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Those Crafty Freaks 

Craft Alliance's gala turns part of the Loop into a delightfully creepy sideshow

Although she's still young, Cheri Hutchings remembers a far weirder America, remembers the echoes of a time when a medieval fog shrouded the back alleys and dirt roads of the continent, when grinning spectres loomed in dusty shadows: She remembers the carnival midway. "When I was a kid, I used to go to this state fair that still had a freak show," Hutchings says. "Babies in jars, everything. I remember standing outside the fun house, trying to decide if I should go in. You want to see it, but you're scared to."

Hutchings, owner of Claire de Lune Productions, brings that same creepy, seductive vibe to the Craft Alliance with Carnivàle, an event to raise funds for and awareness about the Craft Alliance Education Center's arts programs. "A regular carnival doesn't appeal to me," says Hutchings, "but the creepy, dark carnival is kind of exciting, because you don't know what to expect. When you're a kid and you go to a carnival like that, everything just seems so new. I've always enjoyed the freak show-type carnivals."

But the Craft Alliance is trying to make friends here, and these days polite society frowns on exhibiting conjoined twins and harelipped calves for public amusement. The clowns may be ghoulish and the mood macabre, but instead of the victims of tragic genetic errors, this carnival offers "so many different little sideshow performers, different odd folks milling about," according to Hutchings.

"One guy puts nails in his nose and then brings them out his eyes," she promises. "He just pulls the eyelid out and pulls whatever he put up his nose out of his eye socket. Sometimes he'll have an audience member tap on a hammer and push the thing through."

If you wince at that thought, plenty of tamer performers will work the crowd, from stilt-walkers and fortune tellers to the fire jugglers of Pandora's Matchbox and the sinuous belly dancers of Ridhiya's Middle Eastern & North African Dance troupe. A giant movie screen will show continuous vintage carnival film loops, and gutter gourmands can gorge on corn dogs and funnel cakes. Soundtracking it all will be Lost Parade and Devon Allman's band Ocean Six (pictured).

But the craft demonstrations, Hutchings says, "highlight what Craft Alliance is really about." (That would be "inspiration and education in fine contemporary craft," according to Craft Alliance's mission statement.) Metalheads can marvel at a live molten-iron pour, along with old standbys like glassblowing and mask-making. Hutchings is especially excited about the demonstration of raku pottery-firing. "Raku is a Japanese form of pottery where you fire the pot in a regular kiln, but then take it out and put it in a flaming trashcan to get that special oxidation of the glaze," she says. "So the demonstration itself is really visual." And what better way to end an evening rife with freaks and art than nibbling a corn dog in the glow of a flaming trashcan?

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