The Homer High School Commons buzzed like a holiday-themed beehive during the Nutcracker Faire sponsored by the Homer Council for the Arts on Dec. 3-4.
Craftspeople and a variety of other vendors packed booths into the Commons and the gymnasium at the high school, maximizing shoppers’ opportunities for finding locally made holiday goods.
The Nutcracker Faire morphed out of the Renaissance fair that the HCOA ran alongside the Nutcracker Ballet, said Nutcracker Faire organizer Cindy Nelson. After the Nutcracker Ballet production left its incubator, HCOA continued to sponsor an accompanying holiday fair. Nelson estimates the Nutcracker Faire began in the early 1990s. In 2016, more than 100 volunteers helped support the fair, doing everything from assisting vendors with setting up booths to ensuring that the products sold at the fair are 100 percent produced on the Kenai Peninsula.
To keep dedicated shoppers from dropping while on their holiday missions, local restaurants and individual food vendors manned booths with beverages, and sweet and savory refreshments. Recently opened coffee shop Latitude 59 and its sister-restaurant Little Mermaid served up pulled pork sandwiches and seafood rolls.
The Christmas shopping extravaganza this year featured a wide variety of locally made gifts and treats, including artwork, jewelry, toys, artisanal foods, musical instruments, pottery, and books.
A whale of a time
Abigail Kokai came to Homer as an artist-in-residence about a year and a half ago and, after another residency fell through, she took a job offer to run a shop on the Spit and has stayed put. A little over a year ago, she started a Kickstarter campaign to cover the cost of starting a business making stuffed denim whale toys, which has taken off quickly in and outside of Homer as Homer Whales.
“I didn’t want to start a business, but it happened,” Kokai said.
It started with an idea for an interactive whale sculpture that would spray water and other fun functions, which Kokai scrapped without the available resources to complete it. Then followed a pair of second-hand jeans that she turned into two stuffed whales and placed for sale at the shop on the Spit she worked in. Then someone donated a whole box of old denim to her and it spiraled from there.
“It’s a full-time job,” Kokai said. “I make whales now.”
Seven stores in Homer and a total of 25 across the state of Alaska sell Kokai’s stuffed denim whales, which come in a wide variety of textures, colors, sizes and types of whale. Kokai offers newborn whales, small and medium fin whales, small beluga whales, small and medium orca whales, giant whales, and even has Homer Whale magnets.
Though Homer Whales is a business Kokai never intended to start in a town she only intended to reside in temporarily, she feels she is part of the ranks of people who come to Homer and happen upon home. She is especially grateful for the community she has found.
“There is a sense of community that I’ve never experienced anywhere else,” Kokai said. “This place has been very generous to me and I appreciate that.”
Knock on wood
Paul Pellegrini returned to Homer on Friday, Dec. 2 just in time to set up his Nutcracker Faire booth after fighting a wildfire in North Carolina as a State of Alaska Wildland firefighter.
Pellegrini also volunteers with Homer’s fire department and helps people remove hazard trees from around their home, which prevents home-loss in case of a wildfire, through a grant-funded forestry stewardship program. Additionally, he has worked as a general contractor to build homes in the Homer area. In one form or another, Pellegrini’s life often involves trees and wood they are comprised of.
In his booth at the Nutcracker Fair, multicolored cutting boards in deep hues of yellows, browns and reds lined the walls and bedecked a folding table. On the right-hand side of the booth, a wooden table with flowing, wavy lines also made by Pellegrini showed itself off to passing patrons. Some cutting boards had long handles. Others stood thick and heavy, while some were small enough to fit the measliest amount of counter space. Each board is made of several pieces of wood from all around the world that Pellegrini seamlessly connects to create a sturdy chopping block for both home and restaurant cooks.
“I choose the wood for color, but also density. It has to be dense to be a good cutting board,” Pellegrini said.
He also brands his boards with a Homer Woods logo.
“I had it special made. It’s like branding an animal,” Pellegrini said. “You have to rock (the branding iron) back and forth and take it off before it gets too hot and charred.”
Pellegrini started making cutting boards part-time when he came to Homer 25 years ago. At first he only attended the Nutcracker Faire and sold about 20 boards each year. Now he attends about five craft shows and sells around 120 boards each year. As Homer Woods expanded, so did the quality of Pellegrini’s tools and, therefore, his work. He started working on days when the weather behaved with tools from his garage on a table set up outside, he said. He has since built a workshop and more professional tools, which help him produce a more professional product. Each board has a lifetime guarantee, and every board is unique — perfect for those who seek out one-of-a-kind items.
Playtime at the Faire
Susannah Webster had a burning desire to make 150 pounds of playdough for the Nutcracker Faire this year.
“That’s what I told my husband,” she said.
Webster, owner of Smallpond Childcare, thought it would be nice to have a place for kids to play at the Nutcracker Faire, which often gets hectic and noisy during its busiest times.
“The Faire can be overwhelming, so I decided to make a quiet, safe spot for kids to engage in some sensory therapy,” Webster said.
On a child-size table, Webster laid out a variety of colors of homemade playdough, which she makes from a recipe similar to salt dough and uses high-grade food colorings to create good quality colors that will catch kids’ eyes. Across the from the table where children kneaded and sculpted the dough, Webster also had stacks of playdough, sensory boxes with colored rice and toys for children to engage with, and flubber — a squishy concoction of white glue and borax — to sell.
“I figured if I was going to have a table I might as well sell it,” Webster said.
Webster said she isn’t likely to repeat her playdough-filled appearance at the Faire next year, however. This is also the last year that she will do Smallpond Childcare, as her own children are growing older. The leftover playdough will likely go back to the kids at her childcare center, or be donated to a shelter for kids to use there, she said.
Anna Frost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.