As you build your holiday gift list this month, you might find yourself pondering a few thorny questions:
“What can I buy a child that won’t involve staring at a video screen?”
“Where can I find a good present for my oh-so-picky spouse?”
And “What on earth am I going to buy for my so-very-wacky best friend?”
Fortunately, the answers to these questions are within driving distance at the Chattanooga Holiday Market.
The annual bazaar moves the weekly Chattanooga Market from the First Horizon Pavilion to the Chattanooga Convention Center, where shoppers can browse over 200 vendor booths in the interior of Exhibit Hall B each Saturday and Sunday before Christmas.
The first Saturday and Sunday have come and gone but patrons can still visit the market Dec. 10, 11, 17 and 18. While the market isn’t deploying the army of food trucks that descends on the pavilion every Sunday, it’s still a festive occasion with live music, selfie booths and special events (such as the Lodge Cast Iron Breakfast of Champions cookoff Sunday, Dec. 11).
To help you prepare, here’s a sample of 12 of the vendors, all of whom offer unique and personally crafted products.
Millie Rae Co
Chattanooga children’s author Kelsey Paulson says she writes books that promote good mental health. Her debut work is “Lacee Laroo the Self-Loving Llama,” which she penned to encourage children to “embrace their uniqueness.”
“I wrote it for my daughter, who’s 5 and needs to prepare herself for the world in which she’s growing up,” Paulson told me as I Ieafed through its colorful pages. “It’s also for my childhood self, who grew up without that message.”
It would be hard to miss Paulson’s display of “Lacee Laroo” books, which is located to the right of the entrance to the market, as well as the smile she flashes as people walk by. Learn more about her work at www.millieraeco.com.
Doug McCoy Art
Doug McCoy says he could draw before he could speak. Now that he’s grown up, he concentrates on painting and displaying his works at In-Town Gallery on the North Shore.
McCoy’s contributions to the holiday market include dozens of vibrant Christmas ornaments painted on recycled slate. He scavenged the rock from the roof of a farm house in Marietta, Ohio, he says he dated back to the 1790s.
The ornaments feature a variety of familiar characters ranging from the needle-bare tree in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to the classic version of Grinch. McCoy also welcomes commissions such as anniversary ornaments and ornaments commemorating a baby’s first holiday season.
Whiskey Nights Candle Company
Candles are a safe go-to holiday present for just about anyone. But the big box varieties can be a little ho-hum and seem like an afterthought.
Chattanoogans Aaron and Abby Beadle of Whiskey Nights Candle Company (www.whiskeynightscandleco.com) have crafted a line of handmade soy candles that could light up any face.
What started as a hobby for Abby has grown into a full-blown product line with four singular scents, including Tobacco and Spice, Cashmere Plum, Leather and Wood, and Lavender.
Abby says she takes special pride in Whiskey Nights’ Vintage Collection, which consists of candle wax poured into sparking crystal.
While browsing the Whiskey Nights booth, be sure to snap a selfie beside the couple’s scrappy 1946 Chevrolet, which Aaron still drives to work every day. It’s decked out for the holidays, making it a great way to pictorially preserve the memory of visiting the market.
Federal Bake Shop
The smell of baked goods lured me away from Whiskey Nights to the Federal Bake Shop (federalbakeshop.com) booth, which consists of three long counters piled high with gingerbread cookies, chess bars, cupcakes, pudding cakes and more.
The Ainsworth family has owned and operated Federal Bake Shop since 1974. Although a Hixson bakery, it serves the greater Chattanooga area and beyond with its sugary treats.
These delicacies include the shop’s bestseller this holiday season, its thumbprint cookies (shortbread cookies with iced pecans), so the staff is rising early and staying up late to make enough for the market.
I grabbed a loaf of Apple Cinnamon bread instead and was not sorry.
Federal Bake Shop appears to have the corner on baked goods at the market, so if you miss them, you might go home hungry.
Sweet Girl Honey Farm
Hot tea tastes great in the winter, especially with a dripping spoonful of honey.
