At this time of the year, signs announcing the Nillie Bipper Creative Arts Festival are usually popping up and stories would appear in the Banner about the annual festival which always happened the first weekend in October.
No more. The Nillie Bipper Festival has moved to “once upon a time.”
Named for artist Billie Nipper, the festival was an outgrowth of her work with the late Jean Turner, who started the Creative Arts Guild in Cleveland. Turner had the idea for a festival which would highlight local talent, but with juried-quality entrants. She published an ad about starting the festival and Nipper said “my husband pushed me into it.”
Nipper became chairman of the show and together she and Turner “learned how” to carry out a festival.
First guild members tried to come up with a catchy name. The late John Bradley and Perry Skates took a cue from the TV show “Laugh-In” and submitted the name “Nillie Bipper,” just reversing the first letters of her name. It was short and catchy and became the official name of the Cleveland festival.
However, when the name was published, calls began pouring in about the “mistake” in the newspaper. Eventually, everyone caught on — the event became the Nillie Bipper Arts and Crafts Festival.
That was 45 years ago.
Starting with 13 friends, the festival began on the property of the Knights of Columbus on South Lee Highway. Later it moved to a farm and then Red Clay State Historic Park. The festival had to move from Red Clay one year because of construction work at the park, but went back to continue the annual event.
Then Tri-State Exhibition Center became the venue for the festival — the first time organizers didn't have to worry about weather. Dale Rogers Dotson, president of the Cleveland Creative Arts Guild, coordinated the event.
Offering great personal and gift shopping opportunities, the festival became the highlight of the fall season and offered artisans from the area and surrounding states the opportunity to showcase their arts and crafts. The festival featured art (all media) bamboo flutes, florals, baskets, birdhouses, candles, soaps, textiles, jewelry, metal sculpture, tole painting, stained glass, wind chimes, soft sculpture, wood turnings, portrait artists, craft demonstrations, primitive wood crafts, hand-thrown pottery, muscadine jelly and juice, lampwork beads and more.
Handcrafted door prizes — donated by the festival exhibitors — were awarded throughout the festival. A good variety of food and beverages was always available. Many people came for the continuous entertainment during the festival, which consisted of music, singers, dancers and performances.
This would have been the 46th year for the Nillie Bipper event and the ninth year at Tri-State.
It’s hard to say “Goodbye.”