Visual Arts » Crafts

Winner by a Nose

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You'll find a fair number of unusual items at the 36th annual Brownsburg Festival of the Arts coming up Saturday, maybe none stranger (or more adorable) than Brenda Kessler's dog noseprints.

Her first test subjects were her own pets -- her cat and dog. She says it took time to perfect the process, but now it's a hit. Kessler sells kits for pet owners to make the molds themselves, which are then sent to Kessler to be made into casts and be put on necklaces.

"There was a lot of trial and error before I did that product, as you can imagine," Kessler explains. "You have to figure out something safe to take the noseprint -- when you think about your dog, it puts its nose a lot of places that probably aren't very safe. I tested it on my dog and my cat. It took a few tries, but I've done well over 100 noseprints."

Kessler's noseprint jewelry lets pet owners join in the creation process, as they make molds of their canine and feline companions.  - BRENDA KESSLER
  • Brenda Kessler
  • Kessler's noseprint jewelry lets pet owners join in the creation process, as they make molds of their canine and feline companions.

She isn't stopping with cats and dogs. "I've stretched into rabbits and goats now. You can call me your pet nose person," Kessler says.

Elsewhere at the festival -- this coming Saturday, July 19 at Arbuckle Acres in Brownsburg -- you'll find about 130 vendors selling an eclectic variety of artistic items, from paintings to jewelry to wood carvings.

While the festival has grown since its inception in 1978, festival coordinator Melanie Myers said the genuine nature of the products remains the same. "Other than growing, it has remained fine arts and craft," Myers says. "We require everything be handmade, so we don't accept any flea market or mass produced items. It's all handcrafted."

The festival began in a small building in Brownsburg, but quickly outgrew the venue as vendors and participants flocked to the site. The Brownsburg Chamber of Commerce took over the event in 2002, and it has continued to grow. Myers says 3,000 people visit the one-day festival each year.

Myers says she sees many repeat vendors. She estimates that 75 to 80 percent of them are returning from last year. Part of the reason for their return is that a major emphasis is placed on making the event enjoyable not only for the visitors, but for the vendors as well.

"There aren't a lot of shows through the summer months, and we have maintained the third Saturday of July for 36 years," Myers says. "We have a nice-sized crowd, and folks enjoy coming. Doing what they do is hard work. The ones that do it as a primary business, they spend all week long getting ready for a show." She says the chamber of commerce works well with them and tries to make setup as easy as possible.

Kessler notices the extra effort put forth to ensure a successful day. "They're very well prepared for the artists. They've done it before and it shows," she says.  "That always makes it so much easier on the artist. There are some shows I show up on where they don't even have the artists mapped out. At Brownsburg, it is very organized. It is truly a pleasure to be there."

Kessler, who lives just outside Brownsburg, enjoys making connections with the local community through her artwork. "It's what we consider a home show," Kessler says. "It's the show I do closest to my home. It is important for me to build those relationships, and get out and meet the people, a lot of my neighbors."

In addition to noseprints, Kessler makes handmade jewelry. She aims for simplicity and practicality in her design rather than extravagance. "I try to make my jewelry something women are going to want to wear every day. It's not fancy, but it's something they're going to feel comfortable wearing."

Visitors to Arbuckle Acres park can browse the booths of about 130 different vendors at the Brownsburg Festival of the Arts this coming Saturday. - MELANIE MYERS
  • Melanie Myers
  • Visitors to Arbuckle Acres park can browse the booths of about 130 different vendors at the Brownsburg Festival of the Arts this coming Saturday.

Another jewelry-maker at the festival will be The Handmade Society, owned and operated by Jamie Locke and her wife Martine. Their booth will feature wood carvings, T-shirt printings and leather cuffs, as well as jewelry.

"We almost have a whole store going on," Locke says with a laugh.

Martine is also a singer/songwriter. She and Jamie perform together at festivals and have produced six albums. The diverse nature of the business proves to be chaotic at times, but the duo combine efforts to make it work.

"It's a balancing act," Jamie says. "For instance right now, I'm busy with the mandala work, the carving work, which leaves [Martine] to work on the cuffs and get the T-shirt orders ready. At festivals the only difficulty we run into is when we go on stage to play and we have nobody to cover our booth. But other than that, it's a pretty well-run machine, because there's two of us."

Locke made her first mandala for her own home; friends encouraged her to make more after she shared it on Facebook. - JAMIE LOCKE
  • Jamie Locke
  • Locke made her first mandala for her own home; friends encouraged her to make more after she shared it on Facebook.

While the couple will not be performing at the Festival of the Arts this summer, their artwork will be available for sale. One of the main facets of their business is wood carving, a talent Jamie stumbled upon in the midst of a household project.

"Last December, we had completed our new house and there was a large wall that needed some kind of artwork on it," Locke said. "I had a 4x4 piece of birch that needed some kind of artwork on it. I carved a big mandala [a Hindu or Buddhist circular graphic design representing the wholeness of one's personality] on it, and shared it with my friends on Facebook. And everybody went nuts about it. They wanted one, and ever since then it's been nonstop."

Locke estimates that she and her partner sell products at about 30 shows annually, and she is booked in galleries until January.

Though her company is based in Indianapolis, Locke said she enjoys doing local festivals because she can interact with her customers on a more personal basis.

"We love doing local festivals," she says. "It allows us to get a good base here for customers, it allows us to see customers and make friends and network."

In the midst of the frenzy that consumes Arbuckle Acres in mid July as thousands converge to buy and sell, Kessler knows it will be the people she interacts with that will make the preparation and effort worth it.

"That is truly the best part of the shows -- the people. I've met so many delightful people."

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