Valaree Rutherford is the woman behind the annual Christmas Arts and Crafts Extravaganza

Friday, November 20, 2009

Although buying handmade crafts will be many people's focus at the 39th annual Christmas Arts and Crafts Extravaganza, Valaree Rutherford will focus on the experience of the 300-plus vendors who will gather to sell their creations.

Since taking the reins as coordinator of the long-running annual show, Rutherford, the administrative assistant at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri and a graduate of Notre Dame Regional High School, has tried to take the experience of her vendors to a new level to make the event a success. This year's show will mark Rutherford's fourth turn as the head coordinator of the show, and she said many of her vendors have become like family.

"When I first came here, it was a huge craft fair, but I wanted to make it stand out from the rest," Rutherford said. She said she thought of the vendors and what it would take to make them happy.

"I remember thinking that if we don't have vendors, we don't have a show, so I focused on them," she said. Her show has now expanded to two locations with vendors and artists from hundreds of miles away.

The Extravaganza show has classics like Arndt Fudge from Newton, Ill., and new items like Mommy's Creations by April Swofford of Cape Girardeau, who cuts fabric and material into pieces and puts them back together into blankets and other deconstructed items. Rutherford said she was excited to book Happy Alpaca of Uniontown, Mo. The company raises and shears alpaca and uses the soft hair for blankets and sweaters.

Rutherford is used to coordinating a large group of people to get something done. She has four siblings who have given her 18 nieces and nephews. She and her family play bingo, travel and plan get-togethers.

"I come from a close family. There's a lot of us," she said. "My life really consists of the arts council and home."

Rutherford carries that commitment into her craft events. She said she tries to make experiences with her vendors as personal as possible because she only sees them once or twice a year. She believes her efforts with the vendors have paid off.

"Once you listen to them, they think that you are heaven-sent. It's the little stuff," she said. "I try to take at least one thing from all the evaluations and change it for the next year."

She often spends time leading up to the show coordinating volunteers to help run the event. Extra help from volunteers adds to the show's success, helping make the event the arts council's largest fundraiser every year. The funds brought in help pay for the organization's many projects throughout the year.

Rutherford is looking forward to a new experience organizing an event in the spring. The arts council will present a fine arts and crafts show inside the River Campus atrium and convocation center March 20 and 21 called "Arts by the River."

Rutherford said the quality of the items will be the same: high. But the vendors will have to have quality experience and that it will be a smaller, intimate, "upscale show," she said.

Entrants must send digital slides of their work to be judged and accepted. Rutherford said she expects the show will be top-of-the-line and a first-time experience for Southeast Missouri.

The Christmas Arts and Crafts Extravaganza will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Show Me Center and the Osage Community Centre. Admission covers both locations and is $5 for a weekend armband, or $3 for Sunday.

For time and information on other craft fairs to be held this weekend, see the calendar on Page 2A or visit

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