Arts and crafts lovers take over Northwest Arkansas on the third weekend of October during what is known as War Eagle Weekend. While it’s named for the fair that started it all more than 60 years ago, today numerous crafts fairs are held annually throughout the region. Each fair is unique in its own way.
Celebrating 50 years, the Bella Vista Arts & Crafts Festival takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 18-20 this year.
Bella Vista is known for having one of the finest, juried art shows, requiring all items on sale to be handmade by the artisan. It has grown to about 225 artisans that spread out on a large festival site and is considered one of the premier arts and crafts shows in Northwest Arkansas.
“It’s the only one left that’s one hundred percent juried,” explains Elaine Reinke, executive director of the festival. One interesting artist makes earrings out of goose eggs. “When they have to make it themselves they get creative and it’s really cool what people come up with,” Reinke says.
She adds that there are many repeat exhibitors. Attending for the longest is a couple that first showed their wares in 1970. “So this is their 48th year,” Reinke says. “She makes fabric art and he does wood and leather.”
There are new artists every year too. “A lady coming this year makes gnomes covered in cloth and they are really cute. They’re adorable,” she says. Reinke is also excited about a new exhibitor that makes three-dimensional art of butterflies.
Shoppers can expect to see a wide variety of goods while perusing the aisles, such as pottery, fused glass, stained glass, repurposed metals such as shovels with laser cuts designs, driftwood art, leather works, furniture, jewelry, repurposed furniture, bead makers, handmade Native American rugs, wine, soaps, bath bombs, preserves, sauces, soups, dips, monkey puppets, doll clothes, bell jewelry with a ringing clapper, and much more.
For its 50th anniversary year, organizers are adding a Wishing Springs Gallery tent to showcase the Village Art Club, which runs the event. Wishing Springs Gallery is a permanent gallery located in Bella Vista.
“It’s going to look like you’ve walked into the Wishing Springs Gallery,” Reinke explains. “You have to be a member of the Village Art Club to exhibit work in Wishing Springs Gallery or at the gallery tent at the festival. That’s why it’s a duplication of the actual gallery.” Instead of having a whole booth, artists that are in the permanent gallery can put items in the gallery tent at the festival.
“The goal is to get shoppers to see what is in the gallery. People think its just fine art and there is so much more than that. So we hope to direct people to the gallery after the festival is over,” she adds.
This year, organizers have also added some elements to the family tent. “A local artist that does art classes is bringing teachers to do face painting and arts and crafts with kids,” Reinke says. “It’s all free in the family tent. It provides something for the kids to do and gives the parents an opportunity to rest a little bit.”
Shoppers can expect to see a wide variety of goods such as fused glass, jewelry, leather works, repurposed furniture, bead makers, handmade Native American rugs, wine, preserves, bath bombs, monkey puppets, and much more.
Staff from the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville will also provide kid activities in the family tent. Last year’s popular honey purveyor will be back as well with jars of honey and a self-contained beehive that allows shoppers to watch the bees at work.
The festival has indoor and outdoor spaces. Tents are set up on grass with walkways and food trucks down the center, so even if it rains the patrons and vendors are protected from the elements. Some of the fare for this year includes homemade root beer, wok and noodle cooking, custom-made gyros, smoked meats, traditional fair food like funnel cakes and corn dogs, and kettle corn.
Also setting the show apart from others is its 200-plus volunteers that go out of their way to assist vendors and visitors. It’s known as the “friendliest” festival with its staff and volunteers working hard to make the shopping experience a great one.
Greeters distribute event directories as shoppers arrive. The festival also offers an information tent and a package holding area. There’s even a large item package pickup service, offering the transport of heavy, large or bulky items to a remote location for pickup. Volunteers help load the items in your vehicle. There are also trams to take shoppers to and from their cars and the festival entryway.
Sponsored by the Village Art Club of Bella Vista, all proceeds from the Bella Vista Arts & Crafts Festival are used for substantial art scholarships for promising young artists, donations to children’s art programs, continuing education for artists/artisans, and for festival partnering organizations, who in turn use these funds to support others in our community.
Visit these websites for additional arts information:
The fair is located on Arkansas Highway 279, just south of the intersection with Arkansas Highway 340. The physical address of the festival is: 1991 Forest Hills Boulevard.
by Jill Rohrbach