The Pine-Strawberry Arts and Craft Fairs, held the holiday weekends of Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, have been a popular Rim Country destination for more than 20 years.
They are a time when the populations of the little mountain communities of Pine and Strawberry bubble up to the point where you are hard-pressed to find a place to park around the Pine Community Center.
The events are a one-stop shopping treasure chest of unique, handcrafted gift items for any occasion. And there is usually something different at each event. Earlier this year, at the Memorial Day event, the fair featured demonstrations by both a potter and a blacksmith. The Fourth of July event had a jewelry maker showing her techniques.
And you get to eat, too. Not only are vendors on hand with such things as hot dogs, hamburgers, flavored ices and more. The Pine Senior Citizens Center members have a reputation for preparing some pretty tasty Navajo tacos, served in a variety of ways -- with beans and shredded lettuce and hot sauce, sprinkled with powdered sugar, drizzled with honey or topped with soft-serve vanilla ice cream and apple pie filling.
Most of the fairs are accompanied by a pancake breakfast, put on by a local civic group. Most recently the group doing the honors was the Kiwanis Club, but it disbanded and there was no breakfast at the Fourth of July fair. However, the Pine-Strawberry Arts and Crafts Fair this weekend will feature a return of the pancake breakfast, prepared by the community's firefighters, their friends and families.
The fair, which has around 80 artisans and crafters exhibiting, had fairly humble beginnings.
"We started meeting in someone's home," explained Lorraine Horton, who has participated in the area's arts and crafts guild for many years.
"It was strictly local customers and crafters initially," she said.
Over the years, the event grew and moved around to accommodate the growing number of crafts and customers. Finally it settled into its current home at the Pine Community Center -- though when it first took up residence, the facility was being used as the Pine-Strawberry School.
These days, visitors to the fair will see people from all over Arizona and even some vendors from out-of-state. Horton said they try to limit entries to only handmade pieces. Guild members with a large inventory of work are encouraged to have a booth, but not many of the 40 people in the group have that much available for sale.
The money raised from the booth fees is used to help nonprofit groups in the Pine and Strawberry area, Horton said. Among those that have benefited in the past are the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad, the Pine public library, the Pine-Strawberry School, the food bank and the museum.
"Each August (the guild) sends out a letter to the groups. In order to receive funds they must respond with a letter telling us how much money they need and what it will be used for," Horton said. The group gives between $500 and $1,500 on average to the community organizations it supports.
The guild members' work is displayed in the arts and crafts room at the community center. There are currently about 12 people exhibiting goods for sale. The room is always open during the fairs for visitors to enjoy.
"We clear out the room once or twice a year," Horton said. The room's inventory is changed out in the spring, right before the Memorial Day fair, and again in the late fall, before the holidays.
Volunteers from the guild man the room. Horton is one of those. She also has work on display. She works in oils, something she learned while raising her family in California. Horton began studying art as a child, first working with watercolors, then moving onto oils.
Currently she has painted saws, boxes, plaques and trays on display in the Pine Community Center's arts and crafts room.
"I do what catches my eye," she said of the subjects she puts on her pieces. She also shares her skills with others.
She taught her daughters and granddaughters, and on a recent trip to Illinois, she started teaching her 2-year-old great-granddaughter.
"I showed her how to put her watercolor brush in the water then sweep it against scrap paper so it will not make her (painting) paper wet," Horton said.
Over the years she has cared for others' children and taught them to paint as well.
"One of those children I took care of went to Paris to study art," she said.
Horton's next class will probably be for a group of guild members who live in Happy Jack.
Look for Horton's work and that of other guild members, along with the efforts of about 80 visiting artists at the Labor Day Arts and Crafts Fair Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 3 and 4 at the Pine Community Center. The pancake breakfast starts at 7 a.m. and booths open around 8 a.m.