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Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead stronger than ever after 40 years

by CAROL MARINO
Daily Inter Lake | November 24, 2021 12:00 AM

From humble beginnings, the Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead organization has grown into a burgeoning organization that now boasts 160 members and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Their annual Christmas show, scheduled Friday through Sunday, Nov. 26 to Nov. 28, at the Flathead County Fairgrounds, will feature 120 vendors — the largest event the group has ever hosted.

Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead was established in 1981 by Kathy and John Herranen, two artists searching for a way to market their work locally. The organization grew quickly, a testament to the need to give local artists an economical means to support their art, many who depend on it for their primary income.

However, after many years of fluctuating membership, by 2015 the organization had begun to experience growing pains and membership declined. By 2016, the group was considering disbanding. A reorganizational committee was formed to discuss ways to reinvigorate the organization.

By 2017, when Lindsay Mena joined, the organization had obtained its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and rewrote its bylaws and policies so it could achieve its goals of not only supporting its members, but also fundraising so it could give back to the community by donating to other organizations. The organization has since grown steadily, thanks to outreach efforts at local art festivals, farmers markets and word of mouth.

FOR HER business, Montana Alchemy, Mena dries flowers either in a microwavable flower press for softer petals, or with silica powder for thicker ones and then preserves the bright blooms in epoxy resin.

An avid flower gardener, Mena grows more than 60 varieties of flowers at her home, from daisies and dahlias to black-eyed Susans and Johnny Jump-Ups.

“My mom had kept up the garden at a home she bought that had had a nice flower garden put in by its previous owner,” Mena said. “When my husband and I moved in in 2012 I just kept adding to it.”

Mena is just one of the many diverse members that drive the community of Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead. The organization is a collective of professional artists, crafters and hobbyists from their mid-20s to their 80s. They even boast one charter member, Sandy Brown.

​​Mena, who has served as president since 2019, also mentioned longtime board member Sharon Askelson, who has served as treasurer since 1994.

“I could not do this without her,” Mena said. “She is our anchor.”

BEING A member has considerable advantages.

Mena said that besides receiving a discount on their booth rates at ACF’s two annual shows, members are encouraged to place their profiles on the website where they can include links to either their own websites if they have one, or their Facebook page or Instagram accounts. Furthermore, the ACF Market on the website is a place where they can directly sell their products.

“It gives them an option to dip their toe in the water without having to invest in their own website.”

Members Julie Frederick and Pat Baker enjoy the camaraderie of ACF.

“I like the spirit of friendship and that as a nonprofit we can be more altruistic,” Frederick said. For the last five years Frederick has sold her homemade quality liquor and fruit-filled Slammin’ Jams with the help of ACF.

“ACF has given us a venue to sell our creative side,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of other opportunities where local artists can do that.”

Frederick and Baker also run Empowerment Group, a local full-time art therapy studio with Frederick, a clinical professional art therapist as its director, and Baker as its art teacher.

Baker, a professional Western and wildlife painter and teacher for more than 50 years with her work displayed in all 50 states and 39 countries, said she found it difficult to get into the local art community.

“People in ACF help one another,” Baker said. “It’s a non-competitive group.”

Some members have taught community art classes and Mena envisions more community involvement in teaching.

Through the years, ACF has donated time, volunteers, money and products to various nonprofits and causes, from the Flathead Food Bank to the Abbie Shelter.

Beginning in 2019, ACF has sponsored an annual $1,000 “Create It Forward” scholarship for art students through Flathead Valley Community College.

Mena would also like to grow the ACF Market into a useful tool for members.

“We want to grow Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead into a community that works together to put on more quality events,” she said, “and give artists more opportunities.”

Community editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or community@dailyinterlake.com.

LEARN MORE

Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead’s 40th anniversary Christmas Art Show, Craft Fair and Makers’ Market takes place Thanksgiving weekend in the Trade Center building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds.

Show hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday Nov. 26, and Saturday, Nov. 27; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28, Flathead County Fairgrounds, Kalispell. Admission is free and food trucks will be on site.

Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead continues to be dedicated to promoting the arts, crafts and small business in the Flathead Valley by hosting two craft shows per year and an online ACF Market where members can sell their products. Members share advice and business tricks, help each other and host “art nights” for local elementary and middle schools teaching various crafts and boosting young local artists.

If you’re interested in learning more about or joining the organization, email artistsoftheflathead@gmail.com or visit artistsandcraftsmen.org.

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A lunar calendar created by Lindsay Mena, president of Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead, using flowers she grows herself encased in epoxy resin. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Lindsay Mena, president of Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead, grows her own flowers and encases them in epoxy resin to create colorful coasters, stove spoon rests, nightlights, keychains and more. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Lindsay Mena, president of Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead, grows her own flowers and encases them in epoxy resin to create colorful coasters, stove spoon rests, nightlights, keychains and more. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Lindsay Mena, president of Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead, grows her own flowers and encases them in epoxy resin to create colorful coasters, stove spoon rests, nightlights, keychains and more. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Lindsay Mena, president of Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead, grows her own flowers and encases them in epoxy resin to create colorful coasters, stove spoon rests, nightlights, keychains and more. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Some of the members of the Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead are pictured at the nonprofit organization's meeting Nov. 17. — photo provided