In the middle of summer, Ken Conger is usually busy leading photo tours, taking pictures of animals in exotic locales around the world. But this year he finds himself in State College.
The wildlife photographer from eastern Virginia made his first trip to the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, where he's exhibiting and selling in a booth on the 200 block of South Allen Street.
For Conger, a break in his schedule -- which also includes positions as a photography instructor and a presenter on life as a wildlife photographer -- gave him an opportunity to try a festival he'd heard a lot about.
"I had some other friends that are also in the business and do arts festivals, so they said 'you should try this,'" he said. "This is as far north as I’ve ever been for a show, and wow, it’s going great today."
Conger was among the more than 300 artists accepted to exhibit their work at this year's Arts Fest, which saw its first full day of its 52nd year open on Thursday under sunny skies. He's photographed animals on six continents, and he typically leads photo tours to Africa, the Amazon and India each year. In between those, he said, he has a "bucket list" of animals he wants to photograph.
"I’m trying to get to some of the species that don’t have a lot of time left on the Earth," he said.
That will form the basis of his next book, which he said will take some time to complete because poachers have made dwindling species numbers more difficult to find and observe. His first book, endorsed by Jane Goodall, consists of more than 100 images of mother and baby animals on six continents.
On Thursday, he was glad to see crowds were already attracted to his photographs.
"It’s amazing. Cool people," he said. "I automatically feel positive energy with the people here when they walk and see the animals and gravitate to the booth. I can feel it. It’s going to be great from a business standpoint but I enjoy talking to people about animals, if they’ve been to a place I’ve been."
Jewelry artist Oliver Schnoor, of Naples, Fla., was making his first trip to Arts Fest as well. Like Conger, he heard about the festival's reputation from fellow artists.
"Basically it was hearsay from other artists that told me about the show," said Schnoor, who has been creating jewelry professionally for more than 20 years. "I researched it a little bit and the area seems to be affluent. It’s a nice, old established art show so I thought I’d give it a try."
He said it was too early to tell how well he would do from a sales standpoint, but that he was enjoying his first visit.
"I need the entire weekend to judge as far as [sales], but so far I’ve liked what I’ve seen," Schnoor said. "I like the area. Everything is very quaint and I like the atmosphere here in downtown."
Over on South Fraser Street, sculptor Christopher Buonomo, of Philadelphia, had an Arts Fest booth for the first time as well.
He's done many festivals up and down the East Coast, but Arts Fest is his first foray west.
"It has a good reputation with quality work, well-organized and a great town," he said.
Buonomo creates wood and marble sculptures, working primarily with hand tools.
"I work in a very old-fashioned sort of way," Buonomo said. "For me that process helps me find what was living inside that stone or that piece of wood. That process and that time and that handwork for me is really integral to find what is going to come out of it."
On Thursday afternoon, he had not yet had the opportunity to see much beyond his booth but was looking forward to getting on his bike and exploring State College.
"So far the crowd seems great," he said. "It’s a really friendly crowd and people seem excited for the weekend. With everything going on, there’s a really nice vibe. I’m excited, and I’m hoping to leave some work here."
Glass artist Angelo Fico is well-acquainted with Arts Fest. He's been traveling to the festival from Wilmot, Wisc., for the past 12 years and he said his colorful, hand-blown art always sells well.
State College is the furthest east that he travels for shows.
"It’s always good here," he said. "Everybody turns out and has a good time. There are people that are coming through everyday."
The 52nd Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts continues through Sunday, with the Sidewalk Sale and Exhibition, a wide variety of entertainment and a number of food vendors on hand each day.
See the gallery below for photos from Thursday at Arts Fest.