But honey is meant for more than tea, said Jeff Rector, owner of Sweet Girl Honey Farm (sweetgirlhoneyfarm.com), as we talked shop. Flanked by row upon row of 3-ounce jars of infused honey, he says he sells honey for skin care, honey that can “cure what ails ya” and honey for meats.
Rector says he’s no snake oil salesman, so he won’t describe what he says are the medicinal benefits of his various varieties of honey. He will, however, insist his Chipotle Peach honey and Fire Cider honey add zest to barbecued meats and that his Chai Spice honey will make a tea drinker smile.
Rector says he grows 90% of the ingredients he uses at his Woodbury farm and secures the other 10% from organic sources.
As a bonus, ask Rector where his bees will spend the winter as he rides out the chilly days and nights to come in Woodbury.
Chattanooga Clay Company
Earrings are a popular holiday gift and are in ample supply at the market. Among the unique offerings are the polymer clay earrings available at the Chattanooga Clay Company (chattanoogaclaycompany.com) booth.
Founder Irene Thomas is a corporate health care recruiter who started the company as a way to channel her creativity. Shoppers can chat with members of her staff, who spend Tuesday evenings at the company’s Fort Wood shop making elegant earrings – including several holiday themed offerings – out of lumps of clay.
The beauty of these pieces conceal their scrappy beginnings, so you’ll want to share the story of how the company makes them as your friend or loved one puts them on.
Grumpy Ole Goat
If anything beats out candles as holiday gifts, it’s soaps. I wish I had a dollar for every bogus exclamation of delight people will make when they see a crinkle-wrapped basket of big box soaps under the tree on Christmas morning.
If I lost a dollar for every genuine expression of gratitude when someone receives a gift from Grumpy Ole Goat (grumpyolegoat.com), my pockets would be empty by dinner.
Nestled in the mountains of Northeast Alabama, Grumpy Ole Goat is a family business that makes soaps, bath bombs, shower steamers, sugar scrubs, lotions, skin balms and lip butters from nutrient-rich goat milk.
“Mass produced soaps are made of detergents that strip your skin of its oils and leave you squeaky clean but dried out,” explained co-owner Alisa Lemley as I sniffed a bar of Rainforest. “Our handmade soaps are full of vitamins and minerals and won’t dry out your skin.”
Lemley says she and her mother raise the goats and make every product themselves – and their shelves are groaning with merchandise! Their top-sellers are their Oatmeal Milk & Honey Goat Milk soap (it’s a mouthful) and their gift totes.
After learning about Lemley’s products, I asked her one pressing question: Who’s the grumpy old goat?
“My dad,” she quips. “Well, all of us at the moment. This was a lot of work.”
B&B Custom Outdoors
Is there a harder person to please during a holiday gift exchange than a fisherman? Perhaps, but I’d bet fussy anglers are still close to the top.
Rescuing the loved ones of these hard-to-please sportsmen and women is B&B Custom Outdoors (thelocalfisherman.fish/products/b-b-custom-outdoors), a one-man shop run by lifelong fisherman, hunter and trapper Brian Avery.
A Calhoun, Georgia, resident, Avery has been making handcrafted fishing rods for 10 years. He buys the stick but does everything else himself, including the woodsy artwork on his precision-carved handles.
Avery told me his handmade rods offer several benefits over their store-bought counterparts. “The line follows the curvature of the rod under load better,” he began. “Mass produced rods also have fewer guides, or eyelets, than mine do. The additional eyelets increase your cast distance and the rod’s fighting ability.”
Avery also makes and sells duck and deer calls and was happy to demonstrate how to use them. I forgot to ask if he made the kilt he was wearing, though.
Many children spend at least some of their time doodling monsters instead of paying attention in class. John Vise of Bronze Beasties (www.bronzebeasties.com) never stopped.
Vise essentially makes doodle monsters, only instead of doodling in pencil or ink, he uses metal clay that contains tiny particles of bronze. Think Precious Moments filtered through the mind of Stephen King.
Although many sculptors sketch out their ideas first, Vise skips this step and brings his strange beasties to life as he sculpts them, making each one unique but also infusing them with the DNA of his bizarre imagination.
