursting from the shirt like holiday-themed tumors. In these sweatshirts, Mrs. Smith was endearing yet terrifying: In short, she was a holiday craft fair come to life.

It's hard not to approach these bazaars with trepidation—they all supposedly carry unique artisan goods, yet how distinctive are most of them? A Christmas stocking can only take so many Nepalese paper lamps and shoe-shaped votive holders, but you wouldn't know that from browsing through Bryant Park's Fêtes de Noël. The market's website refers to this venue as "an old-fashioned holiday market styled in the European holiday tradition," but it's a European holiday tradition that for some reason includes jewelry chain Laila Rowe and well-established luxury scarf manufacturer Echo.

The fair at Grand Central Station's Vanderbilt Hall offers little more. There are some highlights—sterling silver earrings and bracelets cast from measuring tape and screws, a stand hawking pleasingly ghoulish marionettes from Prague. But for the few good finds, you're combing through a mountain of pillows embroidered with Yorkshire Terriers and floral decoupage vases that are like the demon product of Rachel "Shabby Chic" Ashwell herself.

Bryant Park's Fêtes de Noël
photo: Corina Zappia
Bryant Park's Fêtes de Noël

These markets may not quite be the scourge of satan, but they are predictable and bland. That said, two events this weekend might be more worth the time: Bust Magazine's Holiday Craftacular and La Superette. Bust has been supporting the current resurgence in DIY crafting for some time, so no surprise they're hosting their own all-day holiday craft party with drinks, dancing, and music spun by DJ Rekha of Basement Bhangra fame. Embroidery fanatics will be able to purchase Jenny Hart's unconventional Sublime Stitching patterns (Mexican wrestlers, skulls, Chinese takeout); other offerings include purses made from vintage vinyl and the remarkable stuffed plushies of Heidi Kenney from My Paper Crane. No stuffed bears for this woman—she instead sews up plush PB&Js, chocolate milks, and burnt toast. There really can never be too much anthropomorphic food.

La Superette sells what it claims on its website is FUNCTIONAL art (yes, in caps), all priced under $100: soft and fuzzy cashmere pompom rings with wool ring bands, earrings cast from actual cicadas, Ms. Pac Man kitchen cutting boards, socks printed with Bush's image on the bottom ("so you can stomp on him all day long"). One artist, Paige Gratland, even offers up "The Sontag," a clip-on lock of grey hair.

It's almost as good as dead bugs playing volleyball . . . but not quite.

 
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