Ceramics artist Brendon Stretten made the trek down from his studio in Pontiac, about a mile north of downtown there, to the shaded oasis that is Green Acres in Hazel Park to be a part of a special event this year. Despite his background – a longtime resident of metro Detroit, a ceramics artist for the past ten years – this was Stretten’s first time at the Hazel Park Art Fair. In fact, he says, this year’s festival, now in its eleventh year, was the first time he’s ever even heard of it. But that’s one of the things that has always made this particular art fair so special.
Even though Green Acres Park is the city’s largest park, it’s tucked away in Hazel Park’s northwest corner, off the beaten path with no major roads running along its borders. You have to drive 25 MPH to get to Green Acres Park and, as true neighborhood parks go, many of its visitors arrive by foot or by bike.
At 17.9 acres, the park is the site for some of its most celebrated civic and community events. The old-growth trees do such a good job of providing shade that the sun rays have to dance around the leaves to reach the grass about as much as the disc golfers have to weave their frisbees around the wide trunks in order to reach the pins for each hole (Hazel Park opened their disc golf course here in 2021).
Ceramics artist Brendon Stretten.
Smaller in stature but not in spirit, the Hazel Park Art Fair’s roster of vendors may be dwarfed by some of the region’s larger art fairs and festivals. But for fans of handmade crafts and local art, the Hazel Park Art Fair offers visitors the chance to take their time and peruse the booths, to not only find a favorite piece of art but to take the opportunity to chat and get to know the local artists that put their hearts and hands into what future customers are about to bring home with them.
“It's pretty chill here but it’s still a good size fair with something like 100 vendors,” Stretten says. “A lot of people have come by. And a lot of people that saw me at DIY (Art Fair) in Ferndale last year – they’re like, ‘I have your mug! I use it every day!’ And some bought a few more mugs so they have a whole set. So it’s been really cool.”
Best kept secret
That not everyone and their cousin knows about the Hazel Park Art Fair can add to its allure for those in the know
. Much could be said about Hazel Park itself, though that’s changing more and more each day. Ten years ago, city haunts like Country Boy Restaurant, a classic mom-and-pop diner, and Loui’s Pizza, a Detroit-style deep-dish pizza restaurant that’s perhaps not as famous as Buddy’s Pizza but with by far the best restaurant atmosphere of the bunch, occupied a those-who-know-know place in metro Detroiters’ hearts and stomachs.
Those places are still open and as beloved as ever, though an increasingly changing Hazel Park has situated itself as a prime landing spot for a new generation of entrepreneurs and restauranteurs. It can be traced back to the opening of Mabel Gray in 2015, which was followed by the opening of joebar (now FRAMEbar) and the quiet reimagining of Doug’s Delight. More recently, openings of the Key West-inspired Eastern Palace Club and, even more immediately recent, Shredderz, might be kicking things into another gear altogether.
It’s no surprise then that when John Forlini, owner and operator of coffee roaster and café Che Cosa in Clinton Township, was looking for an opportunity to start spreading the word of his coffee business out of the familiar confines of Macomb County, he would choose the Hazel Park Art Fair as one of his first forays into the next county over.
John Forlini, owner and operator of coffee roaster and café Che Cosa.
One of Forlini’s big breaks as a business owner was when a representative from the Randazzo Fresh Market chain found his booth at a local farmers market, leading to Che Cosa being selected for that coveted shelf space inside the store. Renting a booth at the Hazel Park Art Fair has been his next step toward furthering his reach in Oakland County.
True to form, the Hazel Park Art Fair has presented itself as uniquely itself; accept no substitutes.
“This has been a great fair – very well organized and well-attended. The people here are just super nice. I've been having a blast,” Forlini says. “I've seen so many things that I've never seen in my life: birds on leashes, people carrying cats in cat carriers. I've always been like, alright, this is cool. This is stuff you don't see everyday.”
Of course, it’s not all newbies that populate the walking lanes of Green Acres Park and it’s no surprise that many of the artists are return vendors. That includes Melinda Bylow, who makes her fourth trip to the Hazel Park Art Fair, and this time it’s with her daughter Corinne Elizabeth. Both artists in their own right, the mother-and-daughter duo present their work at the fair under the title Nature or Nurture.
“It’s so we can kind of compare and contrast,” Bylow says. “What inspires us? Do we inspire each other? Are we similar? Are we different? And we find a lot of similarities, but there are a lot of differences too. It's very fun to see all our work together in one booth.”
Artist Melinda Bylow of the mother-and-daughter duo Nature or Nurture.
Melinda and Corinne typify much of the appeal of the Hazel Park Art Fair, and perhaps Hazel Park itself.
“It's a good place that takes both of our styles into account. There's so much fun and funky stuff here – and my daughter fits in with the fun, funky. And then there's people here that want to see serious art, and that's more where mine is. We both have done pretty well at this,” Melinda says.
“And look at where we are. Look at these trees. It's such a great park. It’s a perfect park for this kind of thing.”