Now in its biggest year ever, the Lehigh Avenue Arts Festival attracted over 50 arts vendors to Port Richmond last Saturday to peddle their inventive crafts and raise money for local arts programs.
The festival raised $5,000 this year for art scholarships for neighborhood kids, who will take classes at the Portside Arts Center at 2531 East Lehigh Ave.
Not bad, considering the festival was launched by the arts center just five years ago with only 12 vendors, according to Kim Creighton, director of Portside and a festival organizer.
The festival has rapidly gained support in past years, she said, including from state representative John Taylor.
One main attraction during the crowded festival Saturday was Plastic Fantastic, a pro-environment art project that was inspired by the documentary film, “Wasteland.”
The film documents the floating island of un-recycled plastic bottles and other garbage that has formed a patch of waste twice the size of Texas in the North Pacific Ocean.
Diedra Krieger, lead artist of Plastic Fantastic, was at the Arts Festival wearing a hat made of plastic bottlecaps and collecting plastic bottles for a giant geodesic dome she plans to erect in a vacant lot in West Philadelphia as a statement against waste.
Artists of all stripes – painters, knitters, carpenters and general creators – also came from across Philadelphia and other parts of the state for the festival.
Rhoda Crawford, a Portside committee member, described her art as “my hobby – how I decompress at night.”
“I use found objects and up-cycle them into wearable art and jewelry,” said Crawford, whose wares included earrings, necklaces, and etchings.
“I started doing it for myself, and I ended up doing it to sell them,” said Mandy Reinhart, of Cute as a Button Boutique, who came from Allentown. Reinhart sells hand-made hair accessories that all include old buttons.
“My grandfather used to collect them, and I just love buttons,” she said.
Among the crafts on sale were canes and walking sticks made from reclaimed wood harvested in the woods of Pennsylvania.
“Every one is so unique,” said Gary Hemenway, of Mansfield, the proprietor of “Sylvan Elegance,” about the walking sticks and canes he spends hours smoothing and finishing with the underbrush he finds in what he called “the endless mountains of Pennsylvania.”
Spreading awareness about recycling and environmentalism is also an important goal for the arts festival – Creighton said that the materials which make up Portside Art Center are 90 percent recycled.
Outside the center at the festival, guests made their own multi-colored artworks on old vinyl using a home-made paint spinner provided by Portside. Creighton said the spinner was in use until nightfall, when they finally ran out of old records to paint on.
“Every year it gets better, and more people come and more vendors want to come,” Creighton said. “It’s a great thing for all the communities to just come together as one.”
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.