Art guild holds holiday fair after Thanksgiving

Diana Jorgenson
Portola Editor

    Area artists are boxing up their creations in preparation for the holiday fair held each fall by Mohawk Valley Artists’ Guild. The Holiday Arts and Craft Fair will be held the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving in its traditional Graeagle Fire Hall location. Hours are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
    Two dozen artists and craftspeople will bring a variety of handcrafted items, including paintings, photography, jewelry, weaving, rustic wood furniture, wooden bowls, goat milk soap, herbal care products, fused glass and many other interesting and carefully wrought products from creative hands.
   Not only is it a good time to buy holiday presents and to buy locally, it is also an opportunity to visit with local artists and see their latest work. Most have been busy for a year to bring the variety on display at the show.
   Again, it is an opportunity to interface with guild members and see what is going on in the arts locally. This fair, along with the spring show, are the primary fundraisers for the group. The guild makes cash awards to support art in the schools and arts programs in the community.
    Since each of the artists donates a piece of work to be awarded to lucky winners, visitors can support local art and win a prize at the same time.
    The money from the drawing tickets sold at the event is used to keep the arts thriving locally.
    This year’s featured artists, chosen by the guild, are Joanne and Steve Segoria, makers of handcrafted beeswax candles. They will bring their candles to the show, both new designs and old favorites, and they are looking forward to the community event.
    The Segorias, who have been making candles since the summer of 2001, are frequent vendors at the guild’s show, and their candles are a favorite purchase.
    Joanne and Steve recently took some time away from candle production to talk about their candle making business.
    With work and kids and school, it is easy for couples to end up on separate paths they said. The Segorias wanted something they could do together, and that became the impetus for their decision to pursue a craft.
    When both daughters, Stacie and Katie, were at Chico State, they decided the time was right.
   “I had worked at a candle factory when I went to junior college,” Joanne said. “At first I started working at their counter selling candles. Then, they made me a utility player and taught me how to make every candle in their shop. I always thought ‘maybe I’ll get to do this again.’ Once the kids were out and it was just Steve and I, I thought I’d get some wax and start fooling around.”
    Joanne tested herself to see if she remembered how to make this candle or that one. She didn’t require a lot of start-up outlay for equipment. Most of the equipment she needed then, and still uses, comes from her kitchen: potato peelers, frying pans, hot plates, warmers.
    The Segorias started selling their candles at local shops and at local craft fairs. Iris and Ivy in Graeagle carried their line of candles and they sold.
   “We were happy,” Joanne said. “It was enough to cover our wax. Beeswax is very expensive.”
   Steve agreed it was a hobby, even though both would like to see it become a business. “Financially, it’s not a loser. But you just barely cover the costs of your product.”
   But he added, “We get to go to craft shows and meet other crafters, and I like the retail end of it. It’s something we can do together essentially.”
    Segoria recently retired as postmaster at the Clio post office and both hope his retirement will leave them free to travel more and attend craft shows outside the area. They have attended shows in Auburn and Grass Valley, as well as Reno, in the past and hope to be more consistent in the future.
    Already they have learned a lot. Steve warned that at many of the big shows, there was a lot of competition from what he called “the buy and sell crowd.”
    “’Crafters’ buy something from a catalog, maybe glue something on it and say they made it and sell it very cheaply. You can’t compete with that. It’s not a true craft show. The promoter wants to fill the space and I understand that.
   “But years and years and years ago before we ever started, you’d go to a craft show and you’d see real crafts—that people made.
   “That’s what’s nice about the Mohawk Valley Artists Guild show at the fire hall—everybody makes their stuff and you know that they made it. It’s one of the purest shows we’ve done as far as quality.”
    Although it’s annoying to be placed next to an almond salesman or to watch vendors take jars of commercial barbecue sauce out of a box, slap their label on it and sell it as handmade, the Segorias will continue to show at the larger shows.
    “There is a need for it and there are people who see your craft and understand what you did and how you arrived at this point with it and appreciate it. They can see and they know,” Steve said.
    Many of the shows try to weed out resellers by requiring not only samples of the product, but also pictures of the craftsperson making it.
    Keeping the product quality high requires constant effort and research, the Segorias say. Beeswax is expensive: The demand is high, there are few sources, and those suppliers may not stay in business for a long time.
    Although they are not rigidly green, “we’re pretty much a green product,” Joanne said. “Beeswax is a natural substance, but customers like white candles, so bleached wax becomes the inevitable solution.”
     But if they use too many chemicals to bleach it, it negates the goal of using a natural product, so Joanne finds she must do the research to find suppliers she is comfortable with.
    Except for the beeswax tapers and votive candles, most of the candles the Segorias make are a blend of beeswax and paraffin. They must find special suppliers to get the food-grade paraffin they require.
     Joanne does most of the design work for the columns and the hurricane lamps.
    Steve claims Joanne is the creative one. “If you need something lifted or dumped or picked up or moved from here to there, I’m the one.”
    He also breaks up those 50-pound slabs of paraffin into more usable sizes.
      Although Joanne is responsible for candle designs, she relies upon her daughters to critique her new products. She calls upon daughter Katie when she needs an outline drawing of something.
    The Segorias head to the woods to find many of the natural design elements they use in their candle designs. As luck would have it, Joanne’s sister in Tennessee has property large enough to grow at least half of the Segorias’ dried flower needs.
     “She presses them for me and either brings them out with her or ships them to me,” Joanne said, giving her sister credit for having a knack for drying flowers.
    Everything the Segorias use to decorate their candles is real: real flowers, real colored leaves, real pine needles, and the latest, chili peppers.
     Joanne laughed that she is always looking at things, thinking, “I wonder if that would work on a candle.”
     Their latest project is photographic in nature. They have taken pictures in the Lakes Basin and some photos of favored Quincy locations and used them on some of their hurricane lamps. The votive candle inside the lamp lights up the photo from within.
     He is constantly learning something, Steve said of the life of a craftsperson.
     “And I really enjoy it,” Joanne added.
    Visit both of them and see their newest candles at their booth at the Mohawk Valley Artists Guild Holiday Arts and Craft Show. They, along with 23 other artists, will be happy to see you.

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