Crafts, coffee and Christmas music. Cameron Amann, the promoter and organizer of Bellevue’s Hilltop Holiday Craft Show, knows that can be a powerful combination during the holiday season.
For 20 years, Amann, partnered with the city of Bellevue, has worked to cultivate a free, “feel-good” event founded on holiday spirit and the creative interests of the community at the Northwest Arts Center (9825 NE 24th St.).
This year, the Hilltop Holiday Craft Show is Dec. 4-7, and, as expected from the program, is replete with booths featuring soaps, lotions, glass, gourmet food, sculptures and woodworks.
“If you could hear the people who come through year after year, it’s so refreshing to hear the excitement and happiness,” Amann said. “They appreciate having the show in their community. That’s a payoff — and a passion for the arts.”
Amann said that before the show started in 1999, parks and community services were interested in putting on an arts-and-crafts-oriented holiday event. Amann, who at the time had become known for organizing well-received craft shows, wound up becoming the person in charge of putting together what is now the Hilltop Holiday Craft Show — a job that predictably comes with meticulous behind-the-scenes planning. Usually, Amann said, she begins planning in January, going to craft shows throughout the summer to scout potential participants for the Hilltop show later in the year.
“I feel like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain,” she said. “You need to get together an ambiance — a good feeling.”
It can be a challenge to not accept vendors who express excitement about potentially participating in the show. In some instances, it might not even have to do with quality — sometimes, it can simply be about how much space a particular vendor might take up, or the accommodations they may require. For vendors who show potential but do not seem ready to yet have a booth, Amann said she often works with creators so they can grow and progress.
When putting together her line-up, Amann has a few standards she keeps in mind.
“I’ll take a good presentation,” she said. “The craft should be handcrafted by the exhibiting vendor — something that’s unique and different to keep it interesting.”
One consistent presence at the shows has been Lorrie Sjoquist, who has vended in various craft shows for about 30 years. Sjoquist, who is trained as a commercial sewer and can produce things quickly, specializes in the creation of knitted products like microbowls, washcloths and ornaments.
Sjoquist got involved with the show in part because of Amann’s “fine reputation,” and said the show marks a culmination of a year’s work. She appreciates that, in terms of sellers, the event emphasizes artists who are dedicated to and skilled at their niche.
“It’s a good mix of really high-quality people — people who are really good at what they do,” Sjoquist said, adding that she’s made many friendships through the show over the years.
Amann thinks events like the Hilltop Craft Show are vital to a community like Bellevue — and that similar programs should be more common.
“It’s so important,” she said. “Sometimes I think there aren’t enough events like this… People come in and talk to each other, laugh, talk about what they’re going to get for their kids and grandkids.”
Dana Leopold, a vendor who has worked in other shows put on by Amann in the past, said one of the notable things about the event is that it features products often as appealing as the ones found at the nearby Bellevue Square shopping center.
“It’s nice to shop small,” Leopard said. “It’s very close to Bellevue Square and stuff, but you can get just as many interesting things at the show as the mall — and they’re all hand-crafted and reasonably priced. It’s a great environment and helps local artists.”
Amann noted that since the show is occurring around the same time as Bellevue’s traditional Snowflake Lane parade, people interested in the fair might want to pair a visit to the Northwest Arts Center with the other event.
Ultimately, Amann wants the show to become something customers anticipate every year.
“I hope they get out of it a good enough feeling that they look forward to it the next year… I want them to leave the building excited with their purchases,” she said, adding, “It’s a good thing to have in the community. It just is.”
For more information about the event, go to its website (https://bit.ly/2QADG1N).