WILKES-BARRE — On one side of Public Square, children were replicating the paintings of French artist Henri Matisse.
Across the way, food vendors were dishing out their specialties, like crepes and chicken on a stick, to hungry fiesta-goers.
As vendors peddled their wares along the perimeter of the Square, a high school orchestra played in the bandshell while local artwork hung in tents, waiting to be judged.
Over in a corner near the bandshell, Brian Benedetti, the Fine Arts Fiesta’s executive director, stood with his fingers crossed as the sometimes menacing weather managed to stay somewhat mild and, most importantly, rain-free.
This was the scene Thursday for the opening of the 63rd annual Fine Arts Fiesta — a celebration of arts of all kinds at what is billed as the oldest festival of its kind in Pennsylvania.
Today and Saturday, the Fiesta will open at 11 a.m. and run until 8 p.m. On Sunday, it will start at 11 a.m. but wrap up at 5 p.m.
In a tent near some monkey bars, a sign hung with a quote from Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist.” True to that, a group of children from a Nanticoke Head Start classroom were finishing up their masterpieces that they were taking home to proudly show their parents.
Michelle Cantwell, of the Head Start group, said 14 children ages 3, 4 and 5 were brought to the Fine Arts Fiesta where they drew, painted, listened to stories and made bookmarks.
“We like to bring our students here so they can experience all different types of art,” Cantwell said. “They have seen the paintings, woodworking, jewelry and more. It’s good to have them experience art from a very young age.”
Mia Weaver, a volunteer in the children’s tent, said the idea is for the kids to have fun at the fiesta. She said the tent has been very busy, with a fourth group sitting down to paint before 12:30 p.m.
“We want the children to learn to appreciate and love art,” Weaver said. “This helps perpetuate the arts into the future. And the kids really seem to love creating their own art.”
Across from the children’s tent was Verve Vertu, a community art center in Dallas that focuses on the diversability of artists. Gwen Harleman, director, said Verve Vertu has about 30 artists, some with mental and physical challenges, as well as members of the general public creating art. A lot of their work is on display at the Fine Arts Fiesta.
“Just look around and you can see the beautiful art created at our center,” Harleman said.
Crepes with names
Sitting on a bench was Bill Kuklewicz, 83, of Wilkes-Barre Township, who was playing a few tunes on his accordion. Kuklewicz said he likes to walk around the fiesta, playing catchy songs that prompt people to start singing along as he passes.
“I hope to be here all four days,” Kuklewicz said. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years.”
A new food vendor at the fiesta is The Crooked Creperie, a business based in Lackawanna County. The stand has savory and sweet crepes with names like Elvis, Priscilla, Sinatra, Undo Your Thai, Barnyard and Grateful Goddess. A long line was waiting to order. The Crooked Creperie is next to the Chicken On-A-Stick stand, making for a busy corner.
Along with great art, great food and great vendors, the Fine Arts Fiesta is known for its music. There will be musicians both local and national, including the ‘70s blues-rock of Dustin Douglas and the Electric Gentlemen, the country stylings of Drew Baldridge, and the reggae and rock fusion of Elephants Dancing.
Look for a complete listing of things to do in the Times Leader, including a detailed look at the event in The Guide in today’s newspaper.
For more on the Fine Arts Fiesta, click here.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.