GARDINER — The influx of local craft fairs — and the recent chill in the air — signals the impending holiday season.

Peddlers set up shop Saturday at Laura E. Richards School in Gardiner and the Augusta Armory to sell the usual high-quality, locally made items: pot holders, crocheted blankets and jewelry. However, some vendors strayed from the norms, offering unique items like cement-covered stuffed animals meant for use as garden decor and many others.

Karen Stackpole, of West Gardiner, calls her items the “Garden Misfits.” Some of the misfits may look familiar, like a Beanie Baby you had as a child, but covered in a monochromatic coat of grey. A number of different animals were available Saturday, including beavers, teddy bears, frogs and rabbits.

“They’re not perfect,” Stackpole said of her troupe of cement-dipped animals. “They’re the little misfits.”

Karen Stackpole’s craft fair booth shows a picture of how her “Garden Misfits” are made. Stackpole was selling her creations Saturday at the Laura E. Richards School in Gardiner.

Stackpole said she is given stuffed animals or purchases them at thrift stores. She then coats the animals in cement four times, sometimes fluffing the fuzz to give added texture.

While Stackpole was discussing her creations with the Kennebec Journal, a customer gawked at one of the misfits and asked, “What are these made out of?” She said she hears that question a lot and people often marvel at how light they are compared to how heavy the cement animals look.

Stackpole said she saw the idea for the Garden Misfits online three years ago, but started selling them at craft fairs two years ago. She said her production ramps up around the holiday season to coincide with the three craft fairs she attends. Depending on the size, the misfits cost $5 to $15.

Over in Augusta, former Cirque du Soleil performer Wayne Hankin drummed up business by playing a Jubo, a simple plastic flute he spent the last four years developing. Described by Hankin as “an ocarina on steroids,” the Jubo is a small circular disc, about three inches wide and half an inch tall, and has five holes on top.

The sound of the $15 to $20 instrument is similar to the aforementioned ocarina, but Hankin said the design was meant to be more consistent than the ocarina, which is normally made from clay or wood. He said clay can shrink during the drying process and change the pitch of the instrument and making them from wood is too expensive to be widely accessible.

Hankin, who said he played more than 35 instruments during a single show for Cirque du Soleil, designed the Jubo to be easy to learn. His stall at the craft fair offered packages for teachers, who could teach students how to play the Jubo instead of the recorder, which is standard practice in some schools. He said the Jubo is easier to learn than a recorder, which requires only four fingers while the recorder uses both hands. He said children as young as five could play the Jubo and adults could be playing the Jubo comfortably after only five minutes of instruction.

Wayne Harkin, creator of the Jubo flute, pitches his product to customers Saturday at the Augusta Armory Arts & Craft Fair.

Hankin said he hoped the Jubo makes music more accessible to more people, harkening back to a time when people would gather around a piano for entertainment. He said the Jubo’s simple design is scaling back “complex” instruments.

“People were their own human entertainment systems,” he said. “(I want) to turn our nation back into a country of music makers.”

Hankin’s history as a performer was evident. He sported a lab coat and gave an entertaining sales pitch to customers as “Dr. Jubo,” a character he said he created to make the Jubo seem more accessible. Hankin, a Newport, Vermont, native, also did a Bernie Sanders impression that brought a laugh from listeners. This is his first year on the craft fair circuit, he said, and business is going “very well.”

Won over by Hankin’s pitch was June Lewis, of Poland, who bought four Jubos for her four grandchildren. She said the instrument’s simple design and easy-to-follow instructions will make it a hit with her grandchildren.

“I like to encourage them to experiment with musical instruments,” she said. “This seems like half toy, half musical instrument so they’ll be intrigued with it.”

Lewis said she goes to craft fairs as often as she can, which is usually around the holiday season. She said she does about a third of her holiday shopping at craft fairs. She said she is willing to pay a little more money for local goods to keep the money within the community.

“I like to support local businesses and craftspeople … around the holiday season,” she said. “I like to support local farmers and local markets as much as I can (outside of the holiday season).”

 

 

 

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