50 Years of Community and Creativity:
The Lebanon Art & Crafts Association
In the 1970s, two out of three Americans were participating in arts and crafts from macrame to woodworking to jewelry making. And many more wanted to get involved in hand craftsmanship. Craft supply shops were opening, new books were released, and craft magazines were thriving.
It was no different in the Upper Valley. Many local residents were crafting a living, either part time for full time, in the 1970s.
Seven local residents — Alden (painter) and Mary Burt, Neil and Isabelle Barden (pottery and ceramics), Guy and Ruth Bagley (painters), and Violet Wheeler (rug hooking) — were looking for a place to showcase their creativity. There were few outlets to sell artwork or handcrafted goods. To rectify the situation, the group founded the Lebanon Art Association on December 26, 1972.
The mission of this new cooperative membership organization: to bring artists and crafts people together for mutual support and encouragement, to promote appreciation of art and crafts within the area, and to promote the sale of work as a stimulus to the creative interests and talents of the members.
The group wasn’t limited to one medium. Members brought and shared their skills in various art forms: floral, paper, needle arts, wood, beads and jewelry, sewing and fabric, knitting and crocheting, painting, drawing, photography, glass and ceramics.
1970s: The Early Days
The Lebanon Art Association is best known for its Christmas Show, which today is held for seven weeks in a prominent location in the Upper Valley.
The first Christmas Show was held in 1975 in the Sony Theater location on the Miracle Mile. The group did not have a budget for advertising their new venture, so the idea wasn’t an immediate hit with Upper Valley shoppers.
Soon after, the six members started to actively invite and recruit members to join their group. Kay Mariotti, an expert crocheter from White River Junction, Vermont, joined in September 1976. She remembers 25 members in the group that year, each paying dues of $5.
In October, the Lebanon Art Association participated in Lebanon Mall Days, a three-day event with all the stores offering sales and discounts. “The group made $726 despite the blistering cold weather,” said Kay.
The 1976 Christmas Show was held at the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) building on North Park Street in Lebanon for four days. The first raffle was held; members donated an item and each one was raffled off during the show. Proceeds were donated to the Lebanon Senior Center as a way to give back to the community. The GAR building was home to the show in 1977 as well, with crafters selling $2,886 worth of handmade items.
At the early shows, members were responsible for their own sales and manned their own tables. Jane Johnson, one of the original members, recalls a customer who would bring in apple jelly for the crafters.
1978 was a busy year with members participating in several shows: a one- day show at the Sheraton Hotel, Lebanon Mall Days, a Lebanon Merchants show at the Muskeg Music Festival and the annual Christmas Show in the GAR building. Members changed the name from Lebanon Art Association to the Lebanon Art and Crafts Association (LACA) to better represent members.
LACA members joined area shows in 1979 as well, but none worked as well as the annual Christmas Show, which was held for two weeks this year. The group elected officers for the first time: President Marci Hall and Secretary/Treasurer Cindy Shaw. The association also registered with the state of New Hampshire.
Cindy Bissonnette, a ceramic artist from Enfield, New Hampshire joined LACA around this time. “At the beginning I made small ceramic mouse ornaments, and eventually went on to make much larger pieces,” she said. “I really loved being a member and meeting the other artists: Kay Mariotti, Mary and John Hazen, Jan Bridge and Alden Burt, a wonderful painter.”
Alden, one of the founding members, was also the art teacher at Lebanon High School. He had the idea of creating a scholarship for a graduating senior going into the field of art. The LACA Achievement Award was created, and Alden presented it to a student at graduation.
1980s: Growth and Branding
With five years of Christmas shows and a healthy member base of crafters and artists across the Upper Valley area in New Hampshire and Vermont, LACA now had brand recognition from residents.
“People were beginning to recognize our name and looked forward to the shows,” said Kay.
LACA hosted a three-day show around Mother’s Day and a fall show on Columbus Day. “We had to be outside so we rented a tent. The members put it up, which was a comedy show in itself!” said Kay. “But we did get it up and it stayed up — thank goodness as it rained all day.”
The group discussed opening a store but everyone, at the time, had full-time jobs. A logo was developed in 1980 and members voted for their favorite of three designs. Printed posters with the new logo helped spread the word about the Christmas Show, held in the McNeill building on the Lebanon Mall in 1980 and 1981.
When there was room, Alden Burt would paint his watercolor landscapes at the show. “People really liked to watch Alden. He was very proud of his work and the organization, and he attended every show,” said Kay.
The McNeill building, which housed McNeill’s Drug Store (now home to Omer & Bob’s), was owned by Francis and Mary Sargent. “Mr. Sargent couldn’t come up with a fee for rent so he left it up to us to give him a donation at the end of the show,” said Kay. “He came to the show every day and fell in love with one of Alden’s paintings. At the end of the show we gave Mr. Sargent the painting and he was so pleased.”
