For as long as Samantha Saturn can remember, the American Artisan Festival has played an important role in her life. “My mother started the festival when I was just about to turn 2,” shares Samantha, who moved back to Nashville after 25 years away. At the time, her mother owned The Craft Cranny on Bandywood, and she would travel around the South and beyond to find handmade products for her store, meeting makers and craftsmen along the way. The more people she met and work she saw, the stronger her desire to bring them to Nashville became.
“A lot of times contemporary handcrafts don’t get their due in the art world,” Samantha says. “These artists make their crafts by hand, and investing in them and their work means something. Getting to meet them is meaningful as well.”
Samantha’s mother, Nancy Saturn, recognized the importance of that connection, and the American Artisan Festival was born. Each year, artisans from across the country congregated in Nashville, first at The Craft Cranny and eventually moving to Centennial Park, to showcase and sell their handmade art and crafts.
Samantha’s childhood was filled with fond memories of Father’s Day weekend at the festival. “My mom was the soul of the show, and my dad was the spirit,” she laughs. “Every Father’s Day of his life we celebrated there.” This year, the tradition continues on Father’s Day weekend, though it does look a little bit different these days. Everyone at the show loved Samantha’s dad, Alan Saturn, and she shares, “It’s been this incredibly spiritual experience to be with my family and my children and my husband and our extended family and everyone else’s families there on Father’s Day. It would make him so happy that we are still doing that today.”
In 2010, the festival’s 40th year, Samantha’s mom was sick, and they knew she wouldn’t make it through the summer, so she asked Samantha then to take the reins. “She said, ‘I’m not going to make it, and I want you to do this for me in my honor for the 40th year’,” Samantha explains. So she did, continuing the festival tradition for several years until Centennial Park broke ground on new developments.
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It’s this deep-rooted sense of community and family that gives the American Artisan Festival, celebrating its 45th year, its special allure. When she moved back to town from New York, Samantha realized that so many were nostalgic for the festival’s return. “Everywhere I went, people would ask if I was going to do the fair again. At first, I told them that ship had sailed, but as more people asked, I started thinking about it,” she explains. She called the team at Centennial Park, who quickly expressed that they, too, had been hoping for the festival’s return. “So finally after living outside of the city for 25 years and returning home, I decided to bring it back. It was like a homecoming for me too!”
This year, the American Artisan Festival is pushing deeper into its beloved traditions and adding a special familial touch. The festival is partnering with Musicians Corner, which will host a fabulous three-day lineup of performers who call Nashville home, incorporating a new type of artist into the weekend. Also, the partnership has brought an improved Kidsville. Aligned in their mission to make art free and accessible for everyone, it makes sense that the kiddos can paint a Father’s Day card for Dad, while their parents enjoy live music or converse with a maker from out of town.
Additionally, Samantha is reigniting the festival’s relationship with Gilda’s Club, an organization that supports those who have been diagnosed with cancer. Dear to Nancy’s heart, she was one of the people who brought Gilda’s Club to Nashville. During their years of partnership, she had artisans donate just one piece of their work to an auction, where all proceeds benefited Gilda’s Club. Over its lifetime, the fundraiser has given more than $1 million to Gilda’s Club. This year, Samantha will also make a donation. “I reached out to Gilda’s during the time of my parents being diagnosed with and eventually dying from cancer, and they took care of me in a way I could never thank them enough for.”
Samantha also shares that the food and beverage program takes a step up in partnership with Musicians Corner. The team has had fun working on signature cocktails and bringing in food purveyors who know the art of incredible eats, and they are excited to amp up this area of the festival as well.
The main event, though, is the artisans, more than 130 of which will arrive in Nashville from 31 states for the festival. Every medium is covered — from ceramics, glass, sculpture and wood, to things like kids’ toys and quilts, and even a kite maker. “It’s important to me that we have a really balanced show. I look at the mix of artists and make sure it’s all balanced – not too many of any one medium or style even – so that everyone can have access to a wide variety and still have a choice in each category.” Expect artisans joining for the first time in addition to those who have been there for 20 years. “We love the artists who have been with us for a long time. They’re family to me, too.”
Family, that guiding principle and common thread throughout the 45 years of the American Artisan Festival, is what gives the festival its magnetism. Drawing people in year after year for a taste of nostalgia and kinship, the event continues this Father’s Day weekend. Take Dad and celebrate, join friends who feel like family, or take it all in on your own, but head to Centennial Park to experience firsthand the wonder that is the American Artisan Festival!
The American Artisan Festival is open Friday, June 14, from noon to 9 p.m.; Saturday, June 15, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, June 16 (Father’s Day), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit americanartisanfestival.com.
To see more happenings around Nashville this month, visit our Happenings page here!