Senior Page: Cranberry Fest Craft Fair Keeps JoAnne Clancy Busy

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Aging


When JoAnne Clancy of Harwich retired from her work as assistant town accountant for the town of Harwich in 2009, she thought she’d have loads of time to work on her craft of decorative painting on slates, mailboxes, plates, wineglasses and barrel staves.

Not so. “I’m too busy,” she says.

Clancy became a volunteer for the Harwich Cranberry Festival, managing the craft fairs as well as keeping the festival’s books. She volunteers at her church, Pilgrim Congregational in Harwich Port. And once a week she heads to Hyannis to feed the homeless. She also helps with her two grandchildren, Clancy and P.J. As a consequence, she has barely picked up her brush. And her work with the festival helps her keep a hand in the craft world.

“I’m a crafts fair junkie,” Clancy says. “I went to craft fairs all over New England and I started recruiting.” Most of the crafters who will sell their wares in Harwich hail from the Cape and Southeastern Massachusetts, with some coming from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine. Today Clancy is wearing some silver bracelets that she bought at a crafts fair.

Clancy grew up in Springfield and the nearby town of Hamden. After she married Peter Clancy, who died in 1995, the couple moved to Harwich, where Peter’s family had always had a summer home. The couple raised their daughter Heather in Harwich. Heather Desmond is now head of mortgage underwriting at Cape Cod Five Bank.

The festival is one of those endeavors, like First Night Chatham, where the tremendous work volunteers put into it isn’t necessarily obvious. While work on the festival slows between October and January, in the early winter, applications for next year’s juried craft fair filter in. The work in the show is all original and hand-crafted — nothing can be commercially-made – and crafters must submit three photos of their work. Included in the mix are potters, jewelers, clothing makers, woodworkers, candle, soap and lotion makers, glass painters and glassblowers. In May Clancy is still adding crafters, working everything out on an Excel spreadsheet. By June she is mapping out who goes where for the shows that take place in July and August. “The hardest thing is setting up spots,” she says. “Everyone wants a corner and to be in the main stream. That and parking is toughest.”

And, of course, the biggest crafts fair takes place at the Cranberry Festival in September with about 140 crafters and non-profits, about double the number who participate in the summer craft fairs. Big name bands will liven things up, too. And on Saturday night after the concerts the Harwich Chamber of Commerce will set off fireworks at the high school.

All of this is accomplished with “only 10 dedicated volunteers,” Clancy says.

The Harwich Cranberry Festival, Inc. was established in 1976. During the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s the craft fair had a “humongous” group of volunteers, Clancy says. Running the fair was a professional who charged a salary. When the professional was let go, the fair went “down to nothing” for a time. Ed McManus, a former Harwich Selectman who was reelected to his seat in May, and his wife, Shannon, reinvigorated the craft fair with the help of a few friends.

Clancy will plunge into any necessary task. During the fair’s first year she directed cars as they parked. The lack of parking in Brook’s Park meant that crafters had to unload rapidly and then move their cars to town hall. In previous years McManus and Clancy have recruited Senior Girl Scouts, the girls field hockey team and now the Key Club from Monomoy Regional High School to aid crafters unloading cars and vans.

“I enjoy meeting the people,” she says. “It keeps me busy.”

She says that people are happy with the way the craft fair has evolved. “Even in the rain it’s good,” she says.

The show this September will include more parking for everyone. And the layout of the craft fair will be “more visitor friendly.” The Cape Cod Rail Trail Bike Club will host an anniversary ride that will wind up at the festival, which will be held rain or shine. A full-blown hurricane is just about Clancy’s only worry.

Working behind the scenes as treasurer, Clancy writes all the festival’s checks and keeps all statements. The crafts fair makes money renting spaces to vendors who bring their own 10-by-10 tents. The group is then able to donate to after-prom parties and young people’s organizations in town.

“We will donate mainly to youth,” she says. The group gave out $19,500 this year, up from last year’s $15,000.

The Brooks Park Arts and Crafts Festival will run on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the Fall Harwich Cranberry Arts and Music Festival will run in the community center fields on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information visit To volunteer for the festival, email