Last Word: Barbara Boroff’s Craft Shows Are Back

From left: Barbara Boroff and her daughter Marcy Boroff. (Courtesy of Renaissance Craftables)

It started as a fun hobby with her husband and grew into a business that could attract a Big Ten football-sized crowd, about 100,000 people, to downtown Haddonfield, New Jersey.

For Barbara Boroff, a Jewish resident of Wynnewood, glass collecting was a true passion. Over time, too, that passion became not just about glass, but arts and crafts in general. Boroff’s Renaissance Craftables partnered with local main streets to host shows all over the Philadelphia area.

This summer, as downtown shows return post-COVID, Boroff’s legacy will be on full display along the main street that once hosted her biggest event: The Haddonfield Crafts and Fine Art Festival is set for July 9 and 10 on Kings Highway. Boroff organized the first show in 1993, and it became an annual event.

“Haddonfield is just a beautiful community,” the 87-year-old said. “The streets are wider. The customers are interesting. It’s great.”

Boroff started the business in 1984 and began collecting glass with her late husband Alan Boroff sometime before that. They were on a skiing trip to Vail, Colorado, and they saw a nice piece; so she said to her husband, “Honey, why don’t we collect handmade goblets?”

“He said, ‘Great,’” the wife recalled.

“We both love stuff,” she added.

So, the couple started buying glass pieces wherever they went. It did not matter where they were in the United States. They would walk into stores, spot nice items and pick them out. They also joined glass groups and began visiting glass museums.

Eventually, their collection reached 700 goblets, and they started donating to those same museums. Boroff estimates that they’ve given to four or five different institutions.

“We’ve gone to almost every glass museum in the country,” she said.

But Boroff always felt that other people did not share her passion. It was not that they didn’t like glass; it was because they didn’t know about it. So, she wanted them to learn, and she came up with a way to showcase local artists.

When she opened Renaissance Craftables, Boroff was a former teacher who had left education to raise her kids. She had never done anything like what she was about to try.

But she thrived at it.

Renaissance Craftables held shows on main streets like Haddonfield, in synagogues like Har Zion in Penn Valley and at the Willow Grove Mall. At one point, Boroff, who attends both Har Zion and Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia, was doing 18 events per year, she said.

The business owner, her husband and often their three daughters, Marcy, Joan and Lisa, would show up to a main street area around 5 a.m. to set up tables and tents. It was a partnership that worked for everybody. Renaissance Craftables made money from selling tables; downtowns got major weekend traffic to their local economies; and artists got a chance to sell their work to interested locals.

Barbara Boroff estimated that between 225 and 250 artists would apply to be in shows.

“A lot of the fine crafts and arts are usable. You can buy clay that you use; you can buy wood that you use; you can buy goblets that are usable,” Marcy Boroff said. “It makes unique items accessible if you buy them as part of an art festival.”

Renaissance Craftables’ Haddonfield show in 2018. (Photo by Collette Oswald)

By the time Barbara Boroff reached her 70s, though, she was ready to slow down. Marcy Boroff ran the organization from 2007 until 2019, the last tour year before the pandemic.

In 2020, Renaissance Craftables had to cancel all of its shows. In 2021, “we did maybe two,” Marcy Boroff said. But this year, the tour is back, with dates scheduled for Haddonfield, Wildwood and Haddonfield again in the fall. A Glenside show has already happened.

“We’re back,” the daughter said.

They are back with another new leader, too: Marcy Boroff’s wife, Maria Veneziano. Marcy Boroff worked in public health before taking over Renaissance Craftables, and recently got back into the field with a public engagement and policy position in the Jefferson Health system. The couple needed one job between them that would provide benefits.

But Marcy Boroff and Veneziano did not want to lose Renaissance Craftables, as Veneziano became part of the operation in her own right. She became the logical successor to her wife.

Barbara Boroff is just glad that the shows are back.

“It’s very important that it’s still going on,” she said. “I see people around that remember the shows and have been to the shows.”

The coolest part, according to Barbara Boroff, is helping the artists.

“It’s a tough way to earn a living, and it takes some talent and backing,” she said. “There are good people on many levels that are worth looking at things and buying and appreciating.” JE

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