MOUNT SUNAPEE, N.H. (AP) — The 79th annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen's Fair opened its nine-day run at Mount Sunapee Resort on Saturday, with league and state officials alike expecting to see an economic and cultural boon from tourists and crafts connoisseurs thronging exhibits and booths.
League officials say the work of more than 350 juried artisans is on display and the fair features daily demonstrations of skills like glass-blowing and metal forging. Upward of 35,000 people attend the fair each year — many from out of state.
"That really makes a difference," said George Bald, commissioner of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development. "It does have a great economic impact on the state."
Bald said the fair also helps showcase New Hampshire as an arts venue, in addition to offering a great business climate.
League officials are hoping for a larger turnout than last year, when attendance was dampened by gas prices averaging 22 cents a gallon higher than they are this week and the fair's opening following closely on the heels of a dive in the stock market.
League executive director Susie Lowe-Stockwell said gas prices were a "huge factor" in holding attendance last year around the 30,000 mark. Still, she said, fairgoers bought $2.2 million worth of crafts in 2011.
"It's the longest continually running crafts fair in the nation and it features a huge amount of education," Lowe-Stockwell said. "We really want to encourage future crafts people by educating the public about what goes into making a fine craft."
To qualify for a booth at the fair, craftspeople must live in New Hampshire or within 10 miles of its border; exceptions are made for longtime members who have since moved to other states but are grandfathered in. Exhibitors also must be juried by a panel of master craftspeople from the medium in which they work.
"Your work must be your own design. It cannot be a factory application," Lowe-Stockwell said. Once accepted into the league, the crafter must provide three shipments of wares to any of the seven gallery stores the league operates statewide, as a check of the consistency of the work. Even exhibitors' booths are juried, she said.
"The level of artistry that goes into creating each booth is quite high," she said.
Metal sculptors Payne and Elise Junker devote a month preparing for the fair, the only one they attend.
"It brings in people from all over the country and we get good contacts for our custom work," Junker said. "For us it's a big deal."
Lowe-Stockwell says the new summer adventure park Mount Sunapee Resort installed this year will only compliment the fair.
"Our fair is family friendly anyway, but we think the addition of an adventure park may help the 12- to 18-year-olds who may not be so interested in crafts," she said.
The fair runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Aug. 12. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and active military members. Children under 12 are free.