Mayfair: A Festival of the Arts… In Progress

Mayfair: A Festival of the Arts… In Progress

By Ann Wlazelek
ARTWORK By Carmen Porfido and Claudia McGill

Allentown’s Mayfair Festival of the Arts continues to undergo a renaissance in this, its 28th year, with a new contest, greener grounds and an admission price expected to bring more art and music lovers to the city fairgrounds May 23-26.

New to this year’s activities are a juried show, attracting artists from across the country in a competition for cash prizes; local landscapers beautifying the grounds with plants, gazebos and water features; and new musical events, such as a seven-piece, all-star jazz ensemble of musicians from across the state performing opening night.

New artists include a Philadelphia-born master carver who creates life-sized carvings of raptors and song birds, a Connecticut-based jewelry designer whose handcrafted necklaces are worn by stars such as Halle Berry, Heidi Klum and Vanessa Williams, and a Texas glass sculptor whose illuminated pieces sometimes simulate the female form.

Tickets to Mayfair 2014 cost $5 and may be used for one day or all four. Festival hours, at 4-10:30 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Memorial Day, have been extended every day but the Monday holiday. Veterans and children 10 and under can attend for free.

“I’m excited about the way we are growing,” said Mayfair Executive Director Arlene Daily. “I think it’s wonderful for the city.”

Art collectors from New York City will be among the 35,000 to 45,000 people expected to attend, she’s been told. Popular artists and ideas from previous years will continue, too, such as last year’s “Pig Pen Project,” which features unusual and experimental art installations, especially recycled creations, in pens built for livestock; and “KidSpace,” which features arts, crafts and performances for children.

The changes are designed to stretch the festival’s canvas, if you will, to provide a better showcase for all kinds of fine art. Mayfair’s organizers are trying to win back artists and aficionados lost over the years to inclement weather, financial losses, entry fees and fences at the festival’s previous location at Cedar Beach Park, near Lake Muhlenberg.

“Mayfair was moving away from its goal of high-quality visual and performing arts, contracting itself to a narrow band of music and participation by visual artists was falling away,” Daily said of the festivals troubled years. “People everywhere begged me to return it to the quality it was in the old days.”

Although Cedar Beach provided a more scenic backdrop for an art festival, Mayfair’s move last year to the west end of the Fairgrounds at 17th and Chew streets afforded artists and attendees more room, better parking, indoor restrooms, enhanced security and protection from the elements.

Long-time local participating artist/photographer Paul Grecian called the new location “a huge improvement for artists and visitors.”

“I do not believe that fine artists and top craftsmen would have continued to attend without the move to an indoor setup,” he said. “The ability for artists to have a secured building for their work overnight is a great asset.”

While attendance last year only matched the previous year, organizers said it typically takes three years for a community to catch up to a change in location.

Mayfair’s recent rebirth began two years ago, when Daily was hired to return the non-profit organization’s festival to financial security by returning it to its roots. She surveyed artists and festival goers alike about changes they would welcome. She also visited art festivals throughout the country and created a council of volunteer artists to develop new ideas for Mayfair.

The changes are designed to stretch the festival’s canvas… to provide a better showcase for all kinds of fine art.

One of those ideas was to start an art gallery inside the Agri-plex last year. Thirty artists were invited to show their work.

“We felt good about how it looked, came off and was received by the community,” said Ann Lalik, gallery director and arts coordinator at Penn State Lehigh Valley, who helped set up the invitational exhibition as a Mayfair council member.

When other artists asked how they, too, might exhibit their works in the gallery, the council this year decided to hold a juried show, open to artists across the country. It’s a way for more artists to get involved in Mayfair, Lalik said, including those who cannot work at a booth for four days.  Each artist can submit up to three pieces.

Judging the Juried Art Exhibit will be Ricardo Viera, an artist, professor and director of the Lehigh University art galleries. Born in Cuba, Viera studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA, and graduated with a master of fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. He won many awards for his paintings, drawings and engravings, which can be found in collections around the world, including the Allentown Art Museum, Canton Art Institute of Ohio and Tel Aviv Museum in Israel.

Mayfair’s recommitment to exhibiting fine art and fine craft appears to be working, Daily said, noting the number of exhibiting artists in the Artist Market has climbed from 47 in 2011 to 76 in 2012 and 91 last year.  The hope is to top a previous record of 120. Sales reached record highs last year, she added, with top-selling metal sculpturist Eugene Perry selling several pieces at $1,500 to $6,000 each.

Some artists will display their work inside the Agri-Plex or in booths outside. Returning favorites besides Perry and Grecian include Cornerstone Forge’s hand-hammered aluminum; Horner’s Pens turned from zebra wood, pine cones and corn cobs; Katherine Fox-Haney’s porcelain-faced Santas; and Natural Alternative’s vegetarian soaps.

Not all artists demonstrate their skills; however, Chris Murray, the master wood carver who now lives in northern Chester County, plans to bring a red-tail hawk that he’s working on to show visitors. An award-winning professional carver most of his life, he learned the craft from a grandfather who made his own duck decoys for hunting.  Murray started as a boy with a bar of soap.

The festival also offers three stages for performers of all sorts: dancers, drummers, set designers, sound mixers, trumpeters, guitar players, storytellers, potters, sax players, singers, actors, comedians and more.

Culinary “artists” will serve up everything from cultural and gourmet to fun fair foods, such as Asian fried rice, Mediterranean gyros, Mexican fajitas, German wursts, Belgian fries, chocolate-dipped cheesecake and stuffed pretzels.  Some chefs will demonstrate how to make their dishes.

“Our mission is multi-layered,” Daily states. “We work to bring new art forms to the community; to showcase visual and performing artists; to increase audiences for the arts; to develop future artists and audiences through educational programming; and to build a sense of community.”

For more information, a layout and schedule see Mayfair’s website, mayfairfestival.org.

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