Culture Shot: The Yankee Peddler Festival

Every fall, the Yankee Peddler Festival invites guests to set aside modern life and journey 200 years into the past.

Wood smoke from camp and cooking fires wafts through the trees. Musicians strike up traditional folk songs on acoustic instruments, inviting the crowd to dance along. Crafters demonstrate their skills to curious shoppers.

Every fall, the Yankee Peddler Festival invites guests to set aside modern life and journey 200 years into the past. Yankee Peddler takes place over three weekends in September at Clay’s Park Resort in Canal Fulton. It transforms part of the resort into a slice of American Colonial life, portraying the years 1776 to 1825.

“It transports people back in time,” said Frank Cajka, vice president of the Yankee Peddler Festival Association. “And it’s a very pleasant experience without the feedback and … the crazy noises of modern society. It takes people back to a more relaxed time in life.”

The festival is celebrating its 45th year in 2017. From the beginning, Yankee Peddler has been a family affair. Cajka’s parents, Frank Sr. and Betty, started the festival with friends Bob and Gretchen Yappel. Frank Cajka Jr. and his wife Amanda now partner with the Yappels. And the next generation—Isaac Cajka and Christopher Yappel—are heavily involved.

The first year had 20 vendors and maybe 2,500 guests.

“It grew from there in leaps and bounds and became one of the largest shows in Ohio and across the United States,” Cajka said.

Yankee Peddler puts an emphasis on education, interaction and authenticity. Vendors are required to dress in period clothing. Town criers spread the news throughout the event.  There’s no electricity or amplified music.

The festival is a juried show, and only handcrafted items can be displayed or sold. You won’t find a traditional clockmaker set up next to a tent selling T-shirts, Cajka said.

That authenticity is what sets Yankee Peddler apart from other festivals and fairs, he said.

Vendors also are expected to know the history of their craft and demonstrate how it’s made. At least 50 percent of their time must be spent on education.

“We feel that if we don’t educate people on what goes into making a product, they miss out on the full appreciation of the experience, of the things they’re buying,” Cajka said.

It’s especially important to interest younger generations in arts and crafts.

The second weekend of the festival is always Children’s Weekend, with more activities and experiences for kids, Cajka said.

“We feel like we have a real function to open people’s eyes, especially young people’s eyes, to arts and crafting,” he said.

Yankee Peddler still has an affection for contemporary arts and crafts.

The Yankee Peddler Today festival, which welcomes modern art and music, runs concurrently with its Colonial counterpart. The spin-off show began 14 years ago as a way to bring more contemporary artists into the fold.

And organizers are working to expand that traditional experience. Starting this year, the festival is branching into the 19th and early 20th century.

It’s a way to diversify festival-goers experience and keep the festival going for future generations, Cajka said.

“There’s always a place in people’s minds, houses and homes for art, for good art, at a reasonable price,” he said. “The future is here. And its going to be interesting no matter where it goes.”