Sheltowee Artisans help record numbers make holiday gift choices over weekend

Nov. 21—If you were at The Center for Rural Development this weekend, chances are you got your hands on something truly unique.

The Sheltowee Artisans Holiday Art Fair unfolded this past weekend, Saturday and Sunday, at the Center as it typically does in the past this time of year — and will for the foreseeable future.

"This is the biggest event that we've ever had," said David Spillman of the Sheltowee Artisans, who himself makes handcrafted wood products. "This is the holiday market. ... A lot of people are looking for something at Christmas time. Having it the third weekend (of November) is kind of nice. Right before Thanksgiving and still early enough get something for Christmas and not push it."

COVID messed with the schedule a little a few years ago, noted Spillman, but following that, "we're locked in at The Center for 10 years for the third weekend in November."

Over 13,000 people walked through the doors on Saturday, and more than 400 on Sunday — the event's best attendance in Spillman's memory, and several hundred more than last year, making it "the best" such art fair the Sheltowee Artisans have had locally as of yet, noted Spillman.

The Sheltowee Artisans Guild is a group of regional artists and craftspeople who work in all sorts of media. At the art fair, visitors have a wide variety of arts and crafts to choose from: leatherworking, woodworking, jewelry, candles, pottery, soap, paintings and drawn artwork, baskets, photography, fiber art and many more. Started in 1994, the Sheltowee Artisans take their name from a Shawnee word for "Big Turtle."

There were over 70 exhibitors packing the hall at The Center over the weekend, not just local artisans but from all over the state. Spillman (whose work can be seen at said there was a group of "probably six or seven" from the Lexington area who "do a lot" of shows and farmers markets around the Bluegrass.

"We've got a couple of people, young artisans, for whom this is their full-time living, and there are couple of older folks who are also full-time artisans and are self-employed," he said. "We have some people like myself (for whom) you could say it's more of a hobby. I do custom make some stuff and have a lot of fun with it. So we have quite a lot of variation of people here."

Tammy Dean from Stanford, Kentucky sat among a crowd of her own creations — homemade Appalachian rag dolls (many of the Raggedy Ann and Andy style) and Christmas ornaments.

"I've been doing this for probably 35 years," she said. "I'm a self-taught dollmaker. When we were first married, I stayed home and took care of my children, so I actually just started by accident making crafts, and would have a little sale twice a year in my home.

"One day, someone from one of the Kentucky state parks came by and asked if I ever sold to the parks," she added. "I hadn't and they invited me out to bring a few of my items, and I did. So they placed my first order at the William Whitley House in Stanford. From there, I went from one park to 17 parks, and I wholesaled for several years to the state parks. Now I just sell out of my home, and I do a few shows. I'm juried with the Kentucky Guild and Sheltowee Artisans and the (Appalachian) Artisan Center in Hindman, Ky."

Dean's dolls are completely handmade from muslin fabric and dressed with homespun fabric. The facial features of the dollars are hand painted with acrylic paint, and the dolls' hair is made from rags.

Those interested in her work can contact Dean at or 606-365-8207 — but Dean was very excited to take part in another Sheltowee Art Fair, something she's done for decades now.

"It's very beneficial," she said. "I've been doing this show for (close to) 30 years. They were the first guild to jury my dolls in and ornaments, so I'm really happy with Sheltowee Artisans and faithful to them."

Teresa Babb from Berea, Ky., feels strongly about felt — thus her business, Felting by Teresa Babb. In front of her was a collection of felt objects like something out of a fantasy story — mushrooms, gnomes, a beehive.

"I'm just drawn to" thing from nature, she said. "I live in the country, I like being out in the woods, so I think that's where I draw a lot of my inspiration from.

"It's a very old process," she said of felting. "You take raw wool and a sharp specialty barbed needle. Lots of poking up and down and you eventually condense the fibers into a solid form.

Ironically, despite felting being "old," Babb learned about it in a very modern way.

"I was surfing on the web about 15 years ago and saw somebody felting on YouTube and I thought, 'Ha, I've never seen this before, this looks interesting,'" she said. "It's a very old, old art form that fell off like a lot of things do, but it's making its way back around."

Babb can be contacted at or at 859-302-2062.

Annsley Humble is a local artist, originally from Monticello but now living in Pulaski County after moving with her husband. Humble is a painter and sported canvases big and small with eye-catching modern designs, many focusing on female energy or iconic faces like that of rock music legend Stevie Nicks.

"I've been doing women and women's faces since I can remember," she said, "just since there's so much emotion and energy in the female form and the female face and in painting in the style I do. I think it just captures a lot of emotion and feeling when people view it."

A mixed media artist, Humble works with different tools — acrylic paint, oil paint, scrapbooking supplies, "pretty much anything I can get my hands on." An internship with a photographer helped introduce her to the joy of creating visual art when she was younger.

"I've been crazy and creative my whole life (but) I started painting and selling work when I was around 16," she said. "(The internship) taught me art was something powerful and something that should be respected so that really drove me a little boost of confidence to start getting myself out there at local things. I fell in love with it and now I do it full time."

Humble's work can be followed on Instagram @annsleyhumble or online at