For most mid-Missourians, September marks the official start of the new school year, football season and cooler weather. It also means the beginning of fall festivals, such as the 30th Annual Heritage Festival and Craft Show this weekend at Nifong Park.
Founded in 1977 by Cookie Hagen, then one of the supervisors of Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department, the festival’s attendance has grown every year, said Karen Ramey, who holds the job.
Ramey, who has been involved with the festival for about 15 years and its coordinator for five years, estimated about 500 people attended the first festival; now it draws close to 18,000.
The free festival features traditional artisans — that is, those embracing arts and crafts from the 1800s and earlier — and performers primarily from Missouri. This year, there will be more than 100 stage performers and about the same number of craft and artisan booths.
New performers this year are storyteller and mountain man Jim Two Crows Wallen, cowboy yodeler and trick roper Randy Erwin, the Haskell Indian Nations dancers from the Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas and Jason the Juggler. They will perform throughout the day on three stages at the park.
There will also be a World War II exhibit, a Lewis and Clark outpost, a cowboy camp, the Walter’s Boone County Historical Museum, a special area for children called “Fun for Young’uns,” a replica of an 1859 town and separate areas for the craft and traditional artisan booths. The traditional artisans not only sell their handmade goods like the craft-makers but also demonstrate and publicize their artistic process.
“Most of the artists are familiar with the festival,” Ramey said. “Many of the traditional artisans participate year after year, making them familiar favorites for loyal fans of the festival.”
Bob and Jan Ehrenberger, traditional artisans in blacksmithing and goat’s milk soap making, are returning this year for the fourth time. This time, the Shelbyville duo is adding knotted and horse handle designs to iron utensils and different soap molds.
Ramey said artisans such as the Ehrenbergers play a special part in the festival because they are continuing the “lost arts,” — skills like blacksmithing, weaving, soap making, candle making and tinsmithing.
Bob’s career as a blacksmith began after he took his son to see a demonstration.
“We spent three days at the show and never left the guy’s booth,” he said.