The Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair has been a popular attraction in Edmonton since the spring of 2007. This bi-annual local affair showcases the wonderful craftsmanship of art and utility that doesn't always get the notoriety it deserves. Going to the fair is a great way to find unique, handcrafted items that you can't find in any store.
One particularly great aspect of the fair is that each time you go, you will be seeing new creations. Many people apply to showcase their wares, which means there is an ever changing roster of vendors to make sure that you always have something interesting and different to see when you visit. This means that even the quirkiest gadgets and gizmos can be found here.
This fair is an eclectic blend of the talent Edmonton has to offer. Alberta may consist of a lot of farmers, hockey players and business executives, but there is a rich blend of people from all walks of life who have an impressive array of talents and know-how. The Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair is where you will see all this talent combined into a symphony of wonder and delight. If you have never been, this is one local event that you absolutely must not miss.
Want to know more about what sets the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair apart from any other local event? We interviewed 5 of the vendors to get the inside scoop about the fair, what inspires them, and their products/creations.
Crafty Bison Vendors
Chris Mikulin, aka Big Chief, is the brains behind CLYW; a Canadian return top (also known as a yo-yo) manufacturer located in Edmonton and popular across the world. CLYW creates functioning spinning art and amazing tutorial videos.
Ashley Benson is the founder of Bloom Cookie Co., which specializes in dairy and egg free cookies (yes, they're fully vegan). These are cookies for all people by local people and offer a diverse range of flavours inspired by delicious beverages.
Victoria Wiercinski is a graphic designer and artist that explores colour, pattern, and typography through her company Vekee Workshop. From stationary, tea towels, or ceramics, she's determined to add a little more beauty to homes everywhere. On top of all of this, Vikki is also one of the Royal Bison Art and Craft Fair organizers.
Jim Johansson is a film photographer who is inspired by all things marginal, abandoned, or silly. Jim Shoots Film is where you can find a full showcase of his work and is often featured throughout the city at places like Sugarbowl or Alberta Views Magazine. On top of being a vendor, Jim is also one of this year's event organizers.
Amy Beaith is the creator of Ameya Studio a local artisan soap and skincare company that is dedicated to providing organic, fair-trade, locally sourced and wild harvested products. Amy is dedicated to helping your skin without harming the environment.
1. What sets the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair apart from other fairs?
Chris: "The Royal Bison has a huge following in Edmonton, for both vendors and shoppers... and browsers. It's been very consistent since it first started: same venue, same time of year, a lot of the same vendors... but every year it just keeps getting better and better. This is probably one of the harder fairs to get into in Edmonton too. They really work hard to ensure that only high quality vendors that fit the 'arts & craft' feel are there. "
Ashley: "I think one of my favorite parts about the Royal Bison is the fact that organizers have always wanted to keep it a bit weirder and off the beaten path of most fairs. There is your standard craft fair stuff, but they let a lot of cool/weirdo vendors in that might not be considered for other fairs. They took a chance on Bloom a few years ago and we really owe them a great deal because of it. Where else in Edmonton can you pick up a strange screen print, eat some vegan cookies, get some awesome jewelry and see a wacky peep show (this actually happened one year!!)"
Vikki: "The Royal Bison has a really great, quirky vibe to it. It's for Edmontonians only, and it's truly a community event. Everyone is friendly and for a lot of vendors there, it's the only craft fair they make products for. The quality of the work is amazing; you often won't find items like this at other craft fairs. A lot of the crafters there do this kind of thing on the side - in my 'real life', for example, I am a graphic designer. I could be sitting next to a teacher, a nurse, a lab tech, or a construction worker. What we all have in common is this deep thread of creativity that makes us want to produce whatever wacko idea we have and present it to an audience! The Royal Bison also makes a great effort to have a variety of items that are unisex or even guy-oriented, on top of neat stuff for kids and ladies, so there's tons of interesting items for the whole family. The guys in your life will want to come to see this too! I also love the the Bison has art exhibits now, so they pay artists to create interactive, entertaining booths for an audience to check out in between shopping."
Jim: "I see the Bison as a celebration of Edmonton's creativity. The quality of work on display makes me proud to call Edmonton home. I also see it as being a vital component of Edmonton's creative community. Given that it's only local vendors participating, it's a great opportunity to meet fellow creative-types, build networks, collaborate, etc. The vibe at the Bison is entirely positive. Other fairs that I've been to and participated in don't have this feel."
Amy: "The Royal Bison is an amazing indie craft fair in Edmonton that showcases so many unique, up and coming artists and designers. You have a mix of people that are showcasing their work for the first time along with veterans who have been doing the show for years. This mix is beneficial to both groups and allows for some unique cross-pollination and collaboration opportunities I think. The show is juried and I think that is really important to ensure there is a good mix of artists making a variety of unique handmade items."
2. As an artist or creator where do you get your inspiration from?
Chris: "I get my inspiration from everything around me, ie: Edmonton, nature, the rockies. We sell yo-yos all around the world, but I still use Edmonton as a major inspiration for a lot of stuff we do. We have a colourway for one of our yoyos called Clareview Station, it has a navy blue base with a yellow splash of colour. The first time I saw it, it just reminded me so much of all those years I waited at the LRT while going to University."