Dottie Hayes shopped at the LACA shows before she was a member. “The first show I remember was held in what is now the Lebanon Mall at a tiny store between McNeil’s Drug and what is now the restaurant/store at the end of the block,” said Dottie, past president in 2009, 2010 and 2020; assistant treasurer from 2005-2008; and treasurer from 2011-2012. “It was so small it seemed you had to reach over the tables in front to reach the ones on the back wall.”
The 1982 show was held at Lebanon High School, with a group of high school students selling food as a fundraiser. “We decided to have the Christmas show on December 4-19, the longest time for a show,” said Kay. “We were hoping to get enough crafters to fill the building, and hoped they would have enough merchandise to last until the end of the show.”
Born and raised in the Upper Valley, this is where Laura Jean Whitcomb remembers the show. “It was a two-for-one experience,” she said, “shopping for Christmas as well as having lunch.” She later joined LACA from 2018-2020.
The show was a great success. “We decorated the school so it looked like Christmas and even put footprints on the floor so customers would know how they had to go: in one way and out the other. There was no turning around. Every bit of wall space had crafts on them,” said Kay.
The next year was a busy one: a summer show in Colburn Park to coincide with Lebanon High School’s Alumni Day and fall show at Lebanon High School. The McNeill building space was rented in 1983, so the annual show was held in the Colonial Plaza in the former Ski Togs store.
The Tommy Keane building, rebuilt in 1965 and the center of activity in downtown Lebanon, was the home to LACA’s Christmas Show in 1984 and 1985. LACA rented a space for four weeks — the longest show to date — and members sold their handicrafts on three different levels.
Customers were happy to have the show back on the Lebanon Mall, but the building’s roof leaked and heat wouldn’t stay on. “We were constantly moving things. Each night we would cover the leaky area with plastic to keep the crafters’ things dry,” said Kay.
A year later, the roof of the Keane building was still leaking, so member John Hazel decided to put some plastic in the ceiling to stop it from dripping.
“Well, to our surprise, when he lifted the ceiling tile we found a row of buckets. These buckets were full of water, making the ceiling leak. So John emptied them, put them back, and we didn’t have a problem the rest of the time we were there,” said Kay.
Every year, LACA gave back to the community: donations of art supplies to David’s House, contributing to a painting restoration fund at the Lebanon Public Library, and presenting scholarships to Lebanon High School students continuing their studies in the field of art.
By 1986, it was becoming more difficult to find a space for the show, now held from the day after Thanksgiving to the fourth Saturday in December. The location moved from First NH Bank (formerly Brown’s Furniture) across the road from the Rich’s Plaza, then to the Old Farmers’ Market Building on the Miracle Mile in 1987, the old Beverage King on Miracle Mile in 1988 and the Valley News building on Interchange Drive in 1989.
“It was out of the way, but we figured with lots of advertising and our banner on the outside of the building we would do alright. People really came way out there because they knew who we were,” said Kay.
With new members each year and longer shows, LACA instituted more structure. Members had to attend three meetings a year to participate in the Christmas Show, run by a manager (who ran the register) and assistant manager (who kept the log of sales) with the help of floor walkers (to assist customers) and a cleaning and decorating committee. A membership form, created in 1987, provided a record of every member. The fall show was discontinued in 1988. Dues were also raised to $10.
Some locations allowed for extra crafter space, artist demonstration areas or Bob Noyes’ huge wooden Christmas tree he called a helix. The tree was originally made for Macy’s in New York City, but when they opted not to use it, Bob used it to display earrings.
When Bob retired to Florida in 1988, he sold the tree to LACA. Now Kay’s husband, Bob Mariotti, sets up the tree, which he has been doing for the past 33 years.
“As long as we have had room, the tree has been a part of our Christmas show,” said Kay. The wooden tree levels spiral and rotate, making it the perfect setting for holiday decorations of all types and sizes.
1990s: Happy 25th Birthday
Thanks to the work of two members, Jody Stone and Gail Blake, and the help of a lawyer, LACA became an official nonprofit organization. It was a great benefit to the group, which had grown large enough to apply, and LACA was able to spend more money on its charitable activities.
For three years (1990-1992), Gerrish Honda on the Miracle Mile in Lebanon offered showroom space and group members were able to demonstrate their craft.
“People really liked to watch crafters at work,” said Kay. “KIXX radio station also hosted a live show, which really brought in customers.”
