Walking through the doorway of the Emma Schoolhouse is like taking a step back in time. If you squint hard and use your imagination, it’s possible to envision the rows of wooden desks that filled this single-room building where the three “R’s” were taught from the early part of the 20th century until the spring of 1948, when a new school debuted in Basalt.
The historic white schoolhouse, which was feted in 2009 on the 100th anniversary that the property was deeded by W.L. Phillips to the school district, has been anything but idle since Mrs. Kimuel taught her last classes there more than 70 years ago.
In addition to hosting regular church services, for the past 43 years the building located just west of Basalt off Highway 82 is home to a mid-November artists’ fair with a base of out-of-town shoppers so loyal they regularly plan their visits around this event.
D.D. Gerdin has been the organizer of the Emma Schoolhouse Bazaar for the past 20 years or so, taking it over from Betsy Bingham, a potter.
“Betsy turned to me and said, ‘I’m not organizing the bazaar anymore. Will you do it?’ I said no,” Gerdin recounted recently. Rethinking her response for a moment, Gerdin asked, “What’s going to happen if I don’t do it?” She was told in no uncertain terms that the bazaar would go away.
“I inherited it,” laughed Gerdin, whose striking beaded jewelry and ornaments can be found this weekend among the other handmade items featured by 15 local artists.
“I like to call it the Mountain Fair of winter. It’s a very social event. People come in that you haven’t seen since the last bazaar,” she said.
The 43rd annual Emma Schoolhouse Bazaar runs today, Friday, Nov. 15, 3-7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 16, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.
According to information provided by Janice Duroux of Basalt Regional Heritage Society, “Records indicate the schoolhouse was built in 1910-1912 and the local families owning property or living in the Emma area attended school. The building was heated by a black wood/coal burning stove, the teacher arrived early to build the fire or a student living nearby would get the building warm. No electricity.
“School usually began the middle of September and would take a break for potato picking, some young boys did not attend school until almost Christmas because they stayed home to get the farming chores done and usually did not complete more than eight years as they were needed as workers on the family farms.”
The history that permeates this historic space may set it apart from other holiday craft fairs held in less heralded places. So too is the insistence by the organizer that everything is handmade.
“The Emma Bazaar is special to me because it is local artisans and craftspeople sharing their creative work with other local residents at reasonable prices,” said artist Judy Nordhagen. “I happen to be in a book club with one of the women who started the Emma Bazaar many years ago and I have shopped there myself for unique gifts and practical items.”
She added, “When D.D. asked me if I would like to participate this year, I thought that it would be something that I would really enjoy doing. It’s been fun getting ready for it, dying scarves and copying paintings onto cards.”
Children’s clothing, tea towels, personal care products, reusable food bags, wooden ornaments and blown and fused glass are other handmade items for sale. Gerdin said gifts may be had for as little as $5 and range to a few hundred dollars. The main price point hovers around $25.
Annie Burch of Glenwood Springs is a new exhibitor this year.
“I’ll have fun, funky and festive toddler bedding and kids winter beanies,” Burch said, adding that locals will probably recognize her from her “trucker hats” that were sold at the Basalt and Carbondale farmers markets last summer.
“For me, the bazaar is special because it helps both local artists and locals come together. I know for my friends and family, when they receive handmade gifts, they are treasured.”
D.D. Gerdin said demand is high among potential exhibitors.
“I could fill a gymnasium with all the artists I have to turn away. People say, ‘why don’t we change the venue’ (so it can accommodate more people)?”
“But it’s quaint, it’s magic,” she tells them, adding that “every nook and cranny” in the small space is filled.
This year, a bit of modernization will debut at the bazaar. Barbara Clarke, who performs yeoman’s work as the event’s cashier, has computerized the checkout so there’s no longer the need to hand write receipts.
Clarke opined that not only does the fair have a loyal coterie of vendors but “we see so many of the same buyers year after year. It’s an impressive dynamic in an otherwise mostly transient population. I’ve been in the Valley for 37 years. I can remember going to the schoolhouse in the early ’80s.”
Postcards touting the event, which were long handwritten, now bear computerized addresses. Gerdin said they are sent to people as far away as Missouri, though most go to customers from Grand Junction to Aspen.
For the 43rd annual Emma Schoolhouse Bazaar, vendors were asked to make a specialty item. Denise York, a fused glass artist who lives near the Lake Christine Fire burn site, collected ashes to insert into Christmas ornaments, according to the organizer. Ondine Wilson, another local artist, makes wooden ornaments gathered from old wood left by the Storm King Fire.
“You can see the burnt edges around the ornaments,” Gerdin said.
The 2018 event broke records in terms of sales, according to Gerdin who gives credit to Clarke for infusing new energy into a classic fair.
In addition to providing their crafts, each vendor also contributes snacks like cookies or cake. Owing to the building’s historic nature, it’s worth mentioning that there’s still no indoor plumbing in the schoolhouse, though a Porta-potty outside stands at the ready.