By MIMI BYRNS
Early Christmas shoppers looking for the perfect handcrafted gifts or keepsakes are getting ready for the 30th annual Christmas in Marion arts and crafts show Saturday.
The show, at Crittenden County Middle School gym, brings together 600 or so visitors every year searching for unique and personalized holiday gifts made by the crafty hands of local vendors and artists. For the third time in a row, the festive atmosphere at this event will be enriched with the booth of C.G. Belt of Marion, who puts his heart into making handcrafted wooden bowls.
He started his hobby nine years ago after he retired. He never thought that his creations would find their place in so many homes, even in Switzerland. Several years ago, at a local quilt show, his works caught the eye of a tourist who took the bowls back to her European home.
"When I first started making my bowls, I honestly did it out of boredom," said Belt. "At the time, I had just retired and was looking for something to do with my free time. I’ve got a small workshop behind my house and started gluing stuff together."
With time, he got a dust collector, planer to remove the rough surfaces from the boards, a table saw and a lot of equipment.
"It takes it all," he said. "I even had one bowl explode on me and hit me in the chest while making it. But this didn't discourage me. I kept on going."
For each of his creations, he uses several different pieces of wood, but they blend together so well, a person can hardly tell.
"The secret to that is the planer," he explains. "What I like the most about this hobby is that when I start a bowl, I don't know how it is going to turn out until it is finished. I can't make two alike, even if I tried. It takes me two days to make one bowl because I have to let the glue set in."
Belt said his bowls are suitable for keeping everything except perishables.
He is thrilled with the support he gets from his friends and family and that gives him the energy to continue the creative process and to experiment with different materials. And not all of his materials are local. Some of them, like camphor wood, is supplied to him from Florida.
"It is a hard material to work with, and it makes my eyes and nose water," Belt said with a smile.
He also uses pine to make solid blocks that later on he turns into beautiful decorative bowls.
Belt is impressed with the creative potential of Christmas in Marion as well as the works of the other crafters. The show will be open to the public with free admission from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Last year, among the handmade items were jewelry, birdhouses, candles, baskets, decorations, wood items and homemade food. The creative artists like Belt have all their ducks in a row for the upcoming event and have been preparing their products since the last Christmas in Marion in order to satisfy the tastes of those who value quality and unique items perfect for the gift-giving spirit of the season.
As with the last six years, The Shoppe Next Door will be set up next to Christmas in Marion in the multi-purpose room. The Shoppe features dealer representatives, home businesses and organizations.
Dealer reps include Avon, Mary Kay, Thirty-One, Pampered Chef, Tupperware, LulaRoe, Lipsense, Young Living Essential Oils, Limelight by Alcone, MojiLife, Tastefully Simple, It Works and Watkins. Other home businesses include Haleigh-Claire’s Cupcakery, Ranch Dressing Designs, Juanita Crouch, Pokerneys Kettle Korn, Elizabeth Mast and The 3 Girls from Southern Illinois. Organizations include the Mary Hall-Ruddiman Canine Shelter, The Woman’s Club of Marion, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 217 and Caldwell Springs Volunteer Fire Department. A Crafter’s Café is also available for lunch or a snack.
With so much to choose from the 70-plus booths, shoppers are sure to mark off most of their Christmas lists at the shows and can spend the holidays enjoying their family and friends without having to worry about long lines and crowded parking lots.