WILKES-BARRE — Alligator jawbones, burls, snakeskin — that’s just a fraction of the short list of materials Richard Horner “turns” into pens.
“I’ve tried just about anything,” the Rimersburg, Clarion County, craftsman said Thursday, opening day of the 59th Fine Arts Fiesta.
Horner will sell his handmade pens this weekend alongside dozens of other artists and craftspeople. His tent, called Horner’s Pens, sits near the West Market Street corner of Public Square, in range of the intermingling fragrances of jambalaya, skewered chicken, barbecue and potato pancakes.
Horner, 53, said he started turning pens as a hobby six years ago, after a YouTube video showing someone making pens using a lathe (like the kind used to make baseball bats) inspired the thought, “I can do that.”
At the time, he said he worked for Pepsi, a far cry from his previous work in a furniture factory.
Pen making, he said, helped fill the void left by the career change.
About a year into working on his new-found passion, Horner found out he had esophageal cancer, and the diagnosis, he said, left him with free time.
“For about a year I was kind of out of commission, but I still made pens,” he said.
Horner said he gave them away for as long as he could, but he soon ran out of people willing to take them. After a while, he said, the fruits of his labor began piling up around the house and his wife finally asked, “‘What are you going to do with all these pens?’”
“Through pens and prayers,” he said, he overcame the cancer and soon started selling them at art shows.
Because of the surgery he received as part of his treatment, Horner said he has to be extra careful of his posture when working with the lathe.
“My stomach is right here,” he said pointing to his chest. Then, gesturing from his mouth to the floor, “If I bend over, there’s nothing there to stop it.”
One pen, he said, can take anywhere from one hour for a relatively simple design, all the way up to 10 hours or more for something more complicated. He said he’ll set just about anything he can get his hands on into acrylic or resin — including pine cones, corn cobs, postage stamps and watch gears — and try to spin it into a pen.
Around noon, 10-year-old Jessie Miller, a niece of the late Al Groh, one of the Fine Arts Fiesta’s founders, gave an emphatic poetry reading during the opening ceremony.
For a moment, east met west when Mayor Tom Leighton officially opened the festival, joined on stage by the Wyoming Valley West High School Band.
The school’s orchestra wrapped a performance of its program “Music Around the World,” just before Leighton made his opening remarks.
In a proclamation declaring May 15-18 of 2014 “Fine Arts Fiesta days in the city of Wilkes-Barre,” Leighton called the annual event a “community treasure … . Each year we get better and better as a city because of fine fiestas like this.”
Weather forecasts suggest a storm will dump heavy rain on the city today, but the fiesta’s executive director Brian Benedetti said he’s looking forward to “four days of sun.”
Though the outlook today calls for rain, he said he’s staying optimistic the rain might hold out.