I am driving west on Route 322 just past Lewisburg, Pennsylvania when I get my first glimpse of the rolling farmland framed by steep mountains heralding my approach to State College. The next dozen or so miles consist largely of lush green pastures dotted with grazing horses and cattle, pure delight for someone who has always dreamed of living on a farm (that’s me).
State College, home to several thousand Centre County residents and Penn State University, is a charming little hamlet that is a bustling college town during the academic year but takes a breather when most of the 40,000 undergrads go home in May.
Not that this means that life in State College comes to a standstill. Summer classes and youth camps are in full swing, and campus tours, led by wholesome, backwards-walking Lion Ambassadors, bring hopeful high school students and their parents to town. Shoppers on College Avenue are apt to stroll at a more leisurely pace and can get a restaurant reservation quite easily. Finding a parking space is not a problem.
I won’t deny that autumn football weekends are lots of fun, and I love the energy and excitement when students are here. But sun-splashed, golden-hued, kinder and gentler summertime State College is a treat.
Summer is also the time when the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, commonly known as Arts Fest, comes to State College. Now in its 45th year, this four-day event is a potpourri of crafts, live music, food, children’s activities, and so much more. Artisans come from all over the country, and the variety and quality of the work is awesome. If you appreciate creative brilliance in a variety of media, you will enjoy this show.
Arts Fest allows me to simultaneously experience two things I love: State College and quality craft shows. This year’s show, held July 14-17, was blessed with bright sunshine and low humidity, just a week before the record-breaking heat wave moved into the area.
I’ve gotten my routine perfected over the years. I depart Wednesday afternoon, the day before the event opens. It is easier to get a hotel room, although it is best to call as far in advance as you can. I love staying at The Nittany Lion Inn. It is right on campus, meaning it is an easy walk to Arts Fest, and you can keep your car parked for free all day in the hotel garage.
After a good night’s sleep in the comfy bed at the Inn, I eat a hearty breakfast, a necessity if I am to keep my energy level high for the day. I arrive at the show just before the official opening at 10 a.m., perfect timing before it gets too crowded. And believe me, it gets crowded. The crowd was estimated to be about 125,000 over the four-day stretch.
This year’s show was terrific. Here is a smattering of some of the wonderfulness.
I’ll start with Mary Jackson’s extraordinary sweet grass baskets. I have admired these baskets at previous shows, and this year’s selection did not disappoint. Mary, hailing from Johns Island, South Carolina, is a quiet, unassuming woman who learned the artistry of basket weaving from her mother and grandmother . She is an NEA National Heritage Fellow and recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant. You can see some of Mary’s baskets at the Smithsonian, the American Craft Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Museum of African-American History in Detroit.
I like to collect quirky teapots, and there were several here that caught my eye. Here is one by artist Caroline Koons of Aurora, Missouri.
And another by Steven Summerville of Bumpass, Virginia.
And one more I can’t resist sharing by Thomas Bothe of Washington, Pa.
“Art to wear” was big at the show. Check out this cool raincoat by Iris Mansard of New York. Don’t I look fetching? :)
And finally, some fabulous jewelry. This beauty is from Carolyn Zakariaja of southeastern Pennsylvania. I bought a similar necklace from her at a craft show a few years ago.
I love the colors and freewheeling funkiness of this necklace by Marjorie Rawson of Chelsea, Michigan.
This necklace is so pretty. I love the mixed metals and delicateness. Pittsburgh’s Aileen Lampman is the talented artist. There is a gorgeous piece on the home page of her website; take a look.
I bought a pair of earrings from Jerry Jackson Pewter that I love. First I tried them on. Jerry took my picture.
Sold! Here they are up close.
There was so much more — paintings, sculpture, glassware, leather — more than you can imagine. What a fun day of blissfully browsing. I’m already looking forward to next year’s show. Mark your calendars. It’s usually the week after July 4. Hope to see you there!