The Christmas Show moved from Gerrish Honda to the former Toys for Tots location in the Colonial Plaza in West Lebanon in 1993 and 1994. Looking for a larger spot in 1995, the show relocated to the Rivermill Commercial Plaza on Mechanic Street. LACA had the space they needed in the 1882 brick building, former home to Lebanon’s first woolen mill, but the location was difficult for customers to find. The Colonial Plaza in West Lebanon was the setting for the show in 1996, offering a central location and plenty of parking.
Ken Hall stepped in as president in 1996 when the current president, vice president and treasurer quit. “After the Christmas show, we noticed there was $5,000 missing. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, arresting the former members for stealing, and it was hard on the club as well,” said Ken.
The case went to court, a payment plan for the missing funds was set up, and the club moved forward with Ken’s business know how and teamwork skills. “I liked the fellowship we had in the group,” he said. “If someone had a problem — like trouble with sales — we’d get together and try to help."
The 1997 show was in the Shaw’s Plaza in the Dress Barn location. “What a great place for our show,” said Kay. “It looked elegant when we were all set up.”
It was around this time, Dottie recalls, “everyone dressed the tables in white skirts with a big red bow on each side. It definitely gave a nice look to the store: uniform but neat and cheerful.”
From the colorful postcards mailed to customers announcing the show’s dates to displaying crafts in the rotunda of DHMC for the month of December, LACA members are constantly thinking of ways to spread the word about the organization and the annual show. When the show was held at the Music Stand location behind Shaw’s Plaza in 1998, students from four high schools (Hartford, Hanover, Mascoma and Lebanon) displayed their artwork in the lobby. It brought in a whole host of new customers: family members and friends who came to see the art and stayed to shop.
Dottie Hayes recalls the dues around this time were $35. “We also paid $25 for the show fee. If we worked on one of the committees — Clean, Set Up, Breakdown — we were refunded the $25 fee with our last sales check,” she said.
The Staples Plaza hosted the 1999 show. LACA continued its pledge to support art students through the scholarship, choosing two to three graduating high school students annually to receive funds for higher education.
2000s: New Technology and Old Favorites
Technological innovations marked a new decade for LACA. A website was created in 2005, and later updated in 2012. Dottie started a Facebook page which Michelle Holt took over at the start of the 2012 shopping season. It’s updated consistently with information about monthly meetings, show locations and photographs and descriptions of crafter exhibits.
Upper Valley residents continued to love all things homemade. Many LACA members made special orders for customers, such as knitting a blanket in a certain color or duplicating a family ornament.
“The one thing I have enjoyed with LACA is the long-term relationships you develop. Several years ago, I was approached about making an ornament for a customer,” said Sandy Dickau, secretary from 2014-2015 and past president from 2016-2017. “They each got a wood ornament with their names on them, an angel for the girls and a gingerbread for the boys. One ornament had been lost and he wanted to have it recreated.”
Sandy used an outline of the ornament as well as photographs to successfully recreate the family tradition. In later years, including 2021, he asked to add ornaments to the family collection for new grandchildren.
Joyce LaPorte, a member since 2004, has another customer memory. “A young couple came in, browsed for a long time, and bought a large quantity of products. When they came to the register, they said they were newlyweds and this was their first Christmas together and decided to fill their Christmas list with LACA products,” she said. “I thought that was a thoughtful gesture on their part — a way for everyone on their list to receive something thoughtful and handmade.”
Other highlights: The show had record sales of $90,000 in 2001, a high of 44 members in 2003 and, due to a change in bylaws, a small sampling of food items at the annual show for the first time in 2005.
2010: Changes Behind the Scenes
For three years, 2008-2010, the show was located in Kohl’s plaza in the spot where Five Guys now resides. Dottie recalls an old safe built into the counter. “The contact for the plaza told us we could have it, which was a blessing,” she said. “We still use it today.”
At the time, Dottie was treasurer and assistant treasurer. She entered all the daily sales by hand into a log, then entered them into her own computer at night.
The 2014 show was held behind the Shaw’s Plaza at 66 Benning Street in West Lebanon. It was LACA’s first year using Square to take credit card payments using a cell phone app and plug in.
“A training manual was created for the show and every member was walked through the steps,” said Don Carpia, president from 2014-15. There was also a copy near the register, and “for many of the members that training manual sure came in handy.”
A flutter flag helped boost traffic, no matter the show’s location. In 2016, Dottie offered to make one specifically for the Lebanon Art and Crafts Association. As she told WNTK during a radio interview about the show, “the large 16 1/2 foot yellow and red flutter flag out front tells you this is the place.”
Lebanon changed sign regulations in 2017, so the flag didn’t mark the location of the show in the old Encore Books location. It didn’t stop people from visiting the 26 vendors who worked all year creating their crafts.
“In this day and age, everything is commercial,” Dottie said during LACA’s annual WNTK interview. “Our crafters put many, many labor hours into an item and it isn’t always reflected in the price. They do it because they love it. Every year I’m amazed at the new things people come up with.”
