A few years ago fairs devoted exclusively to crafts were a rarity. Now artisans can follow a circuit of fairs, going to Florida in the winter and moving north in the summer.

One of the first in this area was the National Craft Fair, which held its third exhibition Oct. 20-22 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. it enjoys a good reputation among craftspeople, largely due to the efforts of its director, Noel Clark of National Crafts, Ltd. Clark, an ex-potter, began organizing his own craft fairs four years ago with a June exhibition in Fredericksburg.

He clearly knows how to put together a successful fair. Variety and quality are the key ingredients. Last weekend's fair hand about 350 exhibits rangin from feather work to forged iron, and the quality, for the most part, was high.

The handblown glass of Drew Smith, a craftsman from Akron, Ohio, was particularly noteworthy. Specializing in lamps, Smith creates designs in glass with colors that bleed into one another in unpredictable and fascinatiing patterns. The products of New York woodworker John Crouse showed exceptional care in exploiting grain patterns of woods from the more common walnut and cherry to exotic bubings and tulipwood.

Various food booths, live entertainment and an area of craft demonstrations helped to make the fair a pleasant day's outing. Clark returns to the Maryland area next JUne with his fifth annual craft fair in Fredericksburg.