WILKES-BARRE — If you were walking around downtown Wilkes-Barre at the right time on Sunday, it might have been easy to briefly think, even for a moment, that you had somehow ended up in New Orleans.
Taking the main stage at around 1:30 p.m., the Doug Smith Dixieland All-Stars played a raucous mix of jazz sounds popular in the southern United States, pulling in elements of bluegrass, soul and good old-fashioned “Saints-Come-Marching-In” New Orleans rhythms.
But it didn’t take an extensive knowledge in jazz to enjoy the Dixieland All-Stars — even young children could be seen bopping along to their sounds.
Sunday was the last day of the Fine Arts Fiesta, the annual celebration of all things artistic on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre.
A quick look around the festival made it obvious that the festival is about more than just a celebration of the arts — it’s about a celebration of the world’s cultures, as well.
While the quintessentially American jazz sounds filled the square, one local artist was on the scene documenting the festival in a uniquely European way.
Bob Gaetano, a former art teacher based variously in Hazleton and Mountain Top, stood on the eastern point of the square, using oil pastels to practice a technique called “plein air painting.”
According to Gaetano, the technique was developed in France, and focuses on painting scenes on site, regardless of changing conditions — Gaetano explained while stealing quick glances at the darkening clouds over head, clouds which thankfully did not produce a second day of rain.
Gaetano’s depiction of the square was reminiscent of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh — while undoubtedly skewed from the “real world,” still a clear and stirring depiction of the scene itself.
But for him, painting isn’t the best part. That’s the people, he meets.
“People will come up to me and ask if I don’t mind if they talk to me while I paint,” he said. “I’ll say, ‘As long as you don’t mind if I paint while you talk.’”
On the other side of the square, another artist was showing off work further outside of the Western imagination.
Simon Xianwen Zeng, a painter based in Queens, N.Y., works mostly in water colors and oil paint. Zeng said he’s been in the United States for the past 20 years after having immigrated from China, and is now using his art to blend the visual styles of Eastern cultures with those Westerners would be familiar with.
“I make things that fit the international eye,” Zeng said.
Zeng said he’s been coming to the Fine Arts Fiesta for the last 10 years, adding that he’s had a lot of repeat customers over the years.
“People will bring my art home to hang it up, and they get complements, so they come back,” he said with a hearty laugh.
After the close of the Fine Arts Fiesta Sunday evening, Mary Anne Fedrick, president of the festival, said she was impressed with how quickly everything gets broken down.
“It’s amazing to watch how efficient and knowledgeable the crews are at breaking it down and turning it back into the square for the people of Wilkes-Barre,” she said.
Fedrick said the festival was a great one, even with Saturday’s rain.
“It slowed us, but it didn’t stop us,” she said.
And if you were unlucky enough to miss all four days of the festivities, Fedrick said it will be back soon enough.
“We’ll be here on the third weekend of May next year,” she said.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan