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Boalsburg Festival Gives Art Lovers a Choice

by on July 13, 2011 5:10 PM

Ernest Brown was there at the beginning.

“I’m one of the ‘Original 51,’ ” he said Wednesday afternoon while edging a hand-crafted leather belt inside his tent. “I was here back in 1993, the first year we had this festival.”

“This festival” is the People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts and Crafts, which opens Thursday and runs through Sunday on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg. People’s Choice is now in its 19th year as, not so much a competitor, but a complement to the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in downtown State College.

But perceptions can be hard to change.

“We’re the ‘outside festival,’ ” Brown, of White Pine in Lycoming County, quipped. “We’re the ‘reject festival’ – the ‘affordable festival.’ ”

They’re not really rejected, of course, but some of those perceptions remain. And history is history.

“I’m down here because I couldn’t get in (to the Arts Fest). That’s as honest as I can get,” Brown said. “Twice in 13 years. That’s how often I was in the other one. This show gave men an opportunity, and as long as you abide by the rules, you’re asked back.”

Brown has been asked back every year of the festival, but he’s one of a dwindling few.

“The last I saw, there are just 10 left of the original 51 exhibitors,” he said, “and we’re all up on the fuzzy edge – over 60.”

Many of the “Original 51” moved out of state. Others have passed away. Co-founder Nancy Marion died in March and is remembered in the festival program and on its website.

But Brown – who said, “I’m 80 on my next birthday” – is happily carrying on the tradition the Marions and others established almost two decades ago.

“We came down yesterday as a volunteer and set up our booth,” Brown said Wednesday afternoon. “The wife is over there checking in – her and another lady – checking in other craftspeople.”

“The wife” is Eileen – “my first one,” Brown said, smiling.

[Click on the photo for a gallery of photos from Wednesday’s set-up day.]

George and Nancy Marion founded People’s Choice as an alternative to the larger Arts Fest, which attracted exhibitors from across the country. People’s Choice features Pennsylvania artists only. And the festival caters to the exhibitors and their needs.

“You can park your vehicle right back of the booth. There are so many pluses from a craftsperson’s standpoint,” Brown said. “This is the type of show they all should be, as far as being easy on craftspeople.”

Frank Bartolett, of Lansdale, agrees.

“The people who run it are craftspeople themselves. They take into consideration what a crafter has do to get his booth set up,” Bartolett said while hanging blown glasswork for his eighth People’s Choice Festival. “We love the little town. We go over to Duffy’s Tavern. I can’t wait to get back there for the spinach salad.”

People’s Choice offers another advantage to exhibitors: sales.

“This is our best festival for the year,” Bartolett said. “People go downtown and everybody loves it. But when they’ve got 50 bucks to spend, it’s out here.”

That’s one perception that seems to be based on reality.

“I know people buy at that one, too,” Jackie McCord, of Lancaster County, who has exhibited at both festivals, said. “But I know a lot of people go and look at that one and buy at this one.”

McCord is a Penn State graduate – class of 1971. Her three daughters were fourth-generation Penn Staters and met their spouses there.

“That’s the kind of family we are: Penn State,” said McCord, whose Lion Paw Pottery offers a special line of creations for Nittany Lion fans and alumni.

But she doesn’t mind at all exhibiting her work in Boalsburg rather than State College.

“A lot of big art shows across the country have smaller satellite shows like this one around them,” McCord said.

“People come here, they can walk around here in big circle. There’s no problem parking,” she noted. “I’ve been doing this for years and I’m very happy to be here.”

Rich Kerstetter is managing editor of Follow him on Twitter at or get news updates via Facebook at Rich can be reached at [email protected] or at (814) 238-6201 Ext. 135.
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