MILTON—Local firefighter Rob Calhoon doesn’t consider himself particularly crafty. And he says he doesn’t really think of himself as an artist.
But volunteer jurists—the people who plow through the dozens of artisans who seek a berth each year at Milton’s Arts & Crafts on the Lawn—will tell you otherwise.
Calhoon’s handmade, hand-painted wooden flag decorations have been among the more popular features the last few years at the annual arts and crafts fair that pairs with Milton’s long-running chicken barbecue.
Calhoon, a Milton native and member of the Janesville Fire Department, began making his first flag decorations from wooden pallets a few years ago, upcycling old shipping skids by painting and staining them with the stars and stripes of the American flag. He found his friends really liked the creations.
“I’m really not crafty or artsy at all,” he said. “I’d never even been to a craft show before a couple years ago. It’s not my forte. But these (flags) seem like they’d be simple enough to put together and easy enough to do that I decided ‘this isn’t that hard.’”
For the last two years, Calhoon has teamed up with a local beekeeper. The two sell flags and fresh honey at a booth that is among dozens of other arts and crafts sellers at the event, which this year is Sunday, Aug. 18, at North Goodrich Park and the Milton House grounds.
Calhoon has refined his approach. He has stopped dabbling in reclaimed pallets and instead builds his pieces from cedar and other more weather-sturdy woods. He now makes “Thin Red Line” and “Thin Blue Line” flags—American flags that accentuate a single stripe in red (for firefighters) or blue (for police officers). The red and blue embody the colors of the two groups’ respective uniforms and are emblematic of courage in action among the two public safety professions, he said.
Calhoon said he’s not really interested in making money at the arts and crafts fair. To him, it’s more about sharing (in an artsy-crafty way) the honor, sacrifices and remembrance of firefighters and police officers.
Milton Historical Society Executive Director Kari Klebba said Calhoon’s firefighter-turned-artist milieu is among her favorite examples of the wide personal and aesthetic variety that artisans bring to Arts & Crafts on the Lawn.
Like the dozens of others who will have booths and stands at the arts and crafts fair, Calhoon wouldn’t have gotten in without approval by a panel of jurists who vet entrants. Klebba said the jurists require people to send photos of them building or handcrafting the wares they sell, along with other information, as proof they don’t simply buy products and resell them flea-market style.
This year is the 45th anniversary of Milton Arts & Crafts on the Lawn, and it is year 60 for the Milton Chicken Barbecue. Both events have, for years, run in tandem, and both tend to draw a primarily local crowd.
“The arts and crafts event does tend to be local artists, people from the Janesville-Milton area. But we get everything from people who grow their own vegetables and can them to people who create wooden signs to really talented seamstresses who bring in their projects,” Klebba said. “And there’s soaps, lotions and spices. It really covers a wide gamut.”
Calhoon for years attended Milton’s chicken barbecue with his father, longtime Milton barber Merlin “Cal” Calhoon. As a kid, the younger Calhoon helped his dad turn chicken on the grill at the annual event.
For Calhoon, it has felt a little different flip-flopping over to the event’s arts and crafts side. But he has met people he says have impressed him with their dedication to different crafts and art styles.
“It’s a whole different world ... people who are into the arts and crafts,” he said. “Some are pretty intense, pretty hardcore.”
Then there’s a 7-year-old local boy who plans to set up a lemonade stand. Maybe one day the boy will become a firefighter—or an artist. Or both.
Either way, Klebba said, on Aug. 18, the kid will fit into the festivities just fine.
“It’s great,” Klebba said. “We’ve got one of those rare things that is a true community event.”