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Immerse yourself in 18th century at 33rd Penn's Colony fest

| Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, 2:03 p.m.
Cian Reilly, 7, paints his own pumpkin from the pumpkin patch maze at the Penn's Colony 32nd annual Festival on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, near Saxonburg.
Jan Pakler | For Trib Total Media
Cian Reilly, 7, paints his own pumpkin from the pumpkin patch maze at the Penn's Colony 32nd annual Festival on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, near Saxonburg.
LouAnn Cherry bakes a homemade apple cake over a campfire on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, at the Penn's Colony Festival near Saxonburg.
Jan Pakler | For Trib Total Media
LouAnn Cherry bakes a homemade apple cake over a campfire on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, at the Penn's Colony Festival near Saxonburg.
A re-enactor awaits his military 'orders' at the Penn's Colony Festival in Clinton Township near Saxonburg.
Penn's Colony Festival
A re-enactor awaits his military 'orders' at the Penn's Colony Festival in Clinton Township near Saxonburg.

When it comes down to it, Penn's Colony Festival is about three things, says festival coordinator Beth Rush — our region's early-American history, how the early settlers of Western Pennsylvania set a standard for craftsmanship and quality and how these two things relate to our lives today.

The 33rd annual Penn's Colony Festival and Folk Art Marketplace returns Sept. 17, 18, 24 and 25 to Butler County's Clinton Township, just outside of Saxonburg. The festival includes a re-created 18th-century village in the woods, with period costumes, scenery, historical re-enactments, entertainment and artisans.

Rush believes it remains important to demonstrate how our ancestors lived in this region. “Because that particular point in history shaped our country; it shaped the thinking that led to breaking off our ties with Great Britain and forming the 13 colonies into one body of government.”

Re-enactors in the Living History Camp portray British, French, Scottish, Colonial and Native American groups that made their marks on this region.

Food booths, sing-a-longs and demonstrations of various trades and home crafts, such as blacksmithing, tin-punching, needle arts and glass-blowing, remain a mainstay, as do artisans offering Colonial games and hands-on activities for families.

The goal, says Rush, is to wed French and Indian War-era (1754-1760) events into a “Publick Tymes” setting. Publick Tymes was an 18th-century community harvest-time celebration that, says Rush, “combined the excitement of merchant markets, trials, hangings, horse races and politics with circus acts, music, food, galas and major business dealings.”

While visitors will be spared any hangings, they will be treated to a variety of offerings, including music, dance, marching bagpipers, magic and comedy.

About 25 percent of the festival is new each year. The Village Marketplace offers new furniture craftsmen, folk- and primitive-art artisans and new metalsmith jewelry designers.

“A good number of the exhibiting artists are seniors in their 70s and 80s, generations that know what ‘quality' really means,” Rush says. “We value all of our exhibitors tremendously, but there's something endearingly different about the senior artists.”

Not to be forgotten, she says, are the many younger craftsmen who have the same philosophy as the older generations. “It's almost as though the experience and purity of handmade interests of the millennials is exactly what Penn's Colony has been preserving for the past 33 years,” she says.

The history presentations under the “Hidden History” title in the entertainment schedule are new.

The musical group Gallowglass, from the Wheeling, W.Va., area, makes its debut in the second weekend.

The entertainment all has something fresh, even if the groups are returning, Rush says. Celtic Shores, for example, has a new CD and will be performing new songs. Faire Wynds Circus has new acts of magic and feats of skill.

The true 18th-century gingerbread and caramels, spiced cider, smoked turkey legs, wood-fired Italian pies and the Italian marinated roast beef continue on the “most popular” food list.

“Our customers tell us they connect with the Early American atmosphere the festival re-creates, the variety of craftsmen and what they offer to customers, and, just as equally, it is the history that is told through the stories of the people who made the history,” she says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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