By Jane Knoerle
Almanac Lifestyles Editor
For 50 years now, every Labor Day weekend, a transformation occurs in the redwood forest in the hills above Woodside.
"Artists' booths pop up around the Kings Mountain Fire Station like mushrooms overnight," says Kings Mountain Art Fair spokesman Aeron Noe. "The forest becomes an outdoor gallery displaying some of the finest handmade arts and crafts on the West Coast."
More than 400 community members create the transformation, which takes place Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, adjacent to the Kings Mountain Fire Station at 13889 Skyline Blvd. Local volunteers look forward to the weekend all year long, Ms. Noe says.
Local residents started the Art Fair in 1963, when a group called the Pine Needles decided to have a craft fair in a red barn as a fundraiser to help create a volunteer fire company for the remote Kings Mountain community.
"We put straw all over the barn floor because we thought that was folksy," local resident Ardyth Woodruff recalls. "Someone had the idea of asking the artists who lived here to put their paintings upstairs, and that's how it started. We didn't make much money that first year."
Initially what made up the volunteer spirit was forming the fire brigade. "Forestry could only put out tree fires, not structure fires," she says. "People were passionate about getting equipment and getting people trained. And we did it. Nobody else owns our fire department. We own it."
Ms. Woodruff, who worked for the Almanac in its early days in Woodside, went on to create many of the first posters for the fair. She served as a co-director of the fair for 15 years, and as the outside exhibitor director for another 10 years. "She still shows up every year," says Ms. Noe.
Today the fair is ranked in the top five art fairs in California by the Art Fair Source Book.
Dawn Neisser, executive director of the fair, says the single biggest change the fair has undergone was its transition from a local arts and crafts fair to a juried fine arts fair. "The professionalism and the quality of the art both increased dramatically," she says. "The creation of Mountain Folk Art (crafts created by locals) was also an important step, so we didn't lose the local flavor."
Ms. Neisser says more than 1,300 Kings Mountain volunteers have taken part in the art fair over the past 50 years. "When you stop and think about it, we're all sort of in awe of what this collective community has done," she says. "You don't find many things that have lasted that long with that much community effort and in a joyful way."
Each day begins with a pancake breakfast, including eggs and sausage, which is served by volunteers from 8 to 10:30 a.m. The artists' booths open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The grill opens again at 11:30 a.m. for lunch, with the cook shack serving up burgers, corn on the cob, chili, nachos and more. Kings Mountain Elementary School will be sell "Grandma Jenny's famous giant cookies" for dessert.
Family activities will include face painting, crafts and games in Kiddie Hollow, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Proceeds from the Art Fair go back to the community, supporting the Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Brigade, which responds to more than 150 emergencies a year, and Kings Mountain Elementary School, a three-room school for grades K-5.
Visitors may park along Skyline Boulevard and catch the complimentary trolley to the fair. Because much of the art is fragile, dogs and bicycles are not permitted on the grounds. Bicycle racks are available outside the grounds.