“I watch a lot of cartoons and I liked fantasy books and movie monsters as a kid,” he said. “I considered a career as an effects person, and briefly went to school to study computer animation, but then I realized I’d spend the next 30 years sitting in a cubicle bringing someone else’s dreams to life. Now I sit in my studio and give life to my own creations.”
Passing by Vise’s booth without noticing his bronze bestiary would be easy. But if you walk gradually through the market and look closely at the booths, you’ll easily spot his tiny sculptures. Once you begin gazing at the grotesque details and fantastic designs, pulling away won’t be easy.
I told Vise I don’t know anyone who’d appreciate such a gift. He told me to carefully consider everyone on my list.
“You’ll know if you have someone in your life who would like these.”
Bo Peep’s Black Sheep
Vise’s creations touch on the dark side, while one painting at the market dives into it, black helmet first.
DB Reisen of Bo Peep’s Black Sheep (bopeepsblacksheep.com) paints pet portraits and speculative pieces full time. It’s intense work, she says, and she needs a way to relax.
Enter Darth Vader gazing at a pulverized planet from within what could be the Death Star.
“Sometimes, the only thing you can do to feel better is blow up a planet,” Reisen jokes as she explains her thoughts as she created the piece.
The painting features a silhouette of Vader as he beholds a massive burst of orange, red and yellow sparks from the interior of a spaceship. A star-dusted expanse provides a canvas for the carnage, while blue lights within the ship cast a shadow of Vader on the floor, complicating the layering Reisen had to do to complete the painting but adding depth.
The painting costs $45, and she’ll make another one if someone buys it.
“I’ve done this painting at least 40 times,” she says. “As soon as it sells, I make another one. It’s relaxing.”
After viewing Vise’s bronze beasties and a painting of a planet-vaporizing Sith lord, a visit to Merryann Schoocraft’s booth can do wonders to restore one’s sense of well-being.
Schoocraft is the curator of Raggedy Quilts, a homespun business that makes bedding as soft as her voice.
“Feel this,” she instructed as she lifted a pet throw made of four 100% cotton flannel squares of varying designs. Its velvety texture made me want to buy every quilt on display and take a nap.
Schoocraft fashions the raggedy quality of her quilts by snipping their seams with scissors and then tossing them in the washer and dryer. “They’re great for babies,” she said as she pointed to a rack on which several smaller throws were hanging. “You can lay them on the floor or tuck them into a stroller.”
Schoocraft also makes covers big enough for a bed and several holiday-themed throws. If you don’t make it to the market, you can find her on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/RaggedyQuiltsCo.
Whippoorwill Woods Nature Company
If anything at the holiday market is softer than Schoocraft’s quilts, it’s the decorative pillows at the Whippoorwill Woods Nature Company (www.whippoorwillnaturecompany.com) booth.
Staffed by a mother and daughter who hail from a 100-acre mountaintop property in South Pittsburg, Whippoorwill Woods aims to catch shoppers’ eyes with its animal designs, which are as adorable as a basket of kittens and softer than, well, a basket of kittens.
The daughter, Kristine Combs, makes the pillows, which sport fuzzy gray racoons, bright red cardinals, Christmas gnomes and more. She uses wool robing (wool before it’s spun into yarn) and special needles with barbs that “felt” the robing into the fabric. This produces the fluffy looking artwork on her pillows, which vary in size.
Combs’ mother, Kathleen Jamsohn, makes embroidered pillows using Alpaca wool, which is also crazy soft.
“You can tell which of us does the felting,” Jamsohn jokes. “My daughter does – and she has the fingers to prove it.”
Both women are proud of their use of eco-friendly and ethically-sourced materials for their pillows, which they fill with down. An organic barrier fabric prevents the feathers from ever spilling out.
“We create art that makes us happy,” Jamsohn says. “We want people to smile as they walk up to our booth and feel peaceful.”
What will you buy for the people on your list his holiday season? That’s a good question, and the answer is as close as the Chattanooga Holiday Market (chattanoogamarket.com).