November 29th, 2021

Handmade Market artisan offering inspiration for residential school survivors

By Dale Woodard on October 20, 2021.

As he set up shop at the 25th Lethbridge Handmade Market Saturday afternoon at the Lethbridge Exhibition North Pavilion, artist Wesley Harry offered a selection of personally crafted items.
However, the artisan from Brocket and owner of Creations by Wesley Harry offered something less tangible, but equally valuable.
A residential school survivor, among Harry’s personalized items was a greeting card to his fellow survivors with a message of hope.
“It took me 14 years to create the design,” said Harry. “On the back of it I wrote part of my own story. I created this card to inspire people to not lose hope because of all the violence we go through. On the back I wrote my own story to help strengthen the message.”
The feedback from the card has been powerful.
“I’ve had a lot of people break down and cry and want to hug me,” said Harry. “They get upset because of what happened, but they support me for what I went through and they’re glad to see I’m OK.
“That’s the kind of feedback I was looking for when I created this card. I wanted it to be a powerful thing to inspire people to not lose hope. Having hope is something you really need in life nowadays. All the stuff that is going on, to have a card like this, you can read it every day.”
Harry said he has a client who looks at his card every day for inspiration.
“No matter how hard his day is going to get, he reads that card and it gives him strength to go on.”
At Saturday’s market, Harry offered up more than inspirational cards.
“I make original earrings, I do greeting cards, paintings, fridge magnets, t-shirts, ceramic ornaments,” he said. “I started in 1989 as a professional artist and in 1990 I started as a craft person. I’ve been working at this for quite a while. I started off selling paintings and then I stumbled upon T-shirts and just progressed on.”
Saturday’s Lethbridge Handmade Market was also the fifth anniversary of the event as 115 different artisans set up shop for Saturday’s market.
“Most of them are local,” said Jessy Gust, founder and manager of Lethbridge Handmade Market. “We have different artists from all over southern Alberta, B.C., as far as Kimberly.”
Saturday’s market featured over $2,000 in handmade door prizes, free kids’ activities, Blackfoot language learning opportunities and a costume competition.
As well, the KidsCreate team partnered with author Jason Eaglespeaker, owner of Eaglespeaker Publishing, allowing kids to practise their Blackfoot vocabulary as they searched for pictures in a market-wide scavenger hunt. 
KidsCreate also hosted children’s crafts and a costume contest.
Saturday’s Lethbridge Handmade Market was also the first with Alberta’s Restrictions Exemption Program, requiring patrons to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry.
That requirement didn’t slow down business Saturday.
“It’s been non-stop at the door, really busy,” said Gust. “We’re blown away with how great it’s been. We were a bit worried at first if we would get the same turnout. But it has been great, beyond what we expected. We just didn’t know with all the changes. It seems like it’s starting to get back to what it was like pre-COVID. It’s starting to feel more normal. People are happy to be here. It really is a unique market every single time. Every two months we have a completely different set of artists.”
Five years in, Gust said it’s the community that keeps the Lethbridge Handmade Market going.
“Without support from the community we wouldn’t be able to run the Lethbridge Handmade Market. We have a consistent customer base who like to support the people that come. We have some who have been coming the full five years. We always tell our artists the more times they come the more people will be familiar with them. They have their favourite soap vendor and their favourite clothing vendor. I would say the handmade scene has grown significantly in the last five years and continues to grow.”
The Kid-Preneur program, encouraging kids under the age of 18 to start their own business, has also been rolled out.
“One of the rules is it has to be parents hands-off and only kids involved,” said Gust, adding three Kid-Preneurs took part in Saturday’s market. “They run it by themselves. They have their own business plan. We’re really happy to see the kid’s involvement, not just coming with their parents, but actually getting involved.”
From his booth on Saturday, Harry noted steady traffic all day.
“It’s been quite busy here today.”
Still, the pandemic has put a dent in Harry’s show schedule.
“It’s reduced everything, I would say, by 70 or 80 per cent,” he said. “In the past year I’ve just done three or four shows. Without the pandemic, I’d do a show maybe two times a month.”
The next Lethbridge Handmade Market goes Dec. 11 with a Christmas Holi-Yay theme, also at the Lethbridge Exhibition North Pavilion with a similar layout.
“We’re hoping for about 120 artisans,” said Gust. “October and December are always our busiest (markets) of the year.”

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