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Unique Artisans Show Off Goods at Arts Fest Sidewalk Sale

by on July 09, 2015 3:15 PM

With the four-day Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts officially kicking off on Thursday, the main drag of Penn State's campus through the Allen Street gates is transformed into an arts and crafts bazaar.

The sidewalk sale is at the heart of the festival, displaying everything from international nature photography to hand-crafted wood furniture. 

If you look closely enough, between the dozens of vendors showing off their beautiful paintings and glassware and furniture lie some hidden gems. 

Those tents stand out quickly, as just about every passerby can't help but stop in their tracks to stare (and perhaps purchase) some of Arts Fest's finest offerings.

One such tent is operated by Chris Locke, an artist from Austin, Texas, who turns brass horns into amplifiers for your cell phone or tablet. As he puts it, they're "old-school amplifiers for new-school devices."

Locke's tent was buzzing with action on Thursday. The muffled sound of music playing from his iPad was instantly transformed as he popped it into the hand-crafted dock for his amplification device, taking on a much fuller and vibrant sound.

"I wanted something to amplify my phone without plugging in or recharging or eating batteries," Locke says. "Everybody knows if you put your phone in a pint glass or a solo cup or a cereal bowl that works. It occurred to me that the easiest way to do that is to start with something already designed to make music sound good."

In order to make his speaker, Locke purchases scrap horns that are damaged beyond repair. He salvages whatever parts are still in decent shape and combines pieces from different horns together. They're eventually welded onto a homemade base, which Locke makes using anything from plate steel to lamp bases, and an interchangeable dock tops them off. 

"I wish I could buy one," Penn State alumna Claire Morgan says. "That's one of the cooler things I've seen here today, or ever at the festival for that matter."

That's a standard reaction for Locke, who's used to awing people with his product. This is his third year setting up shop at the Arts Fest, and it likely won't be his last. 

"I get nothing but smiles all day long," he says. "I get a lot of wide-eyed stares and people telling me it’s the best thing they’ve seen all day."

After receiving noise complaints two years ago, Locke took a year off from the festival before returning in 2015. He now has a more secluded spot on Pollock Road, away from the more crowded portion of the sidewalk sale on the path from College Avenue to Pollock.

"If I can make an iPhone or an iPhone so loud that it disturbs people outside at a festival on a Saturday afternoon outside of a fraternity house, that says I’m doing my job," he says.

Another tent that has festival-goers stopping in their tracks is Jim Parker's knife collection. Based out of Clarion, Pa., Parker hand-crafts his own knives along with his step-son, a full-time job for the artisan that started 23 years ago.

"My step-son was trying to make a knife from a kit a long time ago and it didn’t work out very well, so I asked him if he wanted to make a real knife," Parker says. "I found one of the original members of the knifemaker’s guild down in West Virginia and we made trips every weekend to see him and in about three months he had taught us how to make knives and how to make the machinery to make knives."

Parker works on multiple projects at a time, and tries to mix things up and make each knife different even when he isn't doing custom pieces. The knives are strikingly colorful and have brilliant hand-crafted handles. Despite the aesthetic, Parker recommends using the product. After all, that's what he made it for.

"I make them with the intention of being used, but I make them fancy enough that a lot of people are reluctant to use them," he says. "A lot of people will take them out, use them through the hunting season, and then clean them up and put them back in a display case."

From a photographer with a knack for shooting rubber duckies in interesting locations to brooms with elaborately carved handles, there's plenty of unique and useful art on display this year.

"I rarely buy anything, but it's like going to the best art museum in the world to me," Morgan says. "I'll usually walk up and down here at least once a day over the weekend. It really never gets old."


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Photo Gallery - ArtsFest Sidewalk Sale

Zach Berger is the managing editor of He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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