- [S106] The Mountain Press, 18 Jul 2005.
A mountain tradition
Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair to open its 30th show
By: CANDICE GRIMM, Staff Writer July 18, 2005
GATLINBURG - Starting Friday, the Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair - recognized by the Southeast Tourism Association as one of the top 20 events in the Southeast - will open its 30th annual show in Gatlinburg Convention Center. The fair runs through July 31.
Looking back at the history of the fair reveals that the success of the Craftsmen's Fair is due to the long, rich heritage of the mountain crafts sought by so many visitors.
Since the first tourists were drawn to admire the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, local artisans found they could make a better living for their families by selling their handcrafted traditional Appalachian items.
From quilts to baskets and pottery to furniture, visitors from all over America love the beauty, simplicity and incredible ingenuity of locally handcrafted items.
It makes perfect sense to provide a location in which the craftsmen can collectively offer the crafts visitors want, and beginning in 1929, that is exactly what the founders of the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild did.
Until 1975, the guild successfully held craft shows in Mills Auditorium, but that year the guild decided to move its show to Knoxville, leaving Gatlinburg without a show that brought needed revenue to many businesses, and the area's artisans without an important outlet for their goods.
Saving the show was a must, so city officials approached Hal and Alma Reagan, who at that time were operating a small craft show in the area now known as Winery Square.
The Reagans were asked to step in and run the show at Mills Auditorium that year. The Reagans agreed, and the Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair was born.
With help from the Reagans' son Beville, their daughter-in-law, Sam Large, and their friends Marium and Everett Brock, the fair - featuring 90 local crafters - went on in 1975.
After the deaths of his parents, Beville Reagan and his wife, Lisa, and Sam and Tracy Large formed a partnership and took over the fair in 1987. With the 1989 opening of the Gatlinburg Convention Center, which allowed the Craftsmen's Fair to expand, the number of vendors quickly grew.
In the past 30 years the Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair has grown to include the work of 200 vendors.
Change is inevitable and there have been many since the Reagans and Larges took over the show.
Since the elder Reagans took over, the fair has been held twice a year, starting with the nine-day show in July and then an 18-day show held in October. This year's October show is set for Oct. 6-23.
Local craftsmen are still the focus, but a good number of the crafters come from other states, and this year there will even be a cuckoo clock maker coming from Germany.
"We've had crafters come from 49 states - Hawaii is the only state we haven't had a crafter from," said Lisa Reagan, adding that this year's show includes crafters from Alaska, Missouri, Louisiana, Indiana, Arkansas, Minnesota, Delaware, Kansas, Illinois, Texas and Oklahoma.
"We've got a lot of new people this year because gas prices are keeping some from traveling, and others have dropped out because they've gotten older, they're sick, or they can't afford to live off crafts alone," continued Reagan.
The work of all the crafters is juried by the Larges and Reagans, who try to limit the categories in the show to provide a good variety rather than duplicate crafts.
Reagan pointed out, however, "We want to promote locals as much as possible. We've always worked as close as we can with the craft community here and we've tried to be helpful, rather than a hindrance. We want to promote all the crafters."
Sam Large said of the show, "We usually try to have something for everybody - music shows, entertainment, and we always pick the better crafts that are out there."
Having such an intimate knowledge of the local craft community, Reagan said the craftsmen's fair office serves as sort of an information center.
"People from all over the country call all year long looking for a particular item they saw at the fair. Or, if they're looking for a specific craft item, they'll call to see if we can help them find it. Usually, I can tell them off the top of my head who makes the item they're looking for, or I can at least send them in the right direction," said Reagan.
In 2003, Beville and Lisa Reagan themselves became a part of the changes taking place with the show.
"Sam and I ran the show almost exclusively until Sam's accident. He broke his neck and was in a spinal care hospital for six months," said Tracy Large.
Reagan said that although she and Beville had been silent partners for a long time, after Sam's accident they "picked it up. We had been in it all our lives, we just hadn't been active."
Sam confirmed that while the Reagans have managed the show since 2003, he and Tracy still participate, just not in the day-to-day operation. "We hope to be able to get back into it later," he said.
Another aspect of change in the craftsmen's fair is how much money it costs to produce the show. Sam Large said they and the Reagans spend about $350,000 per year to produce the two shows.
Reagan said the majority of the expenses are in the $100,000 spent on advertising in 2004, the $100,000 it costs to rent the convention center, and on round-the-clock security for the show.
In spite of the expenses, Reagan and the Larges say the show is lucrative for them, the crafters, other businesses in town, and the city.
"It's a huge draw for the town. We've had several hotel and restaurant owners tell us they live and breathe for the show," said Tracy Large. "Quite a few of them have asked us to hold the show for 30 days - it brings a lot of business to town."
Dave Perella, director of the Gatlinburg Department of Tourism, said the estimated economic impact of the craftsmen's fairs on the city amounts to between $13.5 million and $14 million. Those figures include the estimated spending of exhibitors and visitors participating in the fairs.
While many things have changed or fluctuated during the past 30 years, there is one constant to which the craft fair owners and many of the crafters can attest.
Business may have brought them all together, but they have become a huge family.
"The craftspeople are wonderful," said Tracy Large. "When Sam had his accident, they were wonderful to us, so supportive. They wrote to us and sent us stuff - Sam had the best-looking room in the hospital and everybody wanted to come in and look. They are a wonderful group of people."
Reagan said that the amount of time they and the crafters spend together during 10 days in July and 18 in October is what makes them feel like family.
"You get to know the whole family and their woes. We like for the crafters to remember they are a family and we're part of it, and we treat them as such," said Reagan.
- [S58] Marriage Certificate.
REAGAN, BEVILLE HAL MCGILL, LISA GAIL 1980-06-15
- [S149] The Official Marriage Records of Sevier County Tennessee 1972 - 1981, Volume IV, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (Copyright 2008), ISBN 1-890150-00-6.