The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 15, 2013

International Fair to start Saturday in Austinburg Township

Star Beacon

AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP — Peruvian carved gourds, Vietnamese woven silk and pop can and metal art from Kenya — these are only a handful of the many unique, colorful and fascinating items to be found at the International Fair at the Austinburg Town Hall.

“It’s our kick-off to Christmas,” says Vicki Lubin, manager of the One World Shop, which supplies much of the International Fair’s merchandise.

The gourds, about the size of a tangerine, are carved to look like owls and other woodland creatures and trimmed with a string for hanging on a Christmas tree. The fashionable scarves come in rich colors and are perfect for holiday gift giving, and the pop can and metal art ranges from purses to toy cars and wire motorcycles.

Gifts like these (and things you’ll buy to keep for yourself) are everywhere and they help the planet by using recycled or natural materials. Their sale will give hope to the third-world artisans who made the items.

As for the origins of the International Fair itself, Rita Linehan of Harpersfield Township has said it goes back more than 20 years, when the Congregational Church sponsored the market of free-traded items. After a decade-long hiatus, the fair was revived in 1999 by her daughter, Molly, who saw first-hand how vital native crafts were to helping residents of Central America improve their lot in life.

The Linehan family turned over the fair to Zonta Club of Ashtabula Area several years ago. The local club hosts and promotes the fair as a service project. The only money they make from the event, from selling refreshments, goes toward the advertising bill.

The fair features items from the One World Shop in Rocky River. The shop is a non-profit store that is committed to fair trade practices. By purchasing the handmade items at a fair trade price, shoppers help improve the working and living conditions for artisans and their communities in more than 35 developing countries around the world.

Doug Baird, volunteer with One World Shop, said the artisans are paid up front when the order is placed, so they do not have to put out their own capital and make goods on speculation. Because the items are handmade, no two are exactly alike.

For example, artisans in India make picture frames from discarded bicycle chains. They also weld bolts, nuts and chain links to create dragons.

Women will find the scarves made from the discarded saris of Indian women of special interest because of the accessory’s unique patterns and history. The cotton sari is the traditional dress of Indian women. Buyers purchase the second-hand saris from women in the Kolkata area of India at a fair rate. The material is hand sewn into lovely scarves.

Nature lovers will find the wool birdhouses made by artisans in Kathmandu, Nepal, a pretty and fanciful way to attract birds. The felt birdhouses are made in a clean, safe production center that meets globally socially compliant workplace standards. Lubin said the bird houses, although made of wool felt, are very durable and naturally resistant to moisture.

Artisans in Nepal also make little felt birds and felt flowers to use for holiday ornaments on Christmas trees or just for hanging in a special place.

Anyone looking for a gift for the computer-savvy, will be pleased to know there are plenty of gifts for them, too. There are photo frames and ornaments made from computer mother boards and computer bags from recycled plastic.

The more one looks around, the more amazed they become at the artisans’ ingenuity — old magazines are transformed into angelic ornaments, capriz shells delicately made into what looks like stained glass window art and alpaca wool spun into accessories.

“Fair trade means hope,” Baird said. “It gives them a paid livable wage.”

In addition to the items provided by One World Shop, the International Fair is providing space to several Fair Trade groups with local connections.

The fair is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 23. It is noon to 5 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 24. The town hall is located at 2794 State Route 307 East.