By Will Broaddus
---- — At 379 years of age, the town of Ipswich is a lot older than Olde Ipswich Days, the annual celebration of its history.
But as the heritage event enters its 43rd year this weekend with a crafts fair, live musical performances by local bands Swamp Groove and One More, and plenty of good things to eat, it has seen plenty of changes.
“It started with 17th century days, They made quite an event here; the historical houses were open,” said Sue Burton, who has helped organize the event for more than 30 years. “We also had the Ipswich marathon, but we’ve lost the marathon.”
The event itself used to be something of a marathon, lasting nine days, but has since been cut to three.
“Now it’s primarily the crafts fair,” Burton said. “The friends of the library will have a used book sale. The Boy Scout troop has always run the booth where you get hot dogs and hamburgers — it’s one of their big fundraisers. The Ipswich High graduating class of 2014 will sell slush, and the cheerleaders will sell fudge.”
“But 10 years ago, it narrowed down to the crafts fair,” she said.
With so much focus on this part of the celebration, Burton and her committee of four other volunteers try to provide a variety of vendors.
“It’s a small fair, so what we try to do is not overlap,” Burton said. “You can only have so many jewelers or potters.”
Limiting the number of vendors also allows the committee to pick and choose.
“Over a period of time, we just had many more applications, so we would really pick,” she said. “They’re getting to see the best of the best.”
They have also tried to make sure that not only all tastes, but also every pocketbook, will be pleased with their options at the fair.
“Jewelers run the gamut price-wise,” Burton said. “There are earrings for $10. But one of the craftspeople is working in gold and sterling silver with fine gems. It’s a little pricier. We have people here who make handbags — they go from beach bags to fine evening bags.”
There are 62 crafters in all, and in addition to jewelers and potters, they include painters and photographers, toy makers and people who make fleece or knitted hats, as well as people who create quilts and clothing for dolls.
The potters include Fumihiko Mochizuki of Merrimac, who will be participating in his 13th Olde Ipswich Days.
“I’m working in stoneware, and the type of firing is called high-fire reduction,” said Mochizuki, who grew up in Japan and previously lived in South America and California.
“The reduction means reduce the oxygen during the process of firing, so that you can get some colors like red and deeper colors.”
Mochizuki makes bowls and unique sculpted teapots, along with expressive faces he calls “funny faces,” which can be hung on a wall or fixed to steel surfaces with a magnet.
Mochizuki got the inspiration for funny faces, which he shapes with a ballpoint pen, four years ago during one of his creative rituals.
“I use a hand-sized stone for texturing my sculptural bowls,” he said. “Normally, I take a walk, looking for these stones in the road. Then, one day, I pick up the stone and it looks like a face. So, I make faces — stone-like faces — smiling or angry or winking.”
“It’s fun; each face is different,” he said.
Another potter, Jane Ward, who lives on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts, makes pottery out of clay she digs from clam flats at low tide.
“It is called blue clay when raw,” she said. “The Native Americans used it as a poultice. They also fired this clay.”
There is no electricity on Ward’s Island to drive a potter’s wheel, so she builds her pots by hand, using molds that she creates in the sand.
“I do take the pieces to the mainland to be fired, because I have a studio there and an electric kiln,” she said.
Ward, who exhibits her work at Zenobia Gallery in Ipswich, pulls any sea worms or clams out of the blue clay but leaves pieces of sea glass, which melt into the bottoms of her pots.
Emmett’s Edibles will be selling gourmet dog treats, and Crafty Peddler of Worcester will offer wind chimes made out of glassware from the Depression era.
Ipswich naturalist and PBS consultant Bill Sargent will be selling his books, which address a range of environmental challenges for the oceans.
“Ken Tarr does these wonderful, old-fashioned wooden toys,” Burton said. “One is like a marionette; it makes this wooden guy tap dance on a board.”
All the booths will be on The South Village Green, next to the historic Whipple House, and across the street from the many exhibits and artwork at the Ipswich Museum, which will welcome visitors during the celebration.
Just like these institutions, Olde Ipswich Days help to maintain a connection to the town’s distant past.
“Historically, the green was a place where people bartered,” Burton said. “Part of Olde Ipswich Days is echoing voices of days gone by. It had craftsmen and townspeople there 300 years ago, and it does again.”
If you go What: Olde Ipswich Days When: Friday, July 26, to Sunday, July 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friends of the Library Book Sale, Heard House Lawn, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 3 p.m. Where: South Village Green, County Road (routes 1A and 133) Information: www.oldeipswichdays.wordpress.com, www.facebook.com/OldeIpswichDays, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.