People's Choice Festival Creates 'Living Museum' in Boalsburg
July 12, 2014 1:00 PM
by Michael Martin Garrett
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Hiking the Appalachian Trail typically doesn’t lead to having one of the most popular booths at the People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts and Crafts, but that’s what happened to Georgie Lehoop.

The Saint Claire, Pennsylvania native was hiking along the trail 15 years ago when an idea came to him: painting with drumsticks instead of brushes. A drummer for 50 years, Lehoop knows how to swing a stick with confidence, but it took 8 years of planning and 7 years of practice before he was ready to show his art to the public.

“I paint on all kinds of things – canvas,  clothing, old cymbals, drum heads, vinyl records,” Lehoop says. “Anything I can drum on."

This is Lehoop's second year at the annual arts festival in Boalsburg, and he says it’s one the best of the 40 festivals he attends every year. He says he always receives strong positive reaction to his uniquely abstract, percussive paintings.

State College couple Derek Kalp and Kelly Keefe took Saturday morning as an opportunity to do some early Christmas shopping while enjoying the wide range of art on display, which included painting, photography, sculpture, leatherworking and other mediums from artists from across the state.

“There’s a lot of talent in this area, and it deserves recognition,” Keefe says. She says the People’s Choice festival helps to highlight the work of people all over the state who “maybe don’t get as much recognition as they deserve, or would get in a big city.” 

Roland Paronish, who brings his metalworking to 32 events per year, says the Boalsburg festival is easily in his top three. Unlike some other fairs, Paronish says the local culture appreciates art for what it is, rather than viewing his work as mere souvenirs.

“The attitude of the buyers here really set this apart,” the Hastings, Pa. resident says. “They make you feel good about your work here.” 

Paronish got his start painting murals for children’s rooms, but took a job in a steel mill when he started his family. He describes his current work, which ranges from small sculptures made of railroad spikes to massive dragons and mooseheads, as “just what you get when you mix those two jobs together.”

Boalsburg resident Elli Groninger also accidentally stumbled into metalworking art some years ago, having combined her knowledge of welding with her experience as a toy designer in Los Angeles. Her booth on the Pennsylvania Military Museum lawn featured sculptures and ornaments ranging from the cute and whimsical to the dark and grotesque, all made of metal recycled from cars, appliances and filing cabinets. 

“When I was a toy designer, they would give the monsters I designed to an ex-Disney guy to make them more kid-friendly,” she says. “Living in the Mojave Desert, I learned to weld and took my crazy designs and started making them out of steel."

Though she sells and displays her art at only a handful of shows and events each year, she says she loves being a part of the “living museum” of the People’s Choice Festival.

“It’s just wonderful to be here,” Groninger says. “It’s like a museum where you can stroll through, touch things and take home them with you.”


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