Left in Andover: Peru Fair pottery sales & parades

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Ever since 1984, when I got serious about earning a living as a potter, I have looked forward to my annual Peru Fair “seconds sale” as a chance to clear away the old, to make space for the new — my pottery New Year’s celebration of sorts.

In the early years when I was most prolific, I used to spend much of September sorting through a mountain of imperfect and unsold inventory, rinsing off the hundreds of pieces with a hose, pricing and packing them in boxes. Knowing that my collectors would be out in full force for early holiday shopping at Peru made me feel free to experiment with new patterns at this time of year. If I wasn’t happy with the results, I was at least guaranteed to recoup the cost of materials.

John Specker graces the cover of Stratton Magazine as he led the Peru Fair parade.

Simultaneously, in between his duties as glazier, my husband John went into intense physical training for his role playing the fiddle for six consecutive hours, with short breaks, as Peru‘s “street musician.”

In the late 1980s and 1990s, excitement mounted in our household as our two daughters hurried to complete their signature “cat dishes” to sell for $5 each in front of my booth. To this day, people tell me they treasure these small bowls the girls threw on my potter’s wheel and decorated with random elephants, sharks and hot air balloons.

This was back when they were still trying to choose whether they wanted to be potters or fiddle players. Later on in the 2000s, the girls joined their dad out on the street performing, their eyes big with the dollar bills piling high in his hat.

Traditional Peru Fair day, the fourth Saturday in September, dawned cold and crisp. By daybreak, John — to avoid the traffic jam of vendors trying to drive close to their booths to set up — would have already made two round trips in our jalopy from Andover, stockpiling pottery in the dark at my assigned spot.

The poster for the Peru Fair in 2015.

The girls and I arrived by 6 a.m. As they huddled in their mittens under a pile of wool blankets, I secured my perimeters, arranging the bulging boxes of pottery seconds as best I could. Unpacking them ahead of time would have been a waste of time, as well as nigh impossible, given my 10 by 10 foot booth space.

Then the magic began. With easy parking all along Rte 11, no admission fee and no enforced opening time, ladies descended upon my booth as early as 7 a.m. Armed with boxes and shopping bags, they proceeded to tear apart my unopened boxes in a feeding frenzy that lasted for hours.

One vivid memory is of two affluent women (old ladies I would have called them, but I am older now than they were at the time) playing serious tug of war over a 20-inch diameter ruffled pottery platter I had discounted due to a tiny defect.

If I were lucky, my friend Margo emerged from the crowds to help at my booth. I could then escape for a couple minutes to score a cup of the delicious gingered butternut squash soup served up street side by Edna and her daughter Juliette before they sold out.

Leader pottery was advertised by American Country Designs.

In that pre-online shopping era, before the market was flooded with cheap but attractively designed imported ceramics, I was sure to be approached at the fair by at least one gift shop owner from Connecticut or New York eager to wholesale my work.

However, under strict orders from my sage mentor, Jennie Connor at American Country Designs just south in Jamaica, I limited down country accounts, thereby preserving the serendipity for collectors of discovering my work in Vermont.

I have to pinch myself looking back upon those days. By early afternoon, I would be virtually sold out, and I could wander about the fair visiting with friends. It took only a short hike up to the town hall lawn to sample the Humes’ burritos loaded with their new Green Mountain Salsa. My kids clamored to continue on up to the big field above for pony rides on Ann Pierce’s stellar steeds.

Meanwhile, John’s months of endurance training were paying off as he played and sang his heart out. Generations of fair-goers thrilled to his brand of early American fiddle music. In many instances, it would be their first exposure to this authentic folk music, the sound track of Revolutionary days.

For at least a decade, Pete Sherwin, the mysterious Peru Fair dancer clad in deconstructed blue jeans, legs cut off and made into leggings, joined him. Although this resulted in some confusion as to whose tips were whose, the two coexisted peacefully, performing for hypnotized crowds until Pete disappeared one year and never came back.

The Message for the Week celebrated Peru Fair’s 20th year.

For a year or two the whole fair almost disappeared as well, when we were exiled from the village limits to a parking lot at Bromley. This would have been a great loss for our entire rural area.

With no cars allowed, the blocked-off main street of Peru was the perfect safe space for local youngsters to spread their wings, a showcase for musicians and an opportunity for far flung community members to gather.

Dozens of us vendors earned a significant percentage of our seasonal income at the fair. The same was true for the plethora of local non-profit, school and civic institutions that fund-raised selling street food and the iconic Peru Fair pig roast.

My pottery output is now but a fraction of what it used to be. My original collectors have downsized, and John has to pace his fiddle playing to last all day. But I still look forward eagerly each year to the Peru Fair.

Although it is canceled due to Covid- 19 for 2020, here’s to its return, bigger and better than ever, in 2021.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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