BETHEL — Sales were brisk all day Saturday for many vendors showing their artisan wares to a steady stream of people and families at the 26th annual Bethel Art Fair on the town common.

Light rain forecast to arrive sometime during the afternoon held off, despite overcast skies and a light breeze at 75 degrees.

Diane Wheeler of Manchester, basket-weaver and owner of Creative Basketry, said she couldn’t keep up with demand for her free-form art: reed-woven dragonflies.

“They’re selling faster than I can make them,” she said. “Business has been good and steady. I like the atmosphere here.”

Wheeler, who used to camp in the Evans Notch area south of Gilead, has been weaving baskets for more than three decades. While she was still working full time — she was a casework supervisor for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for more than 25 years until retirement — Wheeler said she only made baskets and gifts for Christmas presents.

After retiring, she began her Creative Basketry business, and now teaches basketry classes for the University of Maine and does basket-weaving demonstrations.


“I’m supposed to be retired, but I only do a limited amount of art fairs,” she said. “I took an adult ed basket-weaving course about 30 years ago, and I just fell in love with doing it. If I didn’t do this after retiring, I’d be bored to death.”

She said the crowd “has been steady, and that’s good,” probably because the Fourth was on Saturday instead of in the middle of the week like the past two years she sold her baskets at the fair.

“That made a difference in the number of people,” she said.

The fair is held the first Saturday in July.

Shopper Sandra Plourde of Fort Kent said she loves to return to Bethel, where she once worked for the Art Fair, despite the seven-hour drive, with her husband, Pete Plourde.

“We miss it,” she said. “It is a nice area and this little festival is a must to go to.”


They are tenting out in Errol, N.H.

Shopper Nadia Ross of the country of Sweden said she is visiting with the family of her husband, Jason Ross, in Rumford, and they came to the art fair last year.

“Bethel is a sweet little town,” she said. “And the people here are really friendly.”

T.B. Pots pottery vendor and artisan Eric Bradford of Dresden said the crowd and business have been steady.

“I’ve got no complaints,” he said. “It’s been a good show.”

Nearby, shopper Bonnie Pooley of Bethel was admiring the nature and wildlife photography of Scott Ainsworth of North Monmouth.


“These artists that come here are special,” she said. “They bring high-quality art.”

Adirondack chair artisan Reggie Brown of Bethel also said business was good all morning.

Demand was also high for good ol’ Maine Fourth of July barbecue favorites like hamburgers and red hot dogs, grilled by Bethel firefighters, who brought 500 of each to cook and sell.

Of course, being firefighters, they also had a generator-powered fan blowing barbecue aromas and grilling smoke toward the crowds.

“As people get hungry when they smell it, they come here,” firefighter Randy Autrey said. “See? It’s a marketing strategy. We’re going to keep going until we run out.”

Over at the 11th annual Shy, Novice and Closeted Art Show on High Street, Jake and Kathleen Zagata were showing their entry: a slideshow of their photography of Maine town signs sharing names with foreign cities and countries. 

They travel around in their 1929 Ford roadster, with a V-8 Ford engine, on what Jake calls the “Countries of Maine Tour.” They have been collecting the photos since 2011.

“This show is so much fun,” Kathleen Zagata said. “It’s one of our mainstays for the Fourth of July.”

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