Sugarloaf Crafts Festival is sweet spot for area artists

For the past four years, artist Patrick Reid O'Brien has hammered together his display at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival like a carpenter.

He starts by attaching pieces of old shutters together. Over the next three hours, he places the art. Then come the finishing touches: faux hardwood floors and Oriental-style rugs. By the time he's finished — the setup takes about 12 hours — O'Brien will have turned a small section of the Maryland State Fairgrounds into a vintage beach cottage.

"It literally takes two seconds for someone to decide if they want to come see my work," O'Brien said. "I make sure it is perfect, sometimes I add gift bows, whatever it takes to catch the customer's eye."

This weekend, some 250 artists like O'Brien will be featuring their work at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival, which comes to the fairgrounds in Timonium. It's a juried festival, which means the applicants are screened by festival president Deann Verdier. Applicants submit four photos of their work and one of their displays. Then, applicants are separated into categories, and Verdier looks at every application herself.

"I use to hire people to help review applications, and they would have a specialty," Verdier said, "but then I found they would choose their friends. ... I want to offer a professional show."

O'Brien is a nationally recognized artist who's won several awards, including first place in the Hampton Classic International Poster Competition. He's designed the cover of the U.S. Capitol Historical Calendar, and has been featured in Southern Living Magazine, among others.

Baltimore neighborhoods such as Hampden, Canton, Fells Point and the Inner Harbor appear in his work; this weekend he'll debut a piece that features the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse and the Museum of Public Works, titled "Charm City."

O'Brien, who lives in Towson, worked in advertising for 15 years before deciding to become a professional artist.

"It was gut-wrenching at the time, but it was the best decision I ever made," he said. "It was stressful to pull the trigger and do it, but once I did, it was great."

He's not the only artist inspired by landscapes from the city. This is the first Sugarloaf Craft Festival for Charles Barton, who focuses on architecture from around the region.

"I want to make art that is accessible to people," said Barton, a Baltimore native who lives in Hampden.

Verdier and her husband, George, founded the festival in 1976, and it has since spread to five locations, with spring and fall shows. More than 30,000 attended last fall's festival at the fairgrounds.

Cat Holt was inspired to become an artist after visiting the Rockville show as a child.

"It's come full circle, to now be an artist there," said Holt, who lives in Overly and works with ceramics. She's been selling her works at Sugarloaf Craft Festival for four years. She participates in all of the Sugarloaf Craft Festivals in the region.

Doris Fader has attending the festival for years, and hasn't missed a show here. She now has a game plan for when she goes to the show.

"I do a quick sweep of the show, and then go back to pick up my favorites," said Fader. "I don't miss anything."

What keeps her going back? There's a little bit of everything at the festival.

"I buy birthday gifts, anniversary gifts, wedding gifts, gifts for my grandkids, and something for me always," Fader said. "My husband will go with me, he likes the show, and that is unusual. They really do have something for everyone."

The festival has gourmet foods, wall art, pottery, performance art, jewelry, clothing, and entertainment for kids.

"It wouldn't be a festival with out festivities," Verdier said. "Sometimes you look at these people and you can't imagine how they make these beautiful items, but then you see them make it and sometimes it is just incredible."

Seeing the art being made is just part of why Verdier loves her job. She also feels as if the artists are her extended family.

"I've got the best job," said Verdier. "I help people make a living doing what they love."

Both of Barton's parents were architects, and much of his art features Baltimore structures. "Using places people recognize, and evokes emotion," he said.

Meet the artists

Here are three local craftspeople who will be at this weekend's festival:

Lucile Martin

Specialty: Fine Jewelry

Lives in: Reistertown

Martin began going to the festival to expand her jewelry business; this will be her fifth time at Sugarloaf. Why jewelry? "I've always been mesmerized by smallness," Martin said. "So jewelry just seemed natural."

Charlie Barton

Specialty: Screen prints

Lives in: Hampden

Cat Holt

Specialty: Ceramics

Lives in: Overly

Holt makes ceramic monsters that all have a function, from mugs to string holders. Many of her pieces stare back at you. "I make things with eyes," she said.

If you go

The Sugarloaf Craft Festival is 10 a.m.-6 p.m. April 26-27 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 28 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Road in Timonium. Admission is $8 when purchased online in advance and $10 at the door. Children younger than 12 are admitted free. Parking is also free. For more information, call 800-210-9900 or go to

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