WILKES-BARRE — Back when hungry hobos rode the rails across the United States, some talented fellowould find an old cigar box, carve notches into it and transform it into a piece of folk art.
“They’d go door to door and trade it for something to eat,” said Matthew Howell, a Wilkes-Barre artist who has incorporated the “tramp art” style of the old-time kings of the road into his own intricate wood carvings.
His “Tramp Art Bird Box” — hand-carved from pine and walnut, decorated with figures of birds and containing drawers for stashing small treasures — has been chosen “Best of Show” among the 170 pieces of artwork selected to be showcased in the Fine Arts Fiesta Juried Art Exhibition.
You’ll see all of those pieces, along with 70 pieces in the students’ division, plus vendors’ displays and live performances if you visit downtown Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square during the four days of the Fiesta, today through Sunday.
“I am absolutely so thrilled. It’s not about winning; just to be included is an honor in itself,” said Howell, who is a semi-retired plumber. “I’m excited to show people this stuff.”
His stuff, as he modestly describes his woodcarvings, comes from re-purposed material.
“This was leftover from somebody’s kitchen — old beams, floorboards, cabinetry,” he said. “It has a real good quality to it. I go and pull old nails out and it gives me a good feeling to work with it. These were homes that were loved, places where people raised their children and broke bread.”
Speaking of food, Fiesta visitors will find entrees and snacks ranging from pizza, hot dogs and cheesesteaks to funnel cakes, kettle corn and potato pancakes to crab cakes, crepes and Caribbean specialties.
“The food is generally wonderful,” said artist Cynthia Witkowski Sipple, of Wilkes-Barre, whose acrylic painting of a woman with an orange bicycle — someone she spotted on a vacation to Cozumel, Mexico — took a first-place award in the Fiesta show. “And if you’re looking to buy yourself a great pair of earrings, you need to go to the Fine Arts Fiesta. The jewelers they have are wonderful, and the potters. And I like the guy who sells the brooms. They don’t fall apart.”
In addition to hand-crafted brooms, pottery and jewelry, artists and artisans are scheduled to bring wares ranging from silhouettes to scarves, from photographs to yard sculpture, from clothing to stained glass to lamps made from coconut shells.
“I really like being able to see what other artists come up with,” said Julia Slater, of Pittston. “I like music and I like seeing other art because it’s inspiring. You don’t realize how many artists there are in the area until you see their work at something like this.”
Slater’s own work includes a manipulated photo she calls “Infinitea,” which won first place in the photography category of the Fiesta’s Juried Arts Exhibition.
“Originally it was supposed to be something whimsical, with an almost ‘Alice in Wonderland’ kind of theme,” Slater said, explaining how she started out with a photograph of a friend. “It was kind of supposed to be Natasha falling down a rabbit hole, with a bunch of antiques and tea cups, but it took on a life of its own.”
The end result, with a woman seeming to float against the background of a large clock, surrounded by cups, a spoon and a teapot, is still whimsical — and it took some doing.
“I used 46 overlays,” Slater said, “and I actually crashed PhotoShop three times because the file was so big.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.