Hundreds of thousands of shipping containers are backlogged on America's coasts, raising concerns about Christmas gift shortages.
In studios across Douglas County, as well as throughout Minnesota, however, local crafters are clacking knitting needles, lifting soaps from molds, or turning old sweaters into gifts that don't rely on ships or railcars to arrive under the tree on Christmas morning.
When woodworker Matt Bakke of Alexandria looks for materials for his bowls, games and other wooden products, he finds it in his own community, often trees felled in storms.
“I work in Sauk Centre,” said the owner of Busy Squirrel Creations. “When the storms came through there in July, I brought home four carloads of logs.”
Bakke and his wife, Valerie Bakke, who makes artisan soap, are the featured crafters for this year’s Alexandria Arts and Crafters Tour, which runs Thursday, Nov. 4-Saturday, Nov. 6.
Local crafters appear to be in a more enviable position than last year, when pandemic-related closures of art fairs left many of them with products they couldn’t sell.
“When you buy local, you’re not buying those premade items from out of the country that are held up in containers,” said Karla Mikkelson, chairperson of this year’s crafter’s tour.
Valerie Bakke, for instance, makes her soaps with tallow she renders herself from beef fat procured from local meat lockers. She simply heats it in a crock pot until it turns into a form she can use in soap, which is, she added, basically fatty acids.
Other makers on the tour also obtain their materials locally; Kathy Sletto spins her own wool from her own sheep, for instance, and Mikkelson’s husband, JT Thompson, sources materials for their jewelry from the North Shore, beaches and U.S. rock shops. He did have a challenge this year obtaining copper, she said, but he switched to another material.
“Artists can obviously create with a lot of different materials,” Mikkelson said. “An artist can always alter what they create with.”
The Bakkes are among 24 crafters on this year’s tour. The tour has six locations this year; the Bakkes will be in the Boathouse at the Legacy of the Lakes Museum with several other crafters.
Matt Bakke was almost destined for the woodworking business. His dad was a woodworker, and he also learned a lot from his junior high and high school shop classes. He makes cabinets for a Sauk Centre company. About 10 years ago, he bought a lathe and then later bought a bigger lathe for wood projects. He has been selling his products for eight or nine years.
A cribbage fan, he makes cribbage boards. He also creates bowls, boxes, vases, gnomes, mushrooms, platters and jewelry holders. He makes a version of a horse-racing gambling game that his parents played in the 1970s or 1980s. On some of his bowls, he leaves a live edge, a term for an unfinished piece of the original wood.
“You get more of a natural feel and there’s more uniqueness to the piece,” he said. “It definitely can’t be recreated.”
Valerie Bakke runs Lake County Essential Soaps. She uses a goat milk base, food-grade lye and clay for the colors. Much of what she learned is from YouTube, but she has come up with her own recipe after testing and tweaking different recipes. Soap makers tend to be protective of their recipes, she said, and she finally hit upon a mixture that she likes.
She mixes colors and scents, and names the soaps Dragon’s Blood, Alpine Frost and Fallen Leaves.
“It’s gentle but long-lasting,” she said. “People like that it’s a bubbly soap.”
She has made small soaps for a friend’s AirBnB location and has developed a roster of regular customers. Most of her customers buy it as gifts.
The Bakkes have been part of the tour for the past 5-6 years.
Mikkelson does urge shoppers to order or buy Christmas gifts as early as possible from local crafters. Local crafters make high-quality, unique products that take time to create.
If you go
What: 37th annual Alexandria Holiday Arts & Crafters Tour. Six local spaces are open to the public, selling locally-made, juried arts and crafts. All locations include multiple artisans.
When: Thursday, Nov. 4, from 4-7 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 5, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 6, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Watch for signs leading to these addresses in and nearby Alexandria:
Legacy of the Lakes Boat House
4365 County Road 82 NW
4255 County Road 11 NE
101 Three Havens Drive
13694 E. Lake Miltona Drive NE
3553 Crystal Louise NW