Gourd art and so much more will be on display at the 49th Annual Harvest Festival® Original Art and Craft Show, coming to the Ventura County Fairgrounds Oct. 1-3. Pictured: Decorative gourds by Camarillo artist Patricia Lelie

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Ceramics and keepsakes, blown glass and body care products, holiday decor and handmade jewelry. All this and more will be available at the 49th Annual Harvest Festival® Original Art and Craft Show, back for 2021 (after getting canceled last year) and taking place at the Ventura County Fairgrounds Oct. 1-3. It’s one of the county’s largest artisan marketplaces, with dozens of artists and crafters from across the United States setting up shop to offer their handmade, one-of-a-kind wares. Tickets run $4 to $9, can be purchased at the door or online, and are good for the entire weekend (be sure to get a hand stamp if you plan to return). Children 12 and under are free.

For many of us, the term “arts and crafts” brings up images of wood carvings, quilts, knit tea cozies and decor with rustic flair. Those kinds of things will certainly be on display at the fairgrounds this weekend. But if your tastes lean more towards the modern or eclectic, not to worry! More than 24,000 original items will be for sale, and the selection is diverse. There will be something for everyone.

Makers from across the nation are drawn to this family-owned and -operated festival, which makes stops in locations as far north as Sacramento, as far south as Del Mar in San Diego County and even out to Las Vegas. While it’s in our neck of the woods, however, it will also be a showcase for several Ventura County creators.

Glorious gourds

On the more harvest-y end of the spectrum is gourd artist Patricia Lelie of Camarillo, who’s been into the medium for nearly 20 years. 

“In 2002 I was at a high-end craft fair in Santa Monica,” she recalls.

She saw a large, beautiful pot that she loved on sight — and was shocked to discover that “it was so light!”

It was an expensive piece, but she couldn’t resist. She’s been hooked ever since.

In 2008, Lelie saw an ad in the paper for a local gourd club, and decided to sign up. “I’ve always had an artistic side.”

“Caribbean Sunset” by gourd artist Patricia Lelie. Photo submitted

Gourds-as-canvas really sparked her creativity, and after taking a number of classes and reading up on the art (she still references The Complete Book of Gourd Carving, by Jim Widess and Ginger Summit) she started teaching the classes herself. She has even sold several pieces through an arts organization, and today Patricia Lelie originals can be found throughout the United States and even in France.

She used to source her gourds from a farm in Arizona. After she put in a backyard garden, she found that gourds started sprouting from the seeds removed during the carving process. “Gourds went everywhere!”

So she’s had a lot of raw material to play with, and has done some amazing things: gourds intricately carved with geometric shapes, painted with colorful scenes, decorated with interesting embellishments. No two are alike, and most are vastly different from each other. 

“It’s just whatever strikes me in the moment,” says Lelie. “I’d see something in a magazine and say, ‘oh, I can do that on a gourd!’”

At the moment, she says, “I have gourds coming out of my ears.” So she decided to get really literal with that experience by turning broken pieces of gourd into earrings. She’s found them to be surprisingly suitable as jewelry.

“Gourds shatter in really interesting pieces,” she explains. “[The earrings] are comfortable, extremely light and very easy to wear.”

“It’s just been so much fun, smashing up gourds!”

California Cool

Something that might appeal to the more modern eye at this year’s festival will be sportswear from California Cut. Super-soft t-shirts and hoodies, groovy hats, even some cool totes . . . if you want to lean into the comfortable, casual, beachy SoCal vibe, this is the booth for you.

Clark and Shonna Song of California Cut, with their manual screen printing press. Photo submitted

“We’re going for the California coastal lifestyle,” confirms Clark Song, who runs California Cut with wife Shonna.

The Songs seek out the highest quality, softest material for their apparel. But it’s the unique designs made by Song himself that really set these products apart. Mermaids, waves, ocean life, surfboards . . . all with a vintage or Art Nouveau feel, and all paying homage to Ventura County.

“I draw quite a bit of inspiration from the ocean environment here,” notes Song, who lives in the Pierpont neighborhood of Ventura. “I think of my designs as love letters to this beautiful town.”

Song’s background is in animation and visual effects, and he’s worked on numerous movies and video games. His long and impressive resume includes The Matrix Reloaded and Men in Black 3, and animated features such as Kung Fu Panda and Shrek the Third.

“Being in the movie industry can be fun,” Song says, “but as an artist, you have limited autonomy to make your own creative vision.”

He and Shonna moved to Ventura in 2013, and started California Cut to support the family (including two kids, 11 and 7) both financially and creatively. It’s a two-person operation, with Song handling the creative and production end. The designs are all his, and he does all the screen printing as well, using a manual press.

“It’s all done in a very old-school way,” he says. 

California Cut has tried to be community focused in more than just the designs. The Songs happily printed t-shirts with a special #VenturaStrong design for a fundraiser following the Thomas Fire.

“We helped raise a few thousand dollars for the city,” Song notes proudly.

In addition, he channeled his own anxiety over COVID-19 into creating personal protective equipment.

“During the pandemic, when the state first shut down completely, I just did a deep dive into how to make an effective face mask.” The Songs acquired sheets of polypropylene, the same material used in N95 masks, to create something similar. They gave away more than half of the masks they made.

“It was very therapeutic,” he says. “It helped me cope with the stress of the pandemic.”

He’s also got a fun vaccination-centric design to show off at this year’s Harvest Festival — one of his favorite venues to sell his apparel.

“This will be our third time attending; we absolutely love it!” Song says. “It’s a very collegiate environment. The vendors have a lot of respect for one another; it’s friendly. And the customers seem genuinely interested.” 

More than just a store

Shopping handmade items is of course the major highlight, but the Harvest Festival promises more than just vendors.

Concessionaires will offer a variety of refreshments to enjoy onsite, while specialty food purveyors will have edible goodies (jams, salsas, honey products and more) you can purchase for gifts or consume at home. Several makers will hold demonstrations, and strolling entertainers will keep audiences entertained. There will be an area just for kids, and contests taking place throughout the weekend.

If you want to save a little money and support a good cause, bring a canned good for donation. Project Understanding, which offers food, housing and tutoring help to those in need, will get the donated items; the donor will save $2 off the price of admission. 

It should be a solid three days of good, clean, family-friendly fun. Find handmade specialties, chat with artists, and spend your money on creative entrepreneurs rather than big-box retailers — a bountiful harvest, indeed!

The Harvest Festival® Original Art and Craft Show takes place Oct. 1-3 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. For hours, tickets and more information, visit harvestfestival.com/ventura.