The "Hard Candy Christmas" show is the longest running of the two events. Doris Hunter, Macon County, North Carolina native and artist, promotes both shows. Doris says :"The Mountain Artisans Arts & Crafts Show started in 1987 with a dream and only 8 exhibitors, including "myself". The Mountain Artisans name did not come into reality until many years later.
The "Hard Candy Christmas" had small beginnings like all dreams. Doris envisioned a Christmas show in Franklin, North Carolina that would feature the area's best artisans. When she mentioned her idea, not many of her artists friend were enthused. They said: ”when the last leaf falls, no one is here to buy arts and crafts and the locals will not support such an event".
Undaunted, Doris convinced a few of her pals to go along with her and "put on" a local holiday arts & crafts show.
The Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving was picked as it is the biggest shopping day of the year. The first show was held in the small Slagle Memorial Building in Franklin. The rock building had a big fireplace so we called the show “The Fireside Art & Craft Show. The exhibitors were Doris Hunter (Pinecone birds), Michael Rogers (Watercolors), Gail And Roger Marsengill (Country craft), Linda McKay (Victorian craft & bears), Cynthia Star Lightfoot (Granny dolls), Rod Eirwood (Jewelry), Norma Deeks (Cowee Creek Pottery ). The eighth exhibitor no one remembers."
Doris and her friends had no experience promoting a craft show, but the first show was a huge success. “We stuck a few homemade signs on the road and two ads in the local paper and the customers just poured in!”
The second November, the show moved uptown to the old Callahan Building on Main Street in Franklin. There were 18 exhibitors. The town was packed with shoppers coming to the show. The downtown merchants wanted us to come back but the Callahan building had just sold and the show would have to find another home. This show was off to bigger things.
The third November, the little show moved into the gym at the Macon County Community Building. There were 23 exhibitors and everyone had to spread out to look as if we had a lot of merchandise. We were amazed at the crowds that came to the shows. Over the years, they never stopped coming! Year after year people looked forward to shopping for quality gifts and decorations for their homes.
The fourth November, the other artists decided they did not like giving up Thanksgiving afternoon to set up a show and the group disbanded. Not willing to let her dream die, Doris stepped into the role as promoter. " I changed the name to the “Hard Candy Christmas" and charged a dollar for admission". It was a bold move, but I never looked back ".
Many people have asked me about the "Hard Candy Christmas " name. "It is because of my mountain heritage" she says. "I am the youngest of eight children of a family that spans five generations. Christmas was always celebrated in a big way. No matter what the circumstances ,we always had apples, oranges and of course, hard candy! Mountain children were given gifts hand made with love, too".
"I did not know it then, but a mountain tradition was born that was destined to become the largest Christmas art and craft show in the western part of the State. The "Hard Candy Christmas" became a great getaway for houseguests after the Thanksgiving turkey dinner".
For the next fifteen years the show flourished in the Macon County Community Building in Franklin. Doris tells what effort went into making the show special.
"It took a lot of work to give that old building the Christmas spirit each year. I cut long carpet rolls in half , painted them white and rolled them with red ribbon to carry out the candy theme. I brought in fresh greens and a crock pot with spices so the building would smell good. In spite of my best efforts, it was not where I wanted my show to be The rooms were all separated and I wanted my exhibitors to be in one room with good lighting and surround music." Little did she know that her hard work would pay off big time, a little later down the road.
While the 'Hard Candy Christmas is the oldest show, Doris had plans of another event to serve the many summer customers who missed the November show. The "Christmas in July ' was born in the summer of 1989 also in the the Macon County Community Building. borrowed the World's Largest Quilt from Maco Crafts (a local craft co-op where she was a member ) to hang on the long wall for interest. The quilt special to Doris as she has a square in the big quilt. " My square's design was called "Aunt Lizer's Star". It had 14 corners and took me two weeks to sew. My hat is off to the quilters among us "
The "Christmas in July" continued many years thereafter as visitors bought early Christmas gifts at the show and the reputation for being a quality show grew.
The July show, also, had many growing pains during the years in Macon County.
Several times if was held outside and encountered the common summertime thunderstorm complete with wind rain and hail. When it moved inside , the gymnasium had no air conditioning and was a "sweat box". " I was two sizes smaller after that show "Doris smiles" .The name was changed to the "Summertime" show after moving to Cullowhee.
After 15 years in Macon County , my dream of a big room with all my exhibitors in it was about to come true !
In 2005,with support from the Jackson County Chamber , the door opened for me to bring both shows to the upscale Listen B. Ramsey Center on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee N.C. The arena area has 18,000 square feet of wide aisles, easy access and ample parking. The surround lighting and music make it easy for artists and shoppers alike to enjoy the show. It is air conditioned in the summer and heated in the fall. It is uptown accommodations in a small town charm. More than all that, there was room to grow the show." The build sets up pipe and drapes for us and each artist has a name board. It is 'first class' all the way. Many artists will come to Cullowhee who would never come to Franklin!
"The Mountain Artisans Arts & Crafts Shows is the crown of my life's work. I am very proud of each exhibitor in the show. Some of the most talented artists in the Western North Carolina area exhibit with me. Lots of them, I met at shows where I was exhibiting. Others, have been found by visiting shows throughout the region. I am always looking for unique artisans. Many customers return to each show and say it is the best quality artisans show they have ever seen .
Looking back today, I see if I had not pressed on through the hard times in Macon County, I would not be in Cullowhee today. I had to be faithful no matter what, in order to win the blessing I am enjoying today.
I was always destined to end up in the Ramsey Center when I was struggling with the trials back in Macon County. What a great reward!