Holiday craft fairs are like real life Etsy — and benefit local artists

Photo by Frankie Schneckloth

The winter holidays are upon us, and for many, that means holiday shopping — and the question of whether to go to the big box stores, or make a conscious effort to spend our money more locally. When we choose to shop small and local, we keep more of our money in the community, which encourages more business, more artists and more jobs. Small businesses and local artists depend on the holiday season, just like the big boxes do. We are blessed in Eastern Iowa to have a variety of options for shopping small and local, giving our shopping dollars to people we know in the community and supporting events that showcase local artisans. Here are some of the many options for local holiday shopping.

Holiday Thieves’ Market

The annual Holiday Thieves’ Market, sponsored by the University of Iowa’s Fine Arts Council, runs Dec. 2, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free. This event, which has been happening in Iowa City since the 1970s, is held in the UI’s Iowa Memorial Union ballroom and is a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season.

“We have about 125 vendors in varying mediums for the holiday show,” director Annalise Castro said in an email, “the majority of them being from the Midwest.”

There are new and exciting changes to the market this year, including being part of a larger event called Holidays at the IMU, which Castro said was “curated to be the ultimate holiday weekend.” Holidays at the IMU includes Cocoa and Carols, brought to you by the Old Gold Accapella Choir; children’s art activities, sponsored by the Campus Activities Board; and a Festival of Wreaths and silent auction to benefit UI Dance Marathon.

“This is a great opportunity to shop for everyone on your holiday list while supporting local artists,” Castro said. “If your intention is to grow your art collection, this is a great show to discover artists.”

There will be everything from jewelry to printmaking, paintings and fiber arts. The market also features craft beer and wine tasting, highlighting local breweries and wineries.

Old World Christmas Market

If you’re looking for some European-style holiday fun, visit the National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids for the Old World Christmas Market. The museum is hosting this annual event for the eighth time, and it is sure to bring old world charm to your holiday preparations. This event also runs the weekend of Dec. 2, and features European-style holiday crafts, food, music and dance. Admission to the museum is free during this event, so if you haven’t yet been to see this piece of Iowa history, this is the perfect opportunity.

As with the Thieves’ Market, the Old World Christmas Market will have a number of local artists on hand for holiday gift shopping. One of those artists is Holly Moore, who crafts birdhouses with Czech themes out of red cedar. Moore, a three year veteran of the market, is bringing back her popular birdhouses this year. They feature Czech textile motifs, inspired by textiles displayed at the museum. She also has a “Faux Masters” line of birdhouses, which feature her own reproductions of fine art paintings.

“I love this market,” Moore said in an email. She said she really enjoys seeing familiar faces as well as new customers. “My birdhouses have been very well received there, and some folks come back year after year, and then buy from me other times in the year … I get a good bit of my own holiday shopping done from the other wonderful vendors.”

This event, Moore said, is really well attended and great for families. The market runs Saturday, Dec. 2, 10-5 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 3, 10-3 p.m. Admission is free.

The market is also part of the larger Deck the District event in Cedar Rapids, which includes holiday vendors at the NewBo Market, holiday themed light displays, horse-drawn carriage rides and the Very Cherry Holiday Art Sale at the historic Cherry Building (329 10th Ave SE) from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2. The art sale will feature art from the Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio, as well as craft opportunities for kids.

Prelude to Christmas

If you’re looking for still more ways to shop local, the Amana Colonies turns it up a notch for the winter holidays with it’s Prelude to Christmas. The shops in Amana feature locally made handicrafts, art, woolen textiles, wine, foodstuffs and many other holiday delights to sample and share with friends and family. Events begin Thanksgiving weekend and run through Dec. 17.


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Prelude Weekend coincides with the other area markets. Running Dec. 1-3, it features a tree lighting Friday night at 6 p.m. as well as visits from Santa all weekend. The following weekend is Children’s Weekend, with fun activities for kids in many Amana area businesses, ranging from face painting and scavenger hunts to decorating cookies and making holiday crafts. The Tannenbaum Forest, another feature of the festival, will include over 40 trees decorated by local artists. The shops in Amana will be festively decorated and open for your holiday needs.

Darcie Hutzell is a longtime resident of Iowa City, a lifetime lover of books, a music enthusiast, a french fry aficionado and a mom to an amazing kid. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 232.

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