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Roadside Attractions

Cathy Stern doesn't go that extra mile for her artistic endeavors -- she travels 400 or so. Every summer, for four days, the Coral Springs resident and a few female artisan pals board a camper and aim it for garage sales in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ohio, among other states. What they find during their shopping sprees are intriguing items they use to make their own crafts, which are sold during South Florida's craft season, beginning next month.

With one of their husbands serving as driver, the ladies trek through neighborhoods and parks where residents and vendors peddle an assortment of goodies -- potbelly stoves, rolling pins, and rocking chairs, for example. Stern, a 52-year-old mom and member of the Coral Springs Craft Guild and the Southern Handcraft Society, says she's on the prowl for items she can't get in local thrift shops and flea markets -- such as gourds, which she converts into knobby-kneed reindeer.

In particular Stern likes antiques that come from towns that actually have histories, meaning they're more than 40 or 50 years old. She uses old door-knockers and locks to embellish her distinctive birdhouses, which are created from all sorts of objects. Some have hardback books for roofs, while others are made from old army boots. "On the side of the boot, I create a little window, with a little window box," Stern says. "On the other side is a door with a little step leading to the inside of the boot. The boot is usually painted. This is all in a very rustic manner."

Stern turns light bulbs into snowmen by giving them hats, clay noses, and tiny sweaters sewn from old gloves and socks. And in the worn-out bristles of crusty paintbrushes she sees Santa's whiskers and so turns them into Kriss Kringle ornaments. "Every time I get a paintbrush, it has a different personality," she says.

Turning bristles into body parts may sound wacky, but there's a method to Stern's entrepreneurial madness.

"Weird sells," she claims. "The weirder the thing is, the faster it goes out of the booth."

-- Patti Roth

The Coral Springs Craft Guild's 21st annual Handcrafted Holiday Show will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, November 7, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, November 8, at J.P. Taravella High School, 10600 Riverside Dr., Coral Springs. Admission is free. Call 954-753-5571.

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Patti Roth

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