For parents, taking children somewhere they’ve never been before can be a questionable proposition.
But when Carrie Nardini took her son, Sidney, to one of her favorite annual events, he ended up having a good time, too.
“It brought back so many memories, because I had gone to A Fair in the Park growing up and looked forward to it each year,” she said.
The Peters Township resident now serves as director of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Pittsburgh’s yearly showcase in Shadyside’s Mellon Park. This year’s event, scheduled for Sept. 6-8, marks the 50th anniversary of the first such happening, during the summer of Apollo 11 and Woodstock.
To help celebrate, the fair is hosting a special booth, “A Retrospective: An Artist Looks Back,” with veteran artists present on a rotating basis to display their work and talk about their careers.
Beyond that, A Fair in the Park features nearly 100 fine artisans and skilled craftsmen from Pittsburgh and across the country, along with live music, demonstrations and, as Sidney discovered, plenty to do for the kids.
“I think one of the most important things about A Fair in the Park is that it’s artist-led and artist-run,” Nardini said. “The artists who run this are very dedicated. They make nothing from it. It’s for the love of, and hope of, furthering artists and artists’ work in the city. They put their hearts and souls into it.”
She has served as fair director since 2016, building on her own love of arts and crafts that extends back to making jewelry as a youngster.
“I grew up in a family with a small business and always felt that I wanted to have a business of my own,” Nardini said.
While attending Gateway High School in Monroeville, Nardini said she sold polymer clay beads she made to the since-closed Oakland store, Tela Ropa. She went to work there while she attended the University of Pittsburgh, managing the bead section.
Later, she took classes at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, next to Mellon Park in Shadyside, in the likes of bookbinding, ceramics, lampworking and metalsmithing, all the while continuing to make jewelry.
“I was looking for places to sell the stuff that I made,” she said. “The people I worked with would buy it and my friends would buy it, and I had it at the Center for the Arts shop. But there weren’t too many opportunities at that time for consignment or to sell.”
While attending a craft fair at Carnegie Mellon University, her booth was next to that of Nina Barbuto, now executive director of Assemble: A Community Space for Arts and Technology.
“We got to talking, and we decided, ‘hey, why don’t we start something,’” Nardini recalled. “She knew a lot of talented people through her connections, and I knew a lot of talented people through mine. And so we decided to go for it.”
The result was I Made It! Market, which for 12 years has brought craft fairs to local neighborhoods, starting with a successful debut in Garfield.
“We had such a great reception with it that we went on to do the next one in John Fetterman’s front yard, actually,” Nardini said about the then-Braddock mayor who now serves as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. “Nina had talked to him, and he offered up his yard. It was a great event.”
Barbuto later sold her half of the venture to Nardini, who previously had been on the team of a Pittsburgh traveling art event called Flux.
“Flux’s idea was to bring art to the people,” she said. “So I thought, ‘why don’t we bring the craft markets to people in different neighborhoods?’ That would help people in those neighborhoods learn about it and become engaged with it.”
In 2014, she founded the Neighborhood Flea, a monthly marketplace that features products such as vintage clothing, repurposed furniture, handmade jewelry and cosmetics, and food and drink, along with hands-on workshops. The final two events for 2019 are Sept. 8 and Oct. 13 in the lot at 26th and Railroad streets in the Strip District.
“My idea for the name was because in Pittsburgh, the things that people really have supreme pride about are their sports teams and their neighborhoods,” Nardini said. “Having lived in a number of different in neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, and feeling that pride, I thought, you never know what your neighbor has. So the Neighborhood Flea is the idea that you’re going to meet neighbors who have these treasures you didn’t even know about.”
Two years after the Flea’s formation, she joined the Craftsmen’s Guild of Pittsburgh as A Fair in the Park director.
“I knew that it was a really wonderfully produced show, and I thought maybe I can add a little with my touch, and I can learn from what’s been done previously,” she said. “I have warm feelings about it. I feel like A Fair in the Park is an institution in Pittsburgh, something people look forward to at the beginning of fall every year.”