Shadyside’s A Fair in the Park arts-and-crafts fest marks ‘benchmark year’ |
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Shadyside’s A Fair in the Park arts-and-crafts fest marks ‘benchmark year’

Puspa Lohmeyer
'Celtic Indian' Arvel Bird
Noble Designs
Fiber artist Rebecca Jane Noble of Point Breeze has been showing pieces such as this jacket at A Fair in the Park for 40 years.
Birch Frew
Potter Birch Frew
Cello Fury
Cello Fury
Sirofchuck Studios
Hand crafted furniture by Paul Sirofchuck of Ligonier
Sirofchuck Studios
Crafted furniture by Paul Sirofchuck of Ligonier

An annual celebration of the arts and one last hurrah of summer is set for Sept. 5 through 7, when A Fair in the Park marks its 45th year in Mellon Park, Shadyside.

Sponsored by the Craftsmen’s Guild of Pittsburgh, the juried show and sale will feature original arts and crafts, music, food and activities for families.

Although fair devotees have come to expect quality goods from the artist-run show, they should find this year’s offerings exceptional, says guild Vice President Jeffrey Moyer, a glass artist from Wind Ridge in Greene County.

“We’re a noncommercial event planned by artists, so quality and integrity have always been paramount,” Moyer says. “Because we’re turning 45 and the guild is turning 70, we see this as a benchmark year, and we’re making the fair even more special in every respect.”

More than 100 artists and craftsmen will demonstrate or sell decorative works in watercolor, oil, glass, wood, photography and metal, as well as handmade furniture, jewelry, apparel, stoneware and leather goods.

While most of the artists are regionally based guild members, others are traveling from as far as Colorado and Virginia to participate, says Moyer, who is chairman of the guild’s quality and standards committee.

“We’ve gotten more aggressive about letting artists throughout the country know about us, and we’ve had a 60 percent increase in applications this year,” he says, noting that no one medium will represent more than 20 percent of the show, and each artist’s work was carefully vetted.

“We’re one of (a) few festivals remaining where visitors can be confident that the work they are seeing has been made by the artists present,” Moyer says.

Indiana, Pa., potters Birch Frew and Cathy Bizousky are first-time vendors this year. “Our friends who have always done the show think we’re going to crush it because our stuff is really nice and because we are new,” says Frew of Stoke Hole Pottery.

He and Bizousky — who works with Frew but has her own business, Full of Grace Pottery — produce bowls, mugs, pitchers, plates and functional stoneware using wood fire with salt, and gas fire with soda ash. Those techniques intensify color and render a distinctive glaze.

“Soda ash creates a nice, shiny finish,” says Frew, noting that everything they make is dishwasher-, oven- and microwave-safe.

Bizousky hand-paints many of her pieces with dogwood blossoms and other floral designs, while Frew’s work is known for its richly layered earth colors. One of his most popular items is a serving tray he rolls and molds by hand.

Most of the vendors this weekend will be fair veterans, which adds a special continuity to the event, says Artie Reitmeyer of Sewickley, a furniture maker who was last year’s best-of-show winner.

“People who sell at a lot of fairs are like nomads, traveling from one to another, but artists at A Fair in the Park feel connected to the community, and the community feels connected to them,” says Reitmeyer, who will help select this year’s award recipients.

Fiber artist Rebecca Jane Noble of Point Breeze has been showing at A Fair in the Park as long as she has been weaving apparel at her Point Breeze studio, Noble Designs — about 40 years.

Noble works in washable silk, cotton and rayon and is known for her complex patterns and textures.

“What sets my work apart,” she says, “is that I do a lot of surface design — a lot of painting, dyeing and stenciling — after I’ve woven my fabric.”

Her signature creations include jackets, vests and shawls. “I call them the ‘third piece’ — what you put on to complete an outfit — the icing on the cake,” says Noble, who will donate an item for the fair’s silent auction, which helps support the guild’s education and scholarship fund.

Art-furniture maker Paul Sirofchuck of Ligonier is another returning vendor who says he is drawn by the fair’s vibrancy.

“I’m always blown away by the quality of the artists,” says Sirofchuck, an architect and woodworker, who crafts contemporary chairs, tables, sideboards and pieces from domestic hardwoods such as cherry, maple and walnut that he mills on his property.

A recipient of the 2013 Art of the State Award from the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Sirofchuck says the only other venue where he shows outside Sirofchuck Studios in Ligonier is the annual Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen fair in Philadelphia.

Because education is a guild mission, says Moyer, demonstrations are planned in wood-turning, pottery-making, glass-making, and small forge metal work. Calliope: The Pittsburgh Folk Music Society, has activities slated just for kids.

Calliope will perform as part of an expanded entertainment schedule that includes nine bands or solo musicians.

Featured artists include Cello Fury, a Pittsburgh-based chamber group whose fusion of classical music and progressive rock has garnered an international following; and Nashville-based “Celtic Indian” Arvel Bird.

Fair food will be more varied, too, with 11 caterers ranging from BRGR to Randita’s Organic Vegan Cafe, “and everything in-between from Hawaiian shaved ice to crepes,” Moyer says. “People have told us in past years they wanted better quality and more variety of food, and to not have to wait in a long line at one place.”

Deborah Weisberg is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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