The fair was started in 1969 to support the arts in the River Valley area. The idea for the first Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair was born over a bridge game. "Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an art fair?," Helene Duren remembers saying to Virgil Steele while they were playing bridge one winter night. At that time, she had been thinking that there must be some good project to promote Spring Green in a nice, clean family way.
The next step was to pitch this wonderful idea to the Spring Green Chamber of Commerce, which would be Steele’s assignment. Luckily, they received it with open arms and even put up $300 in seed money just in case the fair didn’t succeed, but the money was never needed.
"After that I was put in the position of putting my money where my mouth was," Duren said. "I was asked to organize it." She recalled that the board was extremely helpful in providing assistance on organizing the fair. The Baraboo Art Association and many other art groups were also very helpful, she said.
The very first fair had about 125 artists and was scheduled to be held Saturday and Sunday, July 17 and 18, on the lawn of a house located on the corner of Jefferson and Worcester streets where BMO Harris Bank now stands. The house was owned by the school district and was used for administrative offices.
It rained on Saturday, but cleared enough for the fair to go on as planned. Sunday was not such a fortunate day. "At 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning there was a cloudburst," Duren recalls. "Those men from the chamber board came down like knights in shining armor and moved us to the high school gym."
Despite the rain the fair was a big success.
The second fair was held on July 17 and 18, 1970, in the village park. Concerns about wet grounds and the difficulty of arranging snow fences to separate the artists and the public led the committee to move subsequent fairs to downtown on Jefferson Street.
Duren continued to work on the art fair for many years, although in time she grew to feel that it was important for more people to become involved. She viewed the committee as a newcomers’ club where new and old residents could get acquainted and involved in the community.
A special area for children, "No Parents Allowed," was introduced at the 1971 fair. It contained work donated by the artists to be sold for $2 or less and was open only to children. The format for the children’s area has changed over time and today it offers crafts which the children can make under the guidance of art fair helpers.
One of the major changes was forced upon the art fair committee in 1975. Up to that time the fair was scheduled for the third weekend of July. As usual, early publicity had gone out naming that weekend and the posters and registration blanks were at the printers, when Jane and Allan Peckham learned that Madison had changed its art fair dates from the usual July fourth weekend to the third weekend in July. A frantic call was made to "stop the presses!" The fair was rescheduled for the last weekend in June, and has remained that way ever since.
To assure that the fair would offer top quality exhibits, it became a juried fair in 1991. Artists submit images of their work, and then a committee selects and accepts a limited number of artists in each of the following categories: glass, wood, painting, fiber, graphics, pottery, sculpture, jewelry, photography and fine crafts/other. Participation is open to all artists exhibiting works of original concept, design and execution.
Entertainment has been an important part of all fairs since the first one. The Betty Hayes Dancers made their first appearance at the 1971 fair and were part of the entertainment for many years. The Gard Theater was host to the Wisconsin Idea Theatre when they presented productions on Friday and Saturday nights of the first fair.
There is always some sort of music and/or dancing during the fair, featuring local artists.
Food has also been a large part since the very first fair. There was an ice cream social in front of the Dutch Kitchen on Saturday evening at the first two fairs. Local, non-profit service organizations serve food at the fair.
The Fair typically draws over 10,000 people to the Village of Spring Green each year. Proceeds raised from the fair are used to promote the arts in the River Valley area.