Arts, crafts and psychic shine unique light on interesting Alligator Festival merchandise

Those attending this year’s Alligator Festival should be prepared to be met by a number of vendors, some from nearby and others from farther away, offering a wide-variety of items that include handcrafted artisan furniture, hats made of seagrass and a look into the future.

The 35th Annual Alligator Festival promises to have something for everyone and is featuring nearly 40 vendors this year to prove that point.

For those interested in locally manufactured artisan furniture and toys, Carter’s Crafts, operated by Terry and Diane Carter, will be at the festival once again.

Terry, 69, said the couple has been a part of the Alligator Festival for so long he does not remember his first year.“Many years, I really have no idea – almost as long as I’ve been doing this woodwork,” he said.

Fourteen years ago Carter’s Crafts began making handmade artisan furniture in their shop located on the side of their home across from the courthouse in Hahnville.

“Everything we do is handmade and we start completely from scratch,” Carter said. “All of our stuff is made from cypress. It is select, which means there is very few to no knots in the wood.”

Carter said he and Diane decided to pick up woodworking after he retired from Union Carbide after a 25-year career. “We got bored with that and we wanted to do something meaningful, lasting and that people would remember,” he said. “The crafting business has molded itself into a vehicle for us. We are outgoing people. We make fun out of the work and a few extra dollars.”

Without Diane, Carter said the business could not function. “Behind every good man there is a good woman,” he said. “She does a lot of my cutout work and sanding and shaping. She does as much of the heavy lifting as she can.”

The Carters have around 25 items, including furniture and children’s toys they craft, but Carter said the most popular item is their back support line of furniture.

“The most popular is the lumbar line. It doesn’t matter if it is a rocking chair, swing or park bench, I can create the lumbar effect through and through,” he said.

Carter laughs at the idea of counting how many pieces he and Diane have made over their career.

“I wish I knew, it’s a lot. They are all over the country. We have shipped them north, south, east and west. I have no idea how many pieces of furniture I have made in the last 14 years,” he said. “We work on it six to eight hours a day. It is an everyday affair to us. Chances are you’’ll find us in the shop any hour.”

Carter’s Crafts has gotten so popular that they made their own website, www.carterscypresscrafts.com.

“I have a lot of online sales, but basically after all of these years it is word of mouth and we do these shows. After you’ve been in business for a while people ask if you are doing a good job and we must be doing something right after 14 years,” Carter said.

For those who would prefer something they can wear rather then something they can sit on, D’Morri Crushable Hats offer a practical and unique item.

The hats are molded out of seagrass by Gulfport-based crafter Delores Morris.

Morris said the hats are guaranteed to stay on in wind up to 41 miles per hour.

“Seagrass is a really durable natural material,” she said. “They are adjustable because we weave a rope through the crown of it. You tug on the rope and it stays on in the wind. They are crushable because hats are a hard thing to take with you and keep in one piece. These are pretty durable in the fact you reshape them and just keep on going.”

Morris makes four different types of hats, which she has sold for the past four years. All of the hats are produced in her home.

“I form them and block them and we use glue to mold them so they keep their form,” she said. “The good thing is you can fold the hat and pack it and, unlike a regular straw hat, you can fold it and its not going to tear up.”

Traveling about four out of every five weekends, Morris sells the hats at festivals around the south. She said part of the reason the hats are so popular is due to their versatility.

“Seagrass is pretty cool because it can take on many types of shapes,” Morris said. “You just don’t want to leave it folded for a very long time. You can moisten it with water and shape it like you want it and put it in the sun for a couple of hours.”

In addition to hats, Morris also sells cotton throw bags with images created by her artist son printed on them. Morris said although she had been to the Alligator Festival a few years ago, she has not been back since and is looking forward to the event.

“I am excited about coming back because everyone was so nice the last time we were there,” she said.

For those a little more adventurous, Mrs. Mona Reader and Advisor will be on hand to tell fortunes, read palms and do tarot card and crystal ball readings.

Mona, 72, has been a fortune teller since she was 15 years old, a skill that was passed down in her family from her great-grandmother.

At the Alligator Fest, Mona, who ordinarily gives readings out of her Westwego home, has been a staple for many years.

“She has been there for God knows how many years,” John Marks, Mona’s husband of 46 years, said. “It is spiritual, it is through prayers and that sort of thing.”

Marks said his wife is renowned throughout the country for her ability to assess people and provide positive feedback on their life’s progress.

“She doesn’t ask you any questions. The first thing she does is goes into your past. Only you know your past, that way you know she is telling the truth. And then she goes into the future and tells you things she wants you to know,” he said. “Don’t tell her nothing, let her tell you.”

The couple are fresh off a tour of Michigan they undertake every summer in which they get away from the brutal heat and humidity of southeast Louisiana and visit county fairs across the state.

Marks said Mona’s readings have become so popular that fans want to ensure she is going to be at festivals before they come.

“People call at the Michigan State Fair and ask if she is going to be there,” he said. “She does good for people.”Marks said a big part of Mona’s service go toward helping people become empowered and better live their lives.

“She gives people peace of mind. She picks up on a lot of people that want to commit suicide. There are so many people out there that you wouldn’t believe she picks up on. A lot of it is about your love life. A lot of women and men go through it as well,” he said. “You can go to a psychiatrist and give him $100 an hour or you give her $10 for 10 minutes and she gives you satisfaction.”

In fact, Mona is so popular that she does readings over the phone to those in the far north once she returns home from the fairs.

“People call her and ask for advice. They send a money order,” Marks said.

For skeptics, Marks said you have to see Mona in action to believe what she does for people.

“There are always skeptics, but once they come in there they change their mind. You go through that just like any business, but we wouldn’t be in business this long in Westwego or at the Alligator Festival if we had complaints,” he said. “There are a lot of fake ones through the area that give good people like us a bad name.”

In addition to the many vendors who will be on site, the Alligator Festival will offer rides, food, live music acts and more to the crowd of 30,000 who are anticipated to make their way out to the event this year.

The 35th annual Alligator Festival will be held Thursday, Sept. 25 through Sunday, Sept. 28 at the West Bank Bridge Park located at 13825 River Road in Luling.

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