Because crafters continually stock their tables, “you never know what’s going to be here,” then-president Sandy Dickau told the Valley News in 2016. “That’s part of the joy of it.”
And if you see it, you had better buy it. ”If you see it today, it won’t be here tomorrow,” said Sandy.
In 2017 LACA moved Square from a cell phone to an iPad, donated by Sandy Dickau. Handwritten records of each sale at the register were no longer needed. Members reconciled the register at the end of the day and one member (the treasurer) enters the day into Quickbooks on LACA’s laptop. In 2021, LACA stopped using the iPad in favor of Square register.
From 2018 to 2021, the Christmas Show found its home in the old Sears location next to CVS in West Lebanon. There was space for everyone, as well as space for classes and demonstrations. Carl Hill demonstrated woodturning, Terry Fitzpatrick held painting classes, Laurel Pollard had her 3D printer on display, and customers enjoyed live holiday music by Emerson and Jeffrey Gale.
Despite retail trends and a new generation’s love of all things technology, handmade never went out of style. There were 47 crafters participating in the 2019 show, Dottie told WNTK, even a former scholarship recipient who went to school for her craft and was now selling her work at the show. From painting to pottery, “you name it, we’ve got it,” Dottie said. The Valley News agreed, noting LACA has “…an eclectic selection of handmade gifts that offer a refreshing alternative to the usual chain retailer merchandise.”
2020: COVID-19 and Beyond
When the COVID pandemic started in early 2020, LACA pivoted from in- person monthly meetings at DHMC to online Zoom meetings. The only time members met in person was the July monthly meeting held outside at Tall Timbers Mobile Park in Quechee, Vermont. The group’s brown bag auction — a Yankee Swap-type of event where members hid a craft or white elephant gift in a brown paper bag for other members to bid on it — was always great fun.
“When we were holding our auction, a man from the park asked if he could bid as well. He had such a wonderful time bidding and I think he went away with at least four items,” said Heather Burgess, LACA secretary from 2020-2021. “The following year he asked Dottie if we were having the brown bag auction again and if he could participate.”
As COVID cases in the Upper Valley rose and fell, members were not sure if it would be safe for an annual Christmas show. Fortunately, the Sears location offered enough space for social distancing. Members were given the option of participation, and 26 out of 40 decided to take part.
Precautionary measures were put in place: face masks were required, hand sanitizer was available upon entry and checkout, and members frequently disinfected surfaces and shopping baskets.
“Customers were happy to see LACA was still there,” said Laura Jean, who drew holiday designs on gift bags during her shifts. Despite the pandemic, members sold $71,829 worth of handmade arts and crafts. Coronavirus wasn’t a deterrent in 2021 either; the show reached a record level of sales totaling more than $100,000.
50 Years: The Strength of LACA
Like any association, there were growing pains. Members disagreed and sometimes argued. Discussions at the monthly meeting could be uncomfortable. But LACA members were a team and the good of the group was always a priority.
“With the changing landscape, there were many passionate (and sometimes heated discussions),” said Don Carpia, a scroll saw artist who joined in 2011. “I knew, in the end, each of us were always coming at those discussions from a place of trying to do what was for the best of the association and the members. I was glad to see so many willing to look forward while honoring the past that got us there.”
Members came from different walks of life, but all had one underlying thread in common: the urge to create something by hand, focusing on creativity and producing one-of-a-kind art.
“I started Stella & Sol Sustainables in 2019 to share alternatives for disposables in the home, but I felt so isolated. This only compounded when the pandemic hit the next year,” said Meagan Berquist. "I joined LACA because I wanted to connect with artisans who understood my passion for crafting. LACA means community and support.”
“It was so nice to be back in the fold this year. Each shift I had the opportunity to work with a different artist/crafter and get to know them and how they got started in their work,” said Kathleen Curwin, a stained glass artist who took 2020 off from LACA due to COVID concerns. “LACA has not just given me a venue to sell my work. It has given me a support group. It is helpful to learn from creative and ingenious people who are working in mediums old and new. Tips on pricing, staging and design have been invaluable to me.”
“I enjoyed LACA and the opportunities to grow and get involved,” said Don. “I especially liked the people and the level of dedication they had to their individual crafts and the group as a whole; I considered everyone friends.”
“What I like about LACA is the camaraderie of the group and the diversity of crafts and crafters,” said Joyce LaPorte, a jewelry maker. “The Christmas Show is an opportunity to not only display one’s products but to show the public how hard our crafters work during the year. I know there are many people who anxiously await the show to buy a certain something they bought last year. While there are those who have never heard of LACA, I’m betting there are far more that have.”