Photo First: Saturday Market

Portland's iconic open-air market, the largest of its kind in the nation, is a bustling village of arts and crafts and people-watching in the city

Portland Saturday Market (which is, of course, open on Sundays as well) is a sort of curated street fair. Founded in 1974 by Sheri Teasdale and Andrea Scharf as a support for local artisans, it has grown over the years into the largest weekly open-air arts and crafts market in the United States. This is its 45th season, and it’s open most of the year, from March through Christmas Eve.

Incorporated as a special class of institution, the market (nonprofit) is governed by its members (for profit). At present there are about 250 booth spaces available every weekend. With more than 400 members, a steady stream of newcomers, and occasional participants, the mix of vendors is never quite the same on any given day. These vendors offer an amazing array of items—audio recordings, earrings, coffee mugs, sculptures, drawings, musical instruments, leatherwork, cat toys, curious cabinetry, jams and jellies, walking sticks, and more.

  Saturday Market is a bustling village inside the city.

Everything for sale at the market, which sprawls along Southwest Naito Parkway in Old Town south of the Steel Bridge, has been handmade by the people selling it. Each individual vendor has gone through a rigorous vetting process to assure compliance with market standards that focus heavily on artistic involvement and quality of craftsmanship.

A product review committee—a jury made up of market members—meets regularly to assess the applications of new exhibitors. They take the idea of handcraftedness very seriously. It is legalistically defined in the orientation literature as “a product resulting from a work process using a majority of hand techniques which the craftsperson performs and continually inspects.”

Each category of item offered for sale at the market has its own set of guidelines. For instance, if you are making dolls, you may use purchased eyes and noses but no commercially purchased heads, hands, or feet. If you are making perfume, you must distill your own oils or blend “uncompounded” oils in a unique recipe of no fewer than three ingredients. There is a similar set of guidelines for candles, clothing, graphic arts, pottery, jewelry, windchimes, etc.

Saturday Market is not just arts, crafts, and food—it is people to watch. With more than a million visitors every year, it is a phrenologist’s playground, a subject-rich environment that encourages you to produce your very own “handcrafted” opinion of the general body politic.

 

  It’s a place for music, impromptu and otherwise …

                       And artisanship …

  And getting a fresh henna tattoo …

  And making while you’re selling …

  And getting your portrait done …

                       And grabbing coffee on a cold day …

  And taking stock of inventory …

  And marketing the fruits of your labor …

  And meeting new friends …

                       And making things multigenerational …

  And catching up on the news …

  And living your cartoon-character dream …

  And hanging together for the day.

  You wander, you look, you chat, you munch, sometimes you buy. It’s a  good day, in a good place, on a day off, in a village in the city that’s a movable feast.

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