Aroostook County’s largest craft fair a haven for local artists and creatives

2 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine – One of Caribou’s longest-running events has become the “go-to” place for The County’s best artists and craft-based entrepreneurs to showcase their talents and attract local customers.

Thousands of people from across Aroostook attended the Caribou Arts & Craft Fair last weekend. Spread throughout Caribou High School’s gymnasium and cafeteria, 137 vendors from as north as Madawaska and as far south as Brewer sold a variety of handmade items, including holiday decorations, winter clothing, paintings, customized greeting cards and coffee mugs and woodwork.

But The County’s largest craft fair is about more than just snagging good deals, noted artist and former arts educator Betheny Anderson. The event is Caribou’s way of supporting local artists and crafters and inviting those from across the region to see creativity in action.

Anderson has never missed the craft fair since it began in 1973. Her parents, the late Martha and Asher Chambers, helped launch the first iteration of the event, a display-only showcase at the former Caribou Armory. That event was so popular that the Chambers and other members of the now-defunct Northern Maine Arts Commission created the craft fair that people know today.

The Chambers were well-known in Caribou as businesspeople and local advocates of the arts. At craft fairs, they sold wood-crafted stationary, ornaments, snowshoes and furniture. 

A lifelong drawer, Anderson began selling her hand drawn calendars at age 22 and expanded to hand drawn Aroostook-themed ornaments, coffee mugs, tote bags and t-shirts. In recent years, Anderson has enlisted her son Whitney Smith to help sell products and greet customers.

At each craft fair, Anderson most enjoys visiting other vendors and seeing Aroostook’s creativity on display.

“It’s vital that Caribou supports the arts like this. There are so many artists, carpenters and woodworkers who don’t realize how creative they are,” Anderson said. “Being here awakens creativity, friendships and ideas.”

After a smaller-scale event was held last year at Caribou Wellness & Recreation Center, the craft fair returned to its traditional location at the high school. While 20 of the 137 vendors were new, the rest were returning vendors who have a long history with Caribou’s event.

Set up with side-by-side tables in the gym, Craig Dubay of Connor Township sold wooden bowls, table toppers and ornaments while his wife Cheryl sold greeting cards, quilts and rugs.

After his father Bill Dubay passed away 14 years ago, Craig found numerous wooden bowls that Bill had carved and brought over a dozen to the craft fair, along with his own woodwork. Having been a crafter for 25 years, Dubay was glad to return to Caribou’s fair after the COVID-related hiatus.

“It’s important that people have a place to show off their crafts,” Dubay said.

Community members who attended the craft fair felt the same way. On Saturday morning, the Caribou High School parking lot filled with cars so quickly that event organizers let people inside at 9:30 a.m. instead of at the scheduled 10 a.m. opening.

First-time attendee Diane Crawford of Washburn marveled at the wide selection of crafts she could choose from.

“There’s so much talent here. You never know what you’re going to find,” Crawford said, as she eyed a wooden, red-painted pair of decorative skis.

Near the gym entrance, Dorine Deschane’s Sweater Mittens Galore became a favorite booth among customers. Deschane has been selling handmade mittens and sweaters for six years and has been part of Caribou’s craft fair every year.

“It’s great to see the same people setting up booths every year. You end up being good friends,” Deschane said. “It’s been so good to see them again.”

CARIBOU, Maine — Oct. 15, 2022 — Dorine Deschane of Madawaska arranges a display of handmade mittens during the Caribou Arts & Craft Fair Saturday. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

CARIBOU, Maine — Oct. 15, 2022 — Craig Dubay of Connor Township displayed over a dozen wooden bowls created by his late father, Bill Dubay, during the arts and craft fair in Caribou. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

CARIBOU, Maine — Oct. 15, 2022 — Artist Betheny Anderson and her son Whitney Smith stand in front of Anderson’s handdrawn Aroostook calendar during the Caribou Arts & Craft Fair. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

CARIBOU, Maine — Oct. 15, 2022 — Cheryl Dubay of Connor Township sold handmade quilts and rugs during the Caribou Arts & Craft Fair. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)