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“Fair-well” to Long-Time Clothesline Fair Crafters

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September 6, 2010 by wcobserver

By Susan McCarthy

It’s a tradition.  Many in our area have Labor Day weekend well-marked on their calendars.  Not for a cookout or because they’ll get a day out of work, but because they look forward to their annual pilgrimage to the Prairie Grove Clothesline Fair.

Much of the fair is the same from year to year and that is what keeps its fans coming back.  Fair-goers have gotten to know many of its artists and crafters over the years.  They look forward to collecting another piece of pottery or jewelry from a favorite vendor.  In addition to meandering through nearly 200 craft booths in Battlefield Park, there is also the tradition of funnel cakes, grilled chicken dinners, ice cream covered in strawberries, square dancing, and live music and craft demonstrations.

Now in its 59th year and one of the oldest craft fairs in Arkansas, the Clothesline Fair will be held September 4, 5, and 6.  Over the span of 59 years, crafters have come and gone, but the ones that “go” often do so reluctantly; the fair having been a part of their lives for many years.

This year will be no exception.   If you want to see Bonnie Steffes collection of century-old quilts or Dick and Phyllis Vanourny for a horse swing or door mat made of recycled tires, this may be the last year to do so; both Steffes and the Vanournys have been a part of the Clothesline Fair for over 20 years.  This year will also feature newcomer Arlene Fields of West Fork, who hopes to sell her first hand-knotted quilt at the fair.

Bonnie Steffes, of West Fork, is not just an avid quilter; she has been a life-long collector of quilts.  She says she’s done some “selling and showing” at the fair almost longer than she can remember.

“Oh my goodness, I can’t even begin to think…at least 20 or 25 years,” she said of the number of years she has had her Bea’s Quilts booth at the Clothesline Fair.

“It’s very interesting.  You meet all kinds of people and see so many you haven’t seen for a while,” she said.

Steffes, who started the West Fork Quilting Club 19 years ago, enjoys teaching others how to quilt.  At the Clothesline Fair, she said she will display part of her quilt collection and also have a few new quilt tops for sale.  All of Steffes’ work is hand pieced and hand-quilted.  Steffes said some of the older quilts “will be out of the late 1800’,” including a “turkey track” quilt.

“It’s and old, old pattern,” she said and then added, “it will probably be for sale.”

Steffes said those that purchase one of her quilt tops will often have her complete the quilt, but she finds it harder and harder to keep up as she’s gotten older.

Staff Photographer Brooke McNeely Galligan Bonnie Steffes shows the rare quilt patterns she plans to sell at this year’s Prairie Grove Clothesline Fair Monday at her home in West Fork. Steffes says this year is her last at the fair and has been a vendor for over 20 years.

Like Steffes, Dick and Phyllis Vanourny, of Chester, have been a part of the  Clothesline Fair for 20 years and plan to make this year this last.

“It keeps me busy; I’ve slowed-up quite a bit,” Dick said.

“We enjoy the outside bandstand where they play music,” he says of the Clothesline Fair.  “We like the park rangers.  And we get a hamburger to eat.”

Long before “going green” was in, the Vanournys began creating a variety of tire swings, door mats, planters and bird feeders out of recycled tires.  Known as the “Mat Man”, the Vanournys are a favorite stop at the fair for families with young children.  Many a child has left the Clothesline Fair over the years with a new horse swing for the tree in their backyard.

Dick says race car tires make the best loop and horse swings because they don’t have a steel belt.  But he says the sidewall of a steel-belted tire is what he uses to make his virtually indestructible door mats.  Phyllis says the tires are scrubbed, cut, then painted; the Vanournys have shared the work in a workshop on their property in Chester.

Their “Mat Man” booth can be found in its usual spot at the fair, just past the visitor’s center and to the right.

New to the Clothesline Fair this year, will be Arlene Fields of West Fork who has named her booth “Grandma’s Quilt Factory.”

Fields said she decided to participate in the Clothesline Fair after one of her Sunbonnet Sue quilts won second place at the Washington County Fair last year.

“It’s my first time to sell them.  I’ve given them away, but never sold them,’ Fields said.

Fields said she started making quilts five years ago.

“I gave up smoking and started making quilts,” she said.

Fields, who is a former Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA) said a former patient showed her how to make the Sunbonnet Sue pattern.

Fields said her quilts have no batting and are created around a blanket, making them warmer than some quilts.

“I tack mine the old-fashioned way,” she said.

Fields says her booth will feature crib-sized and small quilts in a variety of styles including Sunbonnet Sues, Noah’s Ark, jungle print, and an alphabet pattern known as “baby genius.”  She said she also makes custom memory quilts that feature family photos.

While Fields isn’t exactly sure where her booth will be, she said she’ll have a spot under one of the tents at the fair.

The Clothesline Fair runs Sept. 4, 5 and 6 and will be open Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Monday.  The fair is free, but there is a $5 charge for parking.

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