Ashley: "Well, since we're a cookie company, our "creative" process is a bit different. We really just want to make treats that taste great and everyone can eat. That's why we focused on vegan/egg & dairy free when we first started, and it's why we've kept our cookies nut free and have tried a few different gluten free options. It's very easy to find a cookie if you have no dietary restrictions, but the second you have them, finding a tasty treat like a cookie becomes infinitely more difficult. As far as flavors go, I seem to draw inspiration from drinks a lot. I've done a Matcha Green Tea Latte cookie, I've experimented with a Mojito cookie, and our most popular cookie was inspired by London Fog Lattes. One of the things that I think sets Bloom apart is our flavor combos. I want to try different cookies that you won't be able to find at any bakery."
Vikki: "My work is very colourful, patterned and for the most part, very abstract. I love the Finnish design brand, Marimekko. I saw a textile piece of theirs sometime in design school and my world was never the same since. I love colour and get a lot of joy out of being in spaces that are colourful, it wakes up your imagination. You could also call me a travel-a-holic; my husband and I get out of town a lot and seeing new things and new places is always an amazing way to let the mind wander, I always fill a sketchbook or two with the things I see. Recently we've been going down to southern Arizona in the winter and the Mexico-infused culture really inspires me.
I really love making useful objects, too, hence the ceramics and tea towels and things like that. My goal is to make everyone's kitchen or home just that much more delightful, even if all the need to do is hang a new tea towel on their stove."
Jim: "I'm a photographer, and I really enjoy the study of subjects on the margins. Things/places/people that are falling apart, abandoned, marginalized, or forgotten catch my attention, and I think there's a lot of beauty in these spaces. A friend of mine told me that I'd make the apocalypse look beautiful. I spent the majority of my 20s fighting forest fires in northern Alberta, and it really impacted the way I look at destruction. I also spent much of my 20s involved in social justice related activities; I've spent a lot of time working with marginalized people/communities, and appreciate the hope and beauty that can exist therein."
Amy: "I love the outdoors and grew up on an acreage in Ontario. We made a lot of our own things including beeswax, maple syrup, chopped wood, etc. It was a pretty special childhood. Now, living in the city, I take my inspiration from the country as well as the city and our lovely river valley in Edmonton. I'm conscious of my impact on nature and try to make my products as sustainably as I can from the ingredients all the way to the packaging. I seek out locally made ingredients that support other small businesses and farms, which means ingredients are often fresher, they are supporting another family, and it has a smaller footprint than ingredients from far away. I also love gardening and wildharvesting some of my ingredients from the urban environment such as lilacs and rosehips. Some of my best known products came from suggestions made my customers and friends and I'm really grateful that I listened with an open ear and heart."
3. Tell us more about you, your company, and your products/services.
Chris: "I'm a professional mechanical engineer, and originally worked in the oil industry designing downhole drilling tools in Nisku. Then one day my yo-yo hobby took off in the form of a small company and I was able to quit my job and focus on it full time. We now sell yo-yos all over the world and sponsor some of the best yo0yo players in the world (Jensen Kimmitt, the 2010 world yoyo champion, Charles Haycock, the 2011 Canadian National Champion and Zach Gormley, the 2012 US National Champion). We're located in the Richie Mill building and manufacture our yo-yos out of BC. Our first Royal Bison Fair was in the winter of 2007, when Raymond Biesinger was still running it. We took an art class together in 2002/2003 and I believe it was the only art class he ever took ... so crazy! Raymond actually designed our first logo back in 2006. The Royal Bison blood runs deeply through our veins."
Ashley: "We sell vegan/egg & dairy free cookies. At this time, we have close to 17 flavors that we rotate on and off depending on the season. We started baking vegan cookies because our family and friends who were vegan or allergic to dairy or eggs were having a hard time finding the products out there, and since then Bloom has grown in popularity as more and more people realize there is an option out there for their diets."
Vikki: "I live two lives! On the one side, I'm surface and product designer for Veekee Workshop. In the other half, I'm a graphic designer and illustrator for my own company, Half Design (get it?), where I do anything from newspaper layout to ad campaigns to websites and print work. Multi-faceted work keeps the mind sharp, I really couldn't choose one over the other!"
Jim: "I grew up on a farm outside of Edson. My dad is a taxidermist. I spent my 20s fighting forest fires. I've lived in Winnipeg and Halifax, but have happily settled in Edmonton. I'm currently in my third year of the nursing RN program at Grant MacEwan. I'm a film photographer, working exclusively with film and film cameras (all of my cameras are older than me - I'm 32). I sell prints and framed photos from Edmonton, from across Alberta, Canada, the United States and into Europe (I like to travel). I'm currently working on a new series of Edmonton-specific postcards in my 'No Regretzkys' series. I take terrible pictures of people, and don't do weddings."
Amy: "I started out making artisan olive oils soaps and skin care products such as my whipped beeswax creams and have expanded to include eco-friendly laundry and cleaning products such as my fair-trade soapnuts liquid detergent, wool dryer balls, made from wool milled right here in Alberta as well as more skincare products such as lip butters and deodorants!"
The Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair will run May 3 (5pm-9pm), May 4 (10am-6pm), and May (11am-5p), just north of the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market at 8426 Gateway Boulevard. Admission is only $2.00 for adults and children are free!