As of right now, Edmonton has a design school problem: We have way too many. There is NAIT, MacEwan University, University of Alberta, Pixel Blue College, CDI College, and probably more for all I know. It’s turned Edmonton into a kitchen with too many cooks that have been pumping out batch after batch of design graduates with not many places to go and actually design stuff. But there is one place, a cemented, concrete certainty that these design graduates can depend on year after year. A place to develop their practice, make some money, and build some community. That place is the bi-annual Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair, whose spring edition starts May 5.
It’s not just for design students, of course. It gets everyone from University of Alberta professors to self-taught resin casters. Royal Bison has had some serious skin (or hide) in the game since it started up in 2007 at the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre. And it’s that same old stomping ground in the heart of Old Strathcona where these makers have gathered for 15 years now. It attracts all sorts, such as pinch ceramicists like Genevieve Ongaro and textile designers like Vikki Wiercinski. Both started coming to the Royal Bison to sell their goods, hone their crafts, and make connections in this world, but now both find themselves leading the Bison’s charge as event organizers.
“I feel like I got my start at the Royal Bison, way back in the day making paper-covered agendas and things like that,” says Wiercinski. Both she and Ongaro say that everyone who organizes at the Royal Bison has a stake in it. They are all crafters and vendors and have come to rely on the bi-annual sales for a bit of side cash, and as a place to grow and learn. “You kind of get to evolve your work showing things. It’s like a venue for experimentation and for feedback,” says Wiercinski.
It’s a steady bull that keeps trekking on, even throughout the pandemic, when the sale happened online only. But even though it’s reliable, it isn’t predictable. You never know what kind of elaborate craft will march into the fair, including someone wearing their own hand-crafted buffalo fur coat. “We were like, I think the Royal Bison just showed up,” says Wiercinski. Vendors like Color Me Weird make giant fuzzy suits you can wear, and new additions like Itchy Glass bring handcrafted glass jewellery to the craft sale for the first time.
Year after year, a mix of the same vendors and new ones gather in this same place that’s become a grounding point for the Edmonton art and design community. The imagery of the bison seems to fit this event well — stubborn like its namesake, Royal Bison is determined to put on a good craft sale.
Stomp on down to Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre for the Spring Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair.