As expected on a mid-March afternoon in the Piedmont, a TV on the bar displayed the constant stream of NCAA tournament games — often a favorable, captivating sight for many. But on Sunday at Gibb’s Hundred Brewing Company, something strange was transpiring: No one was paying any attention.
The sixth annual Hand-to-Hand spring market had returned to Gibb’s, and its vendors and patrons had turned their backs to college basketball in favor of Greensboro’s largest indie craft fair.
As the bartenders were busy pouring pints for those perusing the market, vendors answered patrons’ questions, shook hands, laughed and discussed their art. Shoppers evaluated the different items on display, often in whispering pairs. On the brewery’s airy front porch, dogs sniffed around and greeted one another. The windy day danced the scent of hamburgers out of the Pearl Kitchen food truck, across those mingling outside and over to where a man printed T-shirts, most of which displayed, “Straight Outta Compost,” “Greensboro vs. Everybody” or emblems of other Gate City inspiration.
Hand-to-Hand hosts craft fairs for artisans who create various handmade items. Its markets aim to spread the word on local and regional art and to encourage patrons to support those local efforts.
For Tristin Miller, Hand-to-Hand’s cofounder and creative director, the desire to start a large, indoor craft fair began with her experience as an artist.
“As a vendor,” Miller said, “I was going to all these markets around North Carolina and thought: Greensboro needs to have something better.”
After starting the Greensboro spring market in 2011, Miller and other organizers began an additional holiday market that takes place on the first Sunday of December. While the smaller-scale spring markets usually attract only vendors from North Carolina, past winter markets have included artists from South Carolina and Virginia.
At Gibb’s on Sunday, vendors sold scarves, stuffed animals, soaps, mugs, prints, incense holders, boxes and other handmade crafts, many of which came in unique and peculiar forms.
At his stand in one corner of the brewery, Greensboro artist Justin Sergent enjoyed a dark beer. In front of him, dozens of clay mugs were on display, a collection he calls “Innocent Looking Pottery.” Sergent, vice president of Greensboro’s creative workshop organization Art Alliance, has been making similar art for eight years.
“I’ve actually made 834 things,” he added convincingly.
Years ago, one of his instructors joked that pottery should be used as a weapon. While the instructor might have alluded to hurling a mug at an intruder, Sergent jumped on the idea.
Indeed, protruding slightly from a good percentage of his mugs are powerful or frightening figures — a devil, an octopus, Spider-Man, a mouth holding a skull. Occasionally a mug displays a piece of text such as: “If I had a tail I would rule the night.” Taking the place of more traditional handles on some of the mugs are large brass knuckles.
Elsewhere in the market, Emily Poe-Crawford presented a collection from her modern hand-lettering and calligraphy company Em Dash Paper Co. based out of her house in Winston-Salem. It was her third Hand-to-Hand appearance, and she’s happy to keep returning.
“Tristin does a good job with the number and variety of people,” Poe-Crawford said. “And the chill brewery vibe’s here: I think people like getting a beer and walking around the market.”
Since finishing grad school in 2011, Poe-Crawford has been lettering. Her “kind-hearted assholery” cards include humorous, fancily scripted encouragement such as: “Listen dumbass, you are not a failure” and “You are a hot mess right now, but I am here for you.”
Across the walkway from Poe-Crawford, Temeka Carter governed her Black Belt Soap Co. stand. Carrying on a soap-making tradition from her great-grandmother, and having fallen in love with seaweed soap and taken a class on nutritional ingredients, Carter has been in business in Greensboro for a couple of years.
Though most of her business is online, Carter was a vendor at Hand-to-Hand’s most recent winter market. Her organic soap company alludes to the name and traditions of her childhood home in the Black Belt of Alabama. Carter calls her operation a social enterprise company, as it donates to scholarships for low-income, high-achieving students back in the Black Belt.
As evening arrived and the market approached its conclusion, vendors put away their unsold items. Though the crafts will remain packed up until the next stop on the local artisan’s grind, patrons and vendors alike had fulfilled the Hand-to-Hand organizers’ vision: A connection with those around them through the appreciation of local art.