From alligator belts and handmade guitars to metal sculptures and intricate works of embroidery, the marketplace of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, presented by Shell, offers something for everyone. And behind each inspired product is an artist with a unique story. Each of the following crafters will be exhibiting during the first weekend of the festival.
Niki Fisk — Niki Fisk Jewelry
Contemporary Crafts, Tent F
“I have always been a creator,” Niki Fisk said. At a young age, she wove intricate friendship bracelets out of embroidery floss. As a college student, she designed wire-wrapped jewelry pieces and later enrolled in a metalsmith class at Delgado Community College. After Katrina, Fisk pursued a career in jewelry-making and eventually established Niki Fisk Jewelry, a two-woman operation that includes her graphic designer, Rebecca Cole.
Her jewelry is influenced by mythology, fairy tales and the natural world. Each signature shadowbox piece begins with a silhouette design on paper, which is glued to a sheet of sterling silver and serves as a template. Fisk then performs a few steps of expert artistry before painting a patina onto the background.
“It is exciting to share my art at Jazz Fest,” she said. “I always feel humbled when I look around at the company I am in and treat myself to a new piece of art as a reward for all my hard work.”
Robert Friedrich — Crescent Belt Manufacturers
Louisiana Marketplace, Tent F
“Making a belt is relatively easy,” said Robert Friedrich, co-owner of Crescent Belt Manufacturers. “The challenge is to make a belt that emphasizes the beauty of the alligator and works with the natural strength of the skin and lasts.”
Friedrich, who runs the business with his wife of 50 years, Judy, selects Louisiana alligator skins only from reptiles that range from 8 to 10 feet long. “The pattern on the skin is optimal for our belt design,” he said. The subsequent steps — almost 30 — demand time and attention to detail, but the end result is what Friedrich calls “a belt for a lifetime.”
Friedrich and his wife have expanded their customer base and product line since buying the business back in 1995. “Our primary goal is to educate more people about our belts, their quality and appearance,” Friedrich said. “No one else in the belt industry can say that one of their belts spent 16 days underwater after Katrina — and remained intact and wearable.”
Though Friedrich is known for his belts, which come in varying widths and colors, he is most excited about his featured product — an alligator jewelry box made of Louisiana Red Oak and lined with suede.
Steve Walden — Steve Walden Guitars
Louisiana Folklife Village, Tent C
The son of a master carpenter, Steve Walden has been making acoustic guitars since the early 1980s. He has honed his skills through experience, research, a brief course on the building and repairing of instruments, and “enough sandpaper to stretch to the moon and back.”
“Guitar building is a process of detailed woodworking and hair-pulling” Walden said. He uses a variety of woods — from African ebonies and Honduran mahoganies to domestic and European spruces. “They all have their strengths, quirks and challenges, and lend a particular sound to an instrument,” Walden said. For example, maple guitars contain a clear and focused sound, while the tunes resounding from rosewood guitars come across as deep and complex.
Walden will share the Jazz Fest tent with fellow music-related artisans and looks forward to talking about his guitars with festgoers.
“Jazz Fest is always enjoyable,” he said. “And the staff is wonderful to work with. They really go the extra mile to help you out.”
Garrett Haab — Garrett Haab Artistry
Contemporary Crafts, Tent K
By fusing metal objects, artist Garrett Haab forms sleek, three-dimensional sculptures. These conversation-starters honor the human body. “I enjoy the challenge of welding my sculptures to create anatomical accuracy that is normally achieved by casting the sculpture,” Haab said. “If it is easy, I’m not interested in doing it.”
The owner of Sequoia Outdoor Supply (a lumberyard that was once a deck and fence construction company), Haab began making metal sculptures nearly two years ago. He was searching for a new creative outlet, so he went into the lumberyard and began welding small sculptures.
Haab will sell a variety of his sculptures — from creations that weigh 300 pounds to small hand-held objects. The larger sculptures can be shipped anywhere.
Contemporary Crafts, Tent G
Lizzy Carlson creates colorful works of embroidery with a contemporary look, inspired by the music and culture of the Deep South. Her collection includes portraits of Earl King and Professor Longhair, along with images of Mardi Gras.
“I fill the entire surface of the fabric with stitches, much like a painter covers the surface of the canvas with paint,” Carlson said. She begins each project with a sketch of her subject, transfers it onto fabric, sits on a comfortable chair and starts stitching. This last step can take up to 60 hours.
A self-taught embroidery artist, Carlson began her career shortly after Hurricane Katrina by selling embroidered T-shirts at local art markets. She then began creating art pieces.
“It took me several years to gather the courage to apply to Jazz Fest,” Carlson said. “I’m thrilled to be doing my second year in Contemporary Crafts.”
Greg Little — Fine Art Boxes
Contemporary Crafts, Tent K
Greg Little’s art medium of choice has always been wood. His carefully sculpted boxes reflect his passion for innovative designs of the highest quality. At an early age, he watched the older men in his family build pirogues. “I was fascinated with all the tools and how they could be used shape and mold wood into a beautiful creation,” Little said. Over the years, he has used several woods, such as recycled Louisiana cypress and salvaged oak from Hurricane Katrina, along with woods from around the United States and the world.
“I find it enjoyable when I design and create a piece of work, coming from my heart and mind, that connects enough with someone to purchase it,